Preserving Media Art: A Collaborative Conservation Process
May 28, 2015

Conservation Media Arts

Conservator Hugh Shockey works on Cloud Music. Photo by Caitlin Richeson.

Media-based artworks, like those presented in our Watch This! Revelations in Media Art exhibition (on view until September 7, 2015), are a relatively new aspect of museum collections. Like all of our artworks, they are cared for and preserved by our team of conservators. Even though these artworks use a range of technologies and display an active series of sounds and moving images, the task of the conservator remains the same as with more traditional art forms: maintain the artist's original intent in the artwork.

This difficult task can often be facilitated by collaborating with exhibition curators and even with the artists themselves. For Watch This!, our objects conservator, L.H. (Hugh) Shockey, Jr., worked extensively with our curator of film and media, Michael Mansfield, on a number of artworks on display. For one of the exhibition's highlights, Cloud Music, Shockey also collaborated with the remaining living artists to ensure the artwork was being correctly experienced.

Cloud Music, plays a series of sounds through a group of speakers. The "music" is based on information captured by a camera, which is pointed at the sky and registers passing clouds. In previous iterations of the installation, the sounds projected from the speakers were lacking a bass tonality that was previously incorporated in historical manifestations of the artwork. Working with our conservator, our curator, and the artists, the museum was able to reconstruct the original mixing and output of sounds as they were initially heard in Cloud Music's original iteration.

Like all conservation treatments, this process is carefully documented for our collection files. Rather than listing the solvents, adhesives, or other more traditional aspects of restorative processes, this report details the different technological components that were incorporated, altered, or replaced. Also, the documentation describes the processes and discussions that were needed to return the artwork to its appropriate experience and restore the artists' original intent to its display.

To hear more about the collaboration between curator and conservator and the various treatments conducted in anticipation of Watch This! Revelations in Media Art, be sure to join us on June 3 at 6:00 p.m. in the museum's McEvoy Auditorium when Michael Mansfield and Hugh Shockey present a discussion on their media conservation experiences.

Posted by Chris on May 28, 2015 in American Art Here, Conservation at American Art
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Yasuo Kuniyoshi as Artist
May 26, 2015

This is the first in a series of guest blog posts by the Archives of American Art's Mary Savig and Jason Stieber focused on the life of the artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi. The exhibition Artist Teacher Organizer: Yasuo Kuniyoshi in the Archives of American Art is on view in the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery, and is organized in conjunction with The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi on view at at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Portrait of Kuniyoshi by Max Yavno

Yasuo Kuniyoshi in his studio, 1940 Oct. 31 by Max Yavno, photographer. Federal Art Project, Photographic Division collection, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

I strongly believe that we all paint our experience, and while actually painting there is no room for anything between the canvas and the artist.

      —Yasuo Kuniyoshi, notes for his autobiography

The two concurrent Smithsonian exhibitions dedicated to Yasuo Kuniyoshi reveal many facets of this Japanese-born American artist. He was a principled and complex painter, printmaker, and photographer; an immigrant excluded from citizenship and classified an "enemy alien" during World War II; an influential teacher; and an able organizer of artists' causes. Included in the Archives of American Art's exhibition are letters, photographs, writings, and rare printed material —much of it donated to the Smithsonian recently by the artist's nephew Stephen Diamond— documenting Yasuo Kuniyoshi's life and work. Just across the courtyard within the same building, the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Kuniyoshi exhibition showcases 66 of Kuniyoshi's finest paintings and drawings, chosen from leading public and private collections in America and Japan.

Kuniyoshi moved to New York City in 1910 to study art, and by the 1920s critics, dealers, and collectors began to appreciate his work. By the 1930s he was considered one of the most brilliant painters of the day. In 1948, the Whitney Museum of American Art recognized the artist's significance by organizing a retrospective exhibition. The occasion was historic: "Our Museum has never given a retrospective exhibition of the work of a living artist. We have now decided to change that policy," wrote director Juliana Force in a letter to Kuniyoshi.

Kuniyoshi's Whitney Retrospective Invitiaton

Whitney Museum of American Art announcement for the retrospective exhibition of Yasuo Kuniyoshi, 1948. Yasuo Kuniyoshi papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Over the course of his career, Kuniyoshi was fully conscious of his creative evolution. He wrote frequently and eloquently about the ways in which his personal experience of the world influenced his work. "Regardless of the direction in which my work moves, I always attempt to reflect our time from its most humanistic point of view," he explained in an artist statement of 1949. Other writings and photographs from the Archives' exhibition document the mingling of Kuniyoshi's many influences, from his formal education at the Art Students League and his encounters with strains of European painting in France, to the prodigious challenges of a Japanese citizen living and working in the United States during the Second World War.

To see more photographs of Kuniyoshi in his studio and to read Kuniyoshi's artist statements, correspondence, and notes for his unpublished biography, visit Artist Teacher Organizer: Yasuo Kuniyoshi in the Archives of American Art. You can explore his artworks in the online gallery, The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi.

Posted by Jeff on May 26, 2015 in American Art Here
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Picture This: Time-lapse of Yuri's Office
May 21, 2015

A timelapse of the installation of Yuri's Office by Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation.

As summer approaches, we know you're making plans for your summer getaway. If your destination is DC, we’d like to invite you to the Smithsonian American Art Museum as part of your visit. In a city of historical buildings, we are located a few blocks north of the National Mall in the third oldest federal building in the city, which was once the Old Patent Office Building. Only the Capitol and the White House are older. Within our galleries, Abraham Lincoln held his Second Inaugural Ball and Walt Whitman tended to the wounded during the Civil War. Our museum, its building, and most importantly, its art conveys the story of our country. But, just in case your children or grandchildren are reading this, it's also a fun place to visit.

The video above shows a behind-the-scenes timelapse installation of Yuri's Office by Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation. It's now on view as part of our Watch This! Revelations in Media Art show. Here's a list of exhibitions we have up now and into the summer. If you have any questions, let us know.

Posted by Jeff on May 21, 2015 in American Art Here, Picture This
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Luce Unplugged: Five Questions (plus one) with Pleasure Curses
May 13, 2015

Kick off Memorial Day and summer with music, art and drinks at the free Luce Unplugged Community Showcase next Friday, May 22 from 6–8 p.m. The show, presented with Washington City Paper, will feature sets by two well-loved D.C. bands: Pleasure Curses and Young Rapids. Hellbender Brewing Company will provide free beer tastings (ages 21+), and you can grab snacks and drinks from a cash bar.

Pleasure Curses

Sythpop duo Pleasure Curses will play at the Luce Unplugged Community Showcase next Friday, May 22 at 6 p.m.

Young Rapids are a psychedelic indie pop band who played a sold out show at the 9:30 Club and have been lauded by DCist for their live performances. The quartet received national attention from Spin and Vice for their latest album Pretty Ugly. They'll play following Pleasure Curses, a duo at the forefront of D.C.'s electronic scene who make dark and dancey synthpop (check out "Lust," a single off their new EP Pure / Lust). We talked to the duo AKA Evan Grice and Jahn Alexander Teetsov, who filled us in on their recent release, their creative process, and what we have to look forward at their show (spoiler alert: Iggy Pop).

Eye Level: You played Luce Unplugged last August. What's new since then?

Evan Grice: We have and are finishing a bunch of new music, which is exciting. And we've got records and cassette tapes out of our work now, which is awesome. Physical releases of music are great and only possible through the help we've gotten through the friends we've worked with at Prince George Records in D.C.

Jahn Alexander Teetsov: New songs, new material on deck and we've been playing around with our live setup every show by introducing different instruments or ways to process our sounds and vocals live onstage. The purpose of this cassette was to reacquaint people with what we are experimenting with and give a hint to the direction we are heading.

EL: Can you give our readers a hint too?

JT: Well, the recent release was somewhat of a merging of new wave with samba and we've been toying with more disco and house related material that we've been developing as well as some interesting collaborations that some people might not expect from us.

EL: What's your songwriting process like?

JT: Each time is a little different but generally one of us will bring an instrumental or scratch demo to the table and then we will try to add or replace parts together in our studio. Evan's engineering skills have improved leaps and bounds since we first met (he actually reads the manuals) and it's nice having someone who can smooth out the wrinkles I make when I'm just throwing ideas down by myself. My first instrument was the guitar and I used to write more traditionally guitar-driven songs but there's a different method and delivery to playing with abstract sounds and frequencies that is fun to explore. There's a benefit to both Evan and me having a musical upbringing "outside the box" and applying that to electronic music.

EL: Jahn, the video you directed for "Lust" really brought your new track to life. What went into that in terms of inspiration and technical work?

JT: Thank you. The 'ooh' samples for 'Lust' were initially taken from an audio book of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World when the characters take a drug called "soma" and go to the "feelies" which are a cross between virtual reality, the opera, and a pornographic laser light show. In that fictional society it is their means of distraction. I ended up going through old commercials for phone chat lines that had been recorded on VHS and cut them up for the video. The rest of the footage was filmed by us in my bedroom with dollar store items that we painted an unnatural blue using those 68 cent poster boards that kids use for science fair projects as a backdrop.

I was also inspired by Bauhaus abstract ballet and a scene in an Eddie Murphy movie called Boomerang where Geoffrey Holder's character shows him a ridiculously suggestive commercial for lipstick. The loose concept for the video is a repetitive desk job in the distant future where they are trying to determine the purpose of these objects but don't quite know what their use is because too much time has passed and eventually everything flies off the rails.

EL: You also have some other great visual content, like press photos (see above), and it seems your visual presence is as well-articulated as your sound. How would you describe the relationship between the two?

JT: For us, the visual output and the musical output go hand in hand and (hopefully) the image conveys the sound. It just seems natural to have the visuals be an extension of the music we made.

EG: I think it's really cool (in a nerdy way) that we're at a point where work Jahn does visually inspires and informs things I want to try musically, and things we try in our songs. Jahn tries to communicate our creative message through visual works, and those things have actually started inspiring the message itself, musically and all around.

JT: For our recent press photos, I was inspired by George Lucas' first movie THX1138 where people tried of crimes are banished to a jail that is just an expanse of white emptiness. I also had the image in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange when the inmates are walking in a circle at the back of my mind during the shoot. If I had to boil down the underlying theme it would probably be "futuristic imprisonment."

EL: How would you describe your stage antics?

EG: A lot of it depends on if the audience is feeling it. Things have been tame, and we've played plenty of tame shows. But we also play shows where Jahn ventures into the audience while singing and gets lost in the crowd.

JT: Yeah I usually think, "what would Iggy Pop do?" and then scale it back a couple hundred notches because I am only human. With an audience there is usually a defined set of roles, and I like breaching people's comfort levels a little bit, especially if the environment is uptight.

Pleasure Curses will perform at 6 p.m. followed by Young Rapids at 7 p.m. After the show, go down stairs and check out Pilobolus and Portraiture, National Portrait Gallery's kick-off event for America Now!, a new Smithsonian series that celebrates innovation in art, history and culture.

Posted by Amelia on May 13, 2015 in Five Question Interviews, In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Five Questions with Zoe DiGiorgio, President of the University of Maryland's Gamer Symphony Orchestra
May 7, 2015

In honor of the video games on view in American Art's new exhibition Watch This! Revelations in Media Art, this Saturday, May 9th, the University of Maryland's Gamer Symphony Orchestra (GSO) will perform in the museum's Kogod Courtyard.

U of Maryland Gamer Symphony Orchestra

University of Maryland's Gamer Symphony Orchestra. Photo by James Ryan

Eye Level: When did the Gamer Symphony Orchestra start at the University of Maryland and why?

Zoe DiGiorgio: The Gamer Symphony Orchestra was founded in fall 2005 by Michelle Eng and a group of friends in the university's repertoire orchestra who shared a love of video game music. Though the GSO started out with only a dozen members and a few pieces, they managed to accomplish some amazing feats in their first couple of years as a student group. The group first performed in spring 2006 and has quickly grown into the full-size orchestra and chorus we are today. Here is our complete history. In short, I'd say the GSO was founded by musicians with a passion for video games who wanted to share their love for this unique type of music with the university community and beyond.

EL: What attracts students to become a part of the Gamer Symphony Orchestra?

ZD: Students are drawn to the GSO for a variety of reasons. A lot of the students who join us have an interest in both gaming and music; many of our members are self-professed gamers and nerds who are often involved in several other performance groups, including the university orchestra or the marching band.

For other students, the big draw to our group is the ability to perform again. Many students come to the University of Maryland from high school expecting to never have another chance to pick up their instruments, but the GSO gives all interested student musicians the opportunity to perform with us. We don't hold auditions to join our general member body, but instead we welcome students of all skill levels who are interested and willing to try through our waitlist system. Of some of the non-gamers who join the GSO, quite a few of them also look forward to the unique arrangements we perform that many traditional orchestras would shy away from.

EL: How do you decide on which pieces you will perform, do you play music from some game franchises more than others?

ZD: Students and alumni of the GSO, as well as friends of the group submit arrangements of video game music for consideration each semester. The music director leads the music committee (which consists of the music director, conductors, and vice president) in selecting which pieces we will perform. The committee critiques drafts of new arrangements and chooses our pieces for that semester based on a variety of factors, including difficulty of pieces and quality of the overall arrangement. We have some franchises that are definitely more represented than others in our repertoire; Final Fantasy is the most popular, perhaps due in part to the sheer number of games in the franchise, but we also have multiple pieces from series like Pokémon, World of Warcraft, Xenosaga, and the Legend of Zelda. Our repertoire is influenced by audience requests, which is how pieces like Dragonborn came about, but ultimately our library of music has been determined by what pieces students and friends of the GSO choose to arrange.

EL: Do your members design or develop any games themselves? Or is gaming more of a hobby?

ZD: We have many students in the GSO who have backgrounds in computer science and engineering, but to the best of my knowledge, I am not aware of any of our members who actively produce video games. For many of us, gaming is a hobby, and I know members who have graduated and sought jobs in different facets of the gaming industry.

EL: What consoles and games are among your favorites?

ZD: Personally, I always get a bit excited when arrangers dig up pieces from Nintendo 64 games, as that was one of the first consoles I owned as a kid, and many of my favorite games are from that system. It probably helps that I had more time to play games back then too!

Though I have a few gaming consoles at home, while I'm at school I mainly play games for the Nintendo 3DS and PC. I used to play Team Fortress 2 online with friends from my dorm when I first moved to campus, but now I play a lot of Pokémon with other GSO members or indie games like Bastion or Braid, which both are visually stunning. I'm an English major, so I love a good story, and I'm partial to the Bioshock series and Legend of Zelda games as well.

Posted by Kaylin on May 7, 2015 in Five Question Interviews, Museums & Technology
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