Picture This: Spring, Cherry Blossoms, and Family
April 15, 2014


The Onoe Ryu Dance group performs at our Cherry Blossom Family Day.

Spring has arrived (well, I'm not sure it's made up its mind just yet). But the weather was very spring-like this last Saturday when the American Art celebrated D.C.'s famous trees with a Cherry Blossom Family Celebration. Kids enjoyed craft activities like making tissue paper blossoms, drawing their own cherry blossom tree, folded Japanese screen painting, and origami. Here, the Onoe Ryu Dance group performs a traditional Japanese dance in the Kogod Courtyard as part of the festivities. Join us for our next Family Festival in celebration of Mother's Day on Saturday, May 10.

Posted by Jeff on April 15, 2014 in Picture This
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Picture This: Our America Travels to The Frost Art Museum
April 10, 2014


Opening Reception at the Frost

At of the opening reception for Our America at the Frost Art Museum

Last week American Art's exhibition Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art opened at The Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University in Miami, the first stop on a multi-city journey across the country. The show will be at the Frost until June 22, 2014, then travel to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City, the Arkansas Art Center in Little Rock, the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, and the Sioux City Art Center in Sioux City, Iowa. Check the specific dates for each tour venue on our exhibition page.

Read more about the preparations for the exhibition on our blog Eye Level, view a slide show of the work, and visit our bilingual website. We will post updates about the exhibition as it travels using the #OurAmerica hashtag from American Art on Twitter.

Posted by Jeff on April 10, 2014 in American Art Elsewhere
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April Gornik: Cloudy with a Chance of Clouds
April 8, 2014


April Gornik

April Gornik's Virga

The weather in American Art's Lincoln Gallery has gotten a bit cloudier, thanks to the addition of April Gornik's 1992 painting, Virga. Its dramatic swirls of cumulus that dip like a crow's wing over troubled water depict a storm brewing on the horizon. The painting is a recent gift to the museum from James F. Dicke II, the sponsor of the museum's annual lecture in contemporary art that bears his name.

Three words appeared on the screen shortly after Gornik took the stage: Binaries, Details, Process, giving a bit of a roadmap to the lecture as the artist took us on a tour through her oeuvre, from her earliest paintings on plywood, to her formative paintings on canvas, and ending with images from an upcoming exhibition. Her signature works, like Virga, are unpeopled landscapes that are often imagined or reinterpreted through time and memory, and largely influenced by 19th century landscape painting. Virga (defined as when rain falls but evaporates before it reaches the ground), where "the painting is starting to devour itself," came after a difficult time in her life, and reflects the process of "coming back into the light from the dark."

In terms of the binary, Gornik's work often skates between dreams and the real world, the familiar and the unknown. Is a storm coming or is the storm retreating? The canvas holds a balance between shapes and shadows, between tension and release, the action in the upper register, and the often meditative space on the ground. With detail she wondered about the scale and physicality of the painting, "how much detail is enough." She added, "Painting is a strange animal, you really can't control it."

Process gave Gornik a chance to show a fascinating series of images of a painting from start to finish, beginning with the underpainting she applies at first. It begins with a vision and she draws it out until it's finally realized, and no more changes are necessary.

One of my favorite moments of the evening came when she commented on the power and importance of seeing a painting in person, rather than solely viewing it online. "If I'm staring at my computer for a long time and then I go to the [Metropolitan Museum of Art], and see Northern European Renaissance paintings in all their crazy, insanely detailed glory, I feel like I've fallen into a literal other world that is rich and satisfying and amazing as can be imagined. I worry about other people going through the museum and just seeing them as an image. I think it's so important for people to be taught what makes art powerful."

Watch the webcast of Gornik's talk.

Posted by Howard on April 8, 2014 in Lectures on American Art
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Pop Art Prints: A Closer Look at James Rosenquist
April 3, 2014


Pop Art Prints has just opened in American Art's graphic arts galleries. The installation showcases thirty-seven works from the museum's extensive holdings of works on paper from the 1960s and 1970s. The featured prints are bold, bright, and filled with references to popular culture. Four lively prints by James Rosenquist are showcased in the installation. Nina Williams, a curatorial assistant at American Art, writes about one of Rosenquist's pieces in the show.

James Rosenquist

Art © James Rosenquist/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY Expo 67 Mural Firepole 33 x 17'. 1967, color lithograph on paper, 33 1/8 x 17 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum

In Rosenquist's lithograph titled Expo 67 Mural Firepole 33 x 17'. two uniformed legs twist around a shiny fire pole. Exuberant white lines stream across a red and yellow background, suggesting commotion or celebration. This small print was inspired by a much larger but identical painting titled Fire Slide that Rosenquist exhibited at Expo 67, the 1967 world's fair in Montreal.

Rosenquist's painting Fire Slide was included in American Painting Now, a contemporary art exhibition held in the American pavilion of Expo 67. The exhibit featured large-scale works by the "who's who" in 1960s American art, among them: Robert Indiana, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and Robert Rauschenberg. Expo 67 promised to transport visitors through elaborate displays of art, technology, and material culture from sixty-two countries. Maverick architect R. Buckminster Fuller designed the American pavilion, a twenty story geodesic dome to house exhibitions of American creativity and ingenuity. Attracting more than eleven million visitors over six months, the American pavilion was the most popular of the entire exposition. Rosenquist's painting was thirty-three feet high by seventeen feet wide. It was so large that had to be made in twelve different pieces and then put together on site.

Because the pavilion was so intimidatingly large, the artworks on display for American Painting Now had to be chosen carefully. With its clean lines, solid colors, and recognizable forms, Pop art stood out beautifully against the flurry of activity in the pavilion. Pop art also illustrated the American zeitgeist through an accessible language that millions of visitors could understand. The artworks were suspended from the dome's ceiling alongside exhibits such as Destination Moon, a display of NASA's Apollo space program that included actual space capsules and a simulation of the lunar landscape.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Expo 67 Mural Firepole 33 x 17' is the meaning behind its fragmented yet straightforward image. Why would Rosenquist choose to depict the legs of a man sliding down a fire pole for the World's Fair? According to Rosenquist, the work represents the U.S. president acting as a fireman who puts out fires around the world. I find it fascinating that he made such a politically charged work for the expo. What's more, those who saw the painting at the time had no clue of the subversive meaning behind the colorful artwork. The image was clearly significant to Rosenquist, as he also made a smaller forty-eight by twenty-four inch painting of it that year. And by producing an edition of forty-one lithographic prints, he ensured that the image would be seen by an even wider audience.

Unfortunately, Fire Slide was recently destroyed in a fire at Rosenquist's studio. This makes me all the more grateful that the print version in the American Art's collection will forever preserve the history behind this significant work.

Pop Art Prints will be on display until August 31, 2014.

Posted by Jeff on April 3, 2014 in American Art Here
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Bill Viola's The Fall into Paradise
April 1, 2014


Bill Viola

Bill Viola's The Fall into Paradise

Most people, if they're going to fall anywhere in the vicinity of paradise, are likely to fall from it. Bill Viola's installation from 2005, The Fall into Paradise shows a couple who seem to have reversed the process and entered their own private Eden. Featured in its own magical, black box theater in Watch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image on the museum's third floor, Viola's work is a meditation on time, love, life, and all things that sustain us. It starts out as a small point of light in the distance, the image morphs into two people held in an embrace. At that instant, the surface shatters and they burst through the void in an explosion of sound and light.

In a 2012 interview with the Guardian, Viola talked about the origins of his work and said, "Falling into a lake aged six, when I was on holiday in the mountains. I went straight to the bottom and saw the most beautiful world I'd ever seen: fish, shafts of light, plants waving in the breeze. I thought I was in heaven. I'd have stayed there had my uncle not pulled me up. That's why my art has so much to do with water — because I dream about going back to that place."

"That place" appears frequently in the artist's work, which regularly uses water, in addition to super slow motion. Over the years, Viola has created transformative works that have redefined and reinterpreted the art of the moving image, as well as what it means to exist in the world today. When he spoke at the museum in 2008 as part of the Clarice Smith Distinguished Lectures in American Art, he told us, "Creativity exists in all human beings and transcends time and place."

Posted by Howard on April 1, 2014 in American Art Here
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