Q and Art: Viola Frey
July 26, 2016

This post is part of an ongoing series on Eye Level: Q and Art, where American Art's Research department brings you interesting questions and answers about art and artists from our archive. If you enjoy this post, take a look at others in our series.

Question: What is Lady in Blue & Yellow Dress by Viola Frey made of?

Answer: Lady in Blue & Yellow Dress is one of many larger than life-size figures created by Viola Frey from glazed earthenware. Because clay can be fragile, it may be a surprising medium for a nine foot tall sculpture. With most ceramic objects (a vase, teapot, or figurine), we can imagine holding them with one or two hands. We are usually larger than the clay object. However, Frey's monumental figures reverse the relationship between artwork and viewer, and in her words, "they enter our personal space even from the other side of the room." According to the artist, the illusion of movement is accomplished "partly by distorting the proportions of the figure, by enlarging the head and hands."

In addition to the scale, multiple layers of brightly colored glazes are a vital element in animating Frey's work: "The way one paints the figure is also crucial. I often work against the logic of light and shade, painting in a section of strong color where one would not ordinarily expect it so that it jumps out and advances the figure. I want the figures to get as close to the viewer as possible. I don't want them to crush or overwhelm, but I do want them to intrude."

Although Frey is well known for her giant Every Man and Every Woman sculptures, she was also concerned with small subject matter, specifically figurines, toys and knick knacks that she purchased at flea markets. She enjoyed the spontaneity of arranging the objects into eclectic compositions, and she recorded the groupings in photographs, paintings or sculptures. Self Portrait with Toys is an example of one of these works.

To read more about Viola Frey and her work look for the following books at your library or bookstore: It's All Part of the Clay: Viola Frey and Bigger, Better, More: The Art of Viola Frey by Davira S. Taragin and Patterson Sims with Susan Jefferies (all artist quotes mentioned here are from this publication).

Posted by Alida on July 26, 2016 in American Art Here, Q and Art
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Luce Foundation's 10th Anniversary: Five Questions with PraxisCat
July 19, 2016

This year, the Luce Foundation Center marked the 10th anniversary of our opening. To celebrate, we're throwing a party on July 22 at our Luce Unplugged Community Showcase with musical performances by PraxisCat and Big Hush and beer tastings from Fair Winds Brewing Company. We'll even have cake! In preparation for the party, we sat down with Christine Paluch (aka PraxisCat) to chat about her music and D.C.'s music scene.



Eye Level: Can you tell us a little bit about your background? Where are you from? When did you start writing and performing music?

PraxisCat: I am from "Illinoise." I started making music when I was about 7; I started with synthesizers but took up other instruments along the way. Performing has been something that has been more intermittent until recently. I would occasionally play in bands in my twenties, but not regularly enough to be noteworthy. Then I took a break from performing for about five years. A few years ago I ended up playing a show at Pyramid Atlantic as part of Sonic Circuits' experimental music monthly concert series. I have been performing fairly regularly since as PraxisCat.

EL: Can you tell us about your creative process?

PC: I often start with the idea for a simple sound or concept and improvise using that sound. Then I work around that sound to add complexity to create something more atmospheric. For example, the idea of somebody running a metal bar across a storage container in a large empty warehouse. Then I add additional layers of complexity to it, maybe the sound of distant birds, or an engine running outside. I do almost everything from scratch using synthesizers, hackable instruments, and effects. Conceptually, it may begin as an environmental, but can evolve into something else. Sometimes the goal is to present something as alien as possible, other times it is to present something more terrestrial. The idea is to take the listener someplace else, maybe out of their comfort zone. The process at its core is improvisational; I always try to keep it somewhat living and dynamic since goal is to present an abstraction of place or emotion.

EL: Your music explores the relationship between synesthesia and urban spaces. What's your favorite place in D.C. and why?

PC: In terms of audio, there is an area around Northeast where both rail cars and Metro runs which are a bit interesting. It can be an intermittent orchestra of trains and escalators. Mechanical sounds can be interesting for those of us with sound to color synesthesia. They have their own palette and movement.

EL: What's your next big project?

PC: I am building synthesizers right now, though this process tends to take awhile to do so. I am also recording a follow-up to the Decay album I recently released.

EL: This Luce Unplugged Community Showcase celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Luce Center's opening. How has the DC music scene changed in the past 10 years? What are your hopes for the next 10?

PC: Since I have been here, it seems like so much has changed. But I was not as deeply ingrained in the local music scene until recently. If anything, it seems like the community is a bit tighter than it was before, possibly out of necessity as many resources in the area have been threatened, displaced, or have disappeared. My hope for the next ten years is that more is done to support musicians staying in the city, not just in terms of housing, but also in terms of having rehearsal, performance, and community spaces. There are models for this such as Rhizome DC, and Union Arts. I hope we can see more of this within the D.C. area.

PraxisCat will open the Showcase at 6 p.m. and Big Hush takes the stage at 7. Hope you can make our celebration as we look forward to many more great years ahead!

Posted by Bridget on July 19, 2016 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Some Strings Attached: the willful marionette at SAAM
July 15, 2016


the willful marionette by Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, 2014–2016. Artist Lilla LoCurto and film and media arts curator, Michael Mansfield discuss the installation of the work before their talk in honor of Nam June Paik's birthday.

SAAM's annual birthday celebration honoring the legacy of media pioneer Nam June Paik—an artist known for his interest in robotics and humanizing technology—featured artists Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Their work, the three-foot tall the willful marionette was built from 3-D scanned images of a human figure. It addresses what the artists refer to as "the frailty of the human body." On display through Monday, July 18, the willful marionette holds center stage in the Luce Foundation Center's sculpture court in the company of figurative American sculpture, and engages with viewers by reading their movements and expressions. He does what no other work of art surrounding him can do: make eye contact and react to human gesture. Little Bill (Big Bill being Mr. Outcault himself) responds in real time to spontaneous human interaction.

According to Michael Mansfield, curator of film and media art at SAAM and emcee of the birthday event, "the willful marionette belongs to the long tradition of kinetic sculpture and performance associated with Alexander Calder, but also Jean Tinguely and the E.A.T [Experiments in Art and Technology] artists, a group with which Paik later participated. In 1963, Nam June Paik created Robot K-456 in collaboration with the electrical engineer Shuya Abe. Paik described it as 'the first non-human action artist' and imagined it as his avatar."

Tracking software

The marionette moves in response to tracking people standing near him. The software shows his tracking those nearby.

Working collaboratively since 1991, LoCurto and Outcault have produced interactive installations and sculpture concerning the body's relationship to culture and technology. They began working with body scans early on and over the years worked with dancers to bring more human movement into their work. This led to new research and opportunities, including an invitation to do an artists-in-residence at the University of North Carolina, Colleges of Computing and Informatics and Art and Architecture in 2013-14. It's here that the willful marionette was conceived...or at least scanned.

How will you interact with the willful marionette? Visit the Luce Center before closing time, Monday, July 18, to find out. Remember to tag your willful selfies and other photos #atSAAM.

Posted by Howard on July 15, 2016 in American Art Here, Museums & Technology
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America Now at SAAM
July 14, 2016

On Saturday, July 9, SAAM presented America Now: America Particpates, an opportunity to incorporate creativity with citizen democracy through art, music, storytelling, and service. Visitors were able to pick up a brush and help make a 20-foot community mural about what America means to them and pose in front of our greenscreen photobooth which placed them in front of paintings from our collection. They wrote letters to our active military service members and veterans, participated in a Wikipedia edit-a-thon, and registered to vote, in participation with Rock the Vote. And, more than 2,000 turned-out to enjoy performances by D.C. hip-hop artist Tarica June, and bluegrass bands Steep Canyon Rangers and Seldom Scene.

Below are some photos of some of the activities that day. All photos, except final photobooth images are by Paul Morigi. (Click on each photo to see a larger version.)

Community Mural
Community Mural (Detail)
Photobooth Greenscreen
Photobooth Photo
Band Playing
Couple Dancing
Finished Mural (Detail)
Photobooth Photo

America Now is a three-museum collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, and Smithsonian American Art Museum. It is made possible by the generous support of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Family Foundation.

Posted by Jeff on July 14, 2016 in American Art Everywhere
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Pokémon Go: Games, Art, and Open Spaces at the Museum
July 13, 2016

'Guess what! Our building is a PokéStop!'
'There are Pokémon all over the galleries!'
'My friend caught a rare Tauros near the Pleistocene Skeleton sculpture.'

Shortly after its release, colleagues began playing Pokémon Go —an augmented reality game that has captured the imagination of the entire internet. Museum visitors were doing the same. At the Smithsonian American Art Museum, new games are often received with more enthusiasm than might be expected of an art museum. Perhaps you've heard, SAAM has a long history with games. Creating, collecting, exhibiting, and, of course, playing them. They're fun, they're often beautiful, and best of all, they connect people.

Community Mural
Community Mural (Detail)

Left: PokéStop: The Lost Pleiad. Right: The Lost Pleiad in SAAM's gallery.

We often see people walking around our galleries with their phones out, ready to capture photos of the artwork. As a social media manager, I'm interested in ways people communicate their museum experience online, to their friends, family, and community. Usually that sharing is mediated by Instagram or Facebook. Increasingly, people are doing that on the spot via their phones. They're reflecting on their visit and connecting with people virtually while standing in the galleries.

So how does Pokémon Go fit into this? It's an augmented reality game, a social network, and way for people to explore the world around them. Players are discovering new places, accidentally exercising, and meeting new people. Right now it's on track to surpass Twitter in daily active users.

With six PokéStops in and around the building, players of Pokémon Go know that SAAM is an ideal place to play this game. If they climb the steps and open the door, a first-time visitor will soon realize that free admission allows them to roam the halls. Players can catch a Doduo near our Jenny Holzer, spot a Paras basking in the glow of Megatron/Matrix, or corner a Zubat as it appears to zoom out of a Georgia O'Keeffe painting.

Community Mural
Community Mural (Detail)
Community Mural (Detail)

Left: Pokémon in SAAM's galleries. Left: Dpdip (screenshot by Francis Acupan). Middle: Paras. Right: Zubat.

Increasingly, museums say they want to be open spaces for people. At SAAM, we hope everyone —art experts, hobbyists, or people who have never studied art— feels comfortable walking in the doors. Some do, but certainly not everyone. Given the nature of the PokéStops, most of which are historic markers, monuments, public buildings, and artworks, Pokémon Go encourages players to explore the world around them. At SAAM, it's an invitation to walk inside a building full of art. Maybe it’s the new experience of a first visit, or perhaps it adds a new layer for those well familiar with our museum.

Posted by Amy on July 13, 2016 in American Art Everywhere, Museums & Technology
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