New Acquisitions: Purvis Young's The Struggle
July 9, 2014

American Art's curator of folk and self-taught art, Leslie Umberger, talks about the museum's recent acquisition of a major painting by Purvis Young, The Struggle. The artwork can be seen in the museum's east wing gallery on the third floor.

Purvis Young

Purvis Young's The Struggle

The Struggle, was done between 1973-74 by Purvis Young, who lived and worked in Miami until his death in 2010. Around 1971, Young began transforming an alley in his Miami neighborhood into a large-scale mural project. Goodbread Alley, as it was called, was by then, comprised of store fronts that had been condemned and boarded up by the city as part of rolling urban renewal project. It was in an area of Miami called Overtown, a neighborhood that has once been a thriving immigrant community but had since become a dangerous area plagued by poverty and crime.

During a stint in prison for robbery, Young had reflected on the direction of his life and become troubled by the plight of his community; he became very inspired by the African American activist murals in Detroit and Chicago. So, when he was released, he began making a mural of his own, knowing full well that the structures along the alley he was using as his canvas did not belong to him and would one day be demolished.

Between 1971 and 1974, Young focused on this mural. His subjects celebrated and historicized the neighborhood that he had spent his entire life in and although they charted struggle, they always contained an undercurrent of hope for a better future.

He became a local celebrity and the alley became a tourist attraction until its demise. At that point, some of the work was sold, some was scavenged, some went to dealers, and some was destroyed. And Young continued to paint in various studio settings for the next 3 1/2 decades, but the work made on site in Goodbread Alley is widely regarded as his most powerful; it is also the rarest.

View the documentary, Purvis of Overtown from Souls Grown Deep Foundation

The Struggle, is iconic of Young's themes of challenges and persistence. It is comprised not only of the major center panel showing interracial strife and the trials of immigrant life in a depressed area, but is bordered by a number of smaller, individually dated, paintings that offer a lyric balance to the core fight of life through abstracted figures shown working, dancing, singing, swimming, fighting, finding their way, trying to move up and on in the world, and holding up their arms in a show of unity.

Posted by Jeff on July 9, 2014 in American Art Here, New Acquisitions
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July 4th: The American Experience in American Art
July 3, 2014

Symba Nuruddin, one of our interns at the Luce Foundation Center contributed this post in honor of Independence Day and the American experience in American art.

Two Very American Artworks

Left: Grandad and the Kid, Kansas, 1917 by an unidentified photographer. Right: Preamble by Mike Wilkins.

Tomorrow is the 4th of July! And in today's technological age it has become almost traditional on social media to post holiday specific imagery in celebration of special days. Here at American Art we definitely have no shortage of American imagery that reflects our experiences as a people. Many of the incredible works in the collection are imbued with a sense of American pride and celebrate the American spirit. How can we possibly pick just one to share?

Grandad and the Kid, Kansas, 1917, a photographic print with applied oil color made by an unidentified artist, embodies everything we love about the 4th of July. The important themes of celebration, national pride, and family that are so much a part of the holiday are highlighted in this family photograph. Never the afterthought, the flag is proudly displayed in the foreground of the image in all its glory.

Preamble by Mike Wilkins is currently on display in our first floor galleries. In a show of American ingenuity, Wilkins utilizes an inspired collection of vanity license plates to recreate the preamble in abbreviated script. Each state is represented in alphabetical order. Though the plates rarely make sense on their own, together they recreate one of the greatest documents in American history. This work represents the meaning of the name "the United States" with a fun twist.

These are just a few of my personal favorites for the day. Please feel free to go and pick your own, either by visiting the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Pinterest collection of America themed works or, if you’re in the area, drop by for a visit! (The museum will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on July 4.) A happy and safe 4th to all of our readers!!!

Posted by Jeff on July 3, 2014 in American Art Here
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Picture This: Watching the World Cup at American Art
July 2, 2014

World Cup at the Kogod

Fans Attending the World Cup at the Kogod Courtyard Yesterday (Click on image for larger view)

The American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery opened up our Kogod Courtyard yesterday afternoon to watch the U.S. – Belgium World Cup game. Hundreds attended with fans of both teams. With our air conditioned courtyard it was the best place in Washington to be if you were a football fan. Despite America's loss, it was a great game!

Posted by Jeff on July 2, 2014 in Picture This
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American Art's Summer Instagram Challenge: 30-Days of Outdoor Sculpture
June 30, 2014

Instagram Challenge

During the month of July 2014, join fellow photographers and the American Art Museum on a quest to find outdoor sculpture. We are partnering with Restless Collective, a multimedia group specializing in travel and adventure storytelling, to raise awareness and appreciation for outdoor sculpture across the nation.

When you find a piece of outside artwork you'd like to use for the challenge, feel free to be creative in how you photograph it! We hope to see selfies, simple snapshots, interesting angles, and attention-grabbing edits. If you need help finding outdoor sculpture in your area, use our database of artworks, Save Outdoor Sculpture! (SOS!) Here's a day-to-day schedule of ideas for Instagram photos.

Please use the hashtag #SculptureChallenge and tag us at @AmericanArtMuseum and @RestlessCollective as you upload your sculpture photos to Instagram. For each challenge entry, comment on your photo with an answer to the question "How does the sculpture make you feel?" We will be highlighting and sharing a selection of the best shots.

While you are out capturing images of outdoor art, Restless Collective co-founders Morrigan McCarthy and Alan Winslow will be photographing and interviewing people about outdoor sculpture. Be inspired and join them on their journey through their Summer of Sculpture Tumblr. You might even see one of your challenge photos featured there!

On July 31, the last day of the challenge, you can meet Morrigan and Alan from Restless Collective at the American Art Museum from 12–4 p.m. They will share stories about their travels and then lead an Instagram Walkabout through the museum's neighborhood in Washington, D.C.

Visit our Instagram Challenge page today to see the complete instructions, and download the complete daily challenge list.

Posted by Sara on June 30, 2014 in American Art Everywhere
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Five Questions with Filmmaker David Sutherland
June 26, 2014

This weekend the Smithsonian American Art Museum will screen two documentary films that focus on artists whose work is featured in the exhibit Modern American Realism: The Sarah Roby Foundation Collection: Jack Levine: Feast of Pure Reason, and Paul Cadmus: Enfant Terrible at 80. The director of these films, David Sutherland, will be in attendance at the screening to introduce both films and lead a Q & A with the audience.

These screenings will be on Saturday, June 28th. Jack Levine starts at 2 p.m. followed by a 30-minute intermission; Paul Cadmus begins at 4 p.m. Check out museum's calendar for more information. Programs Coordinator Alli Jessing had a few advance questions for the filmmaker.

Cadmus and Levine

Left: Paul Cadmus' Night in Bologna. Right: Jack Levine's The Art Lover.

Eye Level: What are we going to learn about Paul Cadmus and Jack Levine in these documentary portrait that might surprise us?

David Sutherland: Can't remember who said something like this about this about my films but on the surface, Jack Levine "provides a likeably abrasive counterpoint to Paul Cadmus' gentility, but what is surprising is that both artists are very similar in the intentions of their work" in that as social critics they both feel that "peoples noses should be rubbed in all sorts of things...pleasant and unpleasant."

EL: What was it about these artists that compelled you to tell their stories?

DS: At first, I wasn't compelled to tell Cadmus' story. I misjudged him and thought he was too passive a personality to engage a television audience. And then, I realized that he was indeed the perfect artist to act as host in a film about himself. He could demonstrate his painting and drawing techniques, put his work in historical context, knew all about art history and his times, and had a strong opinion about the world in which he lived in. He also had a great sense of humor and was a quick study who grew to understand how I was making this film about him in an elliptical way and thus was able to help me make it.

After Cadmus, I wanted a radically different personality and when I met Jack Levine I knew that he was exactly what I was looking for. One needs to remember that I am a portraitist and that entails penetrating personality, so, I was looking for a bold subject who was very different from Paul Cadmus, yet, also very able to communicate his technique, be his own art historian, and paint a finished portrait in oil of his daughter live before the camera in a day (while allowing no drying time). The temperature of his studio was, in fact, 95F/35C and if he didn't get a good likeness, he was putting his reputation on the line without a safety net. You could say that I greatly admired his boldness.

Jack also was a very emotional person and was willing to share that side of himself with the camera. Finally, Jack, like Cadmus, was deep, witty, and also had a great sense of humor. He could show his temper with his words while Cadmus would turn beet red when he was frustrated with me.Both artists were mentors to me and became close friends of mine.

EL: Both of these artists use their works as a means of social critique. What are the pieces that you find to be most powerful, and why?

DS: Cadmus' Seven Deadly Sins say everything to me about society and satire. They will never become dated. His masterful description of each of the sins matches perfectly how he has satirically represented them in egg yolk tempera. Also, the three characters in Night in Bologna and what they want from each other is my other Cadmus favorite.

Levine's Gangster's Funeral is by far my favorite Levine satirical piece. He describes the characters in the painting, how and why he invented them, the high level view point of the painting, and all the while his delivery is sober, funny, and ironic, and one could say sort of a foreshadowing of The Sopranos. The other satirical painting of his that I like is Daley's Gesture, probably because I knew it many years before I ever knew much about Jack Levine.

EL: If you could pick any other artist to feature in a documentary, who would it be and why? DS: I saw a great film about Picasso painting a woman from behind a see through screen. Yet, Picasso didn't come across as interesting a personality as I had expected, but there was great tension in the piece, and his artistic process came across brilliantly. I also saw a very good film on Botero. After the Levine film, I began a film on Jacob Lawrence and his wife Gwen which could have been a corker, but it was not fated to happen.

Perhaps, Dali would have been the perfect subject for me. I once made a short film in grad school as an homage to Dali and Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou, my surreal film was called The Hollywood Mongrel.

EL: Are you working on any other projects that we can look forward to?

DS: Dreamers sheds light on another iconic yet elusive segment of America: undocumented Mexican immigrants in rural Ohio. Dreamers chronicles the marriages of two couples trying to blend into society with illegal status, while also living in the shadows so as not to risk deportation.

EL: Thank you, and we're looking forward to Saturday!

Posted by Jeff on June 26, 2014 in American Art Elsewhere, American Art Here, Five Question Interviews
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