Luce Foundation Center: Artist Talk by Martine Workman
November 20, 2014

Local artists discuss their work and process in the context of artworks on view in the Luce Foundation Center as part of American Art's Luce Local Art Series. This series is presented in collaboration with CulturalDC. All talks begin at 1:30 p.m. Our next artist talk is by Martine Workman this Saturday, November 22.


Poster for Martine Workman's exhibition, Dusk Woods, at Flashpoint Gallery

Have you ever considered the pen or pencil strokes that make up a drawing, or how they would look if transposed from paper to another medium? D.C.-based artist Martine Workman explores these possibilities with her work, which varies from whimsical drawings of figures to zines that explore life experiences. Workman will talk about her work and its evolution over the last few years since moving to DC from the Pacific Northwest in her Luce Artist Talk this Saturday, November 22 at 1:30 p.m. Her various works on paper bring together different element--such as food in pop culture, like in her zine, Prince Food. Other works explore the enjoyment of nature, as in her large work, The River, which depicts the experience of floating down a river in an inner tube.

Workman is a graduate of the California College of the Arts and has shown her work at small press fairs since 2004. This year, she was a Sondheim Artscape Prize semi-finalist, 3rd Place Trawick Prize recipient and was awarded the DCCAH Artist Fellowship Grant for 2015. Her current show, Dusk Woods, will run at Cultural DC's Flashpoint Gallery from November 21 to December 20, 2014.

Posted by Gloria on November 20, 2014 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Rescue Me: Kathleen A. Foster on Winslow Homer's The Life Line
November 18, 2014

Winslow Homer, American, 1836–1910, The Life Line, 1884, Oil on Canvas, 28 5/8 x 44 3/4 inches (72.7 x 113.7 cm), The George W. Elkins Collection, 1924, Philadelphia Museum of Art

How does a curator unpack a painting, you may ask. Very carefully, of course. But if you're Kathleen A. Foster, senior curator of American Art and director of the Center for American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, you also do it artfully, providing thought-provoking commentary along the way. Foster spoke the other evening at the McEvoy Auditorium, the third and final speaker in this year's Clarice Smith Distinguished Lecture in American Art series. Her focused talk concerned Winslow Homer's iconic painting from 1884, The Life Line. By spending more than one hour on the history and the mystery of a single painting, Foster not only revealed insights into the workings of the artist, but also themes very much on the minds of Homer and his contemporaries.

In the mid- to late nineteenth century, the turbulent ocean brought people from overseas to the United States. Unfortunately, not everybody survived the passage. Shipwrecks were front-page news stories, then and now. (Think of the recent Costa Concordia, shipwrecked off the coast of Italy in 2012.) In Homer's closely cropped work, a nearly drowned woman is rescued by a new type of American hero in a contraption known as a breeches buoy, what we might consider a kind of zip line today. In its day, it was the height of new technology, more Sony Walkman than iPod, but apparently it did the trick.

The painting, displaying the themes of heroism and romance, against the overlay of man verses nature, picks up on the ideas of the roles of men and women in society. Foster shared with us the history of such images in painting and literature (and even a contemporary ad from Target) to show us not just Homer's time, but ideas that have come down to us as well. The painting became a turning point in Homer's career and is considered an important part of his oeuvre.

If you missed Foster's talk, watch our webcast. Bonus points if you can keep score of all the nautical references in her talk.

Posted by Howard on November 18, 2014 in American Art Elsewhere, Lectures on American Art
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Conservation: Materials and Materiality in Eric Fischl’s Tumbling Woman II
November 14, 2014


Conservator Helen Ingalls with Eric Fischl's Tumbling Woman II

Eric Fischl's Tumbling Woman II is a poignant and provocative sculpture that is on view in American Art's Lincoln Gallery. In addition to the artwork's historical underpinning and evocative pose, it maintains a distinctive materiality that causes a visitor to pause and engage with its subject.

The material, and materiality, of artworks are points of consideration for nearly all art historical and museum professionals; however, none are more acutely sensitive to their importance than conservators. Art conservation requires a scientific understanding of the media that constitutes an artwork. Potential treatments and preservation efforts rely on the proper identification of the specific paints, metals, adhesives, and other components of collection objects. Misidentification of any part of an artwork can compromise its appearance and lifespan. Extensive testing is often carried out by conservators to identify the specific paint ingredients, ink types, or metal alloys used in the artworks they encounter.

In discerning the specific ingredients used in the distinctive patina of Tumbling Woman II, our objects conservator, Helen Ingalls, was able to benefit from a resource sometimes afforded to contemporary art collections: the people who actually fabricated the object. Through conversations and an onsite visit, Ms. Ingalls learned that although the sculpture resembles aging iron, Tumbling Woman II is actually made of bronze. The patina that is applied to the bronze surface comprises a series of fired nitrates and chlorides that yield the distinctly iron-like appearance desired by the artist.

To find out more about this sculpture and our ongoing efforts to preserve it, please join us at 6:00 p.m. on November 18 in the museum's McEvoy Auditorium as Helen Ingalls presents " Gravitas and Gravity: Eric Fischl's Tumbling Woman II."

Posted by Chris on November 14, 2014 in Conservation at American Art
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Film Premiere: Curious Worlds: The Art and Imagination of David Beck
November 11, 2014

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is screening a sneak preview of the film Curious Worlds: The Art and Imagination of David Beck, an artist featured in the exhibition, The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art, now on view. The screening will take place Thursday, November 13, 2014, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. in American Art's McEvoy Auditorium. And the program is free. Public programs coordinator, Laurel Fehrenbach, spoke with the film's director Olympia Stone to find out more about her work and her fascination with Beck's artistic practice.

Olympia Stone

Filmmaker Olympia Stone

Eye Level: How did this film come about? What got you so curious about David Beck and his work?

Olympia Stone: I've had the privilege of knowing David Beck for almost my entire life. My father, Allan Stone, was his art dealer for many years, and David would often visit our home in Purchase, New York. My father collected many different kinds of art and represented artists working in a range of genres, but from the time I was about 7 years old, David stood out as the artist that I was most deeply inspired by—I remember Saturday mornings spent trying to imitate his tiny creatures with modeling clay (totally unsuccessfully, needless to say!) My fascination with the tiny scale of David's work has never ceased, and it is something I felt compelled to explore. Also, because David's work is so exceptional and yet he is not widely known—I hope that Curious Worlds will help to change that by introducing his artwork to a wider audience.

EL: From start to finish, how long did it take to pull it all together? Can you describe your process from idea to its first showing?

OS: I started planning the film in late 2009 and began filming in spring of 2010, and the film be finished in September 2014. Considering my last film (The Cardboard Bernini) took 6 years to make, this project went relatively fast!

Because David is so prolific, and his pieces are so intricate, his work is challenging to film, and takes time to show. Like an art exhibit, this film had to be "curated" because (even if you want to) you can't include everything in the film. So my process was to figure out what to highlight, and to film a select group of his large artworks. I tend to edit as I am filming, so I would put sequences together, then add on to it, then decide what was and wasn't working and try different approaches. As with most films, many sequences that were in the first cut, ended up being taken out for various reasons, I also had a collaborator in building the story sequencing., Jody Becker, (credited as the writer of the film), helped me with illuminating the stories of each of the pieces, while weaving in footage of David working in his studio, and elements of his personal biography.

EL: What moment, in particular, stands out during filming? Do something surprise you, or deeply intrigue you?

OS: There are a few things that stand out for me about spending time filming with David. The main thing is that even knowing some of David's artwork as well as I do, I was still unprepared for how involved his process really is: the unbelievable, painstaking nature of his work, and the many varied skills (gilding, mosaic work, carving, welding, painting, etc.) that come into play in each piece. His seemingly endless, boundless creativity is totally inspiring to me. His creativity is evident in the work, but there is also an invisible element, which is revealed in the kind of on-going problem solving I saw him engaged in, and captured with the camera.

I also loved learning about and visiting David's many sources of inspiration, like going to the flea market with him, or seeing him in the Morgan Library in New York, interacting with the ancient seal carvings. One of my favorite moments during filming was when David took out his old sketchbooks, and flipped through them. You could see the way his vision of the Dodo had evolved over many years, and the evolution was amazing to witness.

EL: How did you select people for the interviews? How do you decide what is important to include and what to cut?

OS: Many of the people in the film are not interviewed in the context of being "art experts" (although some of them are) but as David's friends. Seeing him interacting with his old friends and hearing their funny stories or thoughtful remarks about him was a wonderful part of making the film. I would have loved to include more of those playful scenes but ultimately I had to decide which worked in the larger context of the film, and those moments that didn't had to go. These are the tough decisions you are forced to make in the edit room!

EL: What is next for you? Do you have a new project you're working on that you can tell us about?

OS: One of the people I interviewed while working on David's film is a most unusual and accomplished sculptor, Elizabeth King. She lives and works in Richmond, Virginia. She and David are old friends, and share certain things in common in terms of their art process. My next film will be about Elizabeth and her very interesting work. I believe she is another artist working largely in her own genre. Filming has begun!

Posted by Jeff on November 11, 2014 in American Art Here, Five Question Interviews, Post It
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Throwback Thursday: You Don't Know Jack!
November 6, 2014

It's Throwback Thursday! And we at Eye Level have decided it's a great opportunity to bring back some of our interesting posts from the past.

Today, we're focusing on our Luce Foundation Center where we have over 3000 objects from our collection in open storage. But one sculpture stands out and its name is Jack. When you come to Luce, on the third floor of American Art, whether to look at art, listen to music or an artist lecture, you will see Jack prominently standing on the main level. In a post from February 2009, Howard fills us in about Paul Feeley's sculpture.

Paul Feeley's Jack

Paul Feeley's Jack

Paul Feeley's sculpture Jack is a visitor favorite at The Luce Foundation Center. In fact, it's one of the objects people want to reach out and touch. And probably more would do so if it weren't for the sign that asks you not to. What is it about Jack? Perhaps it's the giant scale of this once-popular children's toy that naturally makes you want to interact with it. When objects are deliberately created out of scale, they're just begging for attention, aren't they? Jack makes me think of recent works by contemporary artists Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst that are also blown way out of proportion. I'm thinking about Hirst's spin art series and how he took carnival fare, super-sized it, and created an art market for it. Feeley's Jack seems modest in comparison. And that, I believe, is a good thing.

Feeley, who among other things, was Helen Frankenthaler's teacher at Bennington, created Jack in 1966, the year of his death, which just adds to its poignancy. He's known as an abstract expressionist who created color field paintings as well. One of these, Alruccabah from 1964, is also in the collection at American Art.

It's interesting to look at Feeley's two-dimensional work and see the image of the jack pop up every now and then. I've seen it in his paintings as well as in pages of an artist's book that Harvard Art Museum has online. In the last year of his life, Feeley gave the jack an extra dimension and created this sculpture that has found its permanent home at Luce.

Posted by Jeff on November 6, 2014 in American Art Here, In This Case: Luce Foundation Center, Throwback Thursday
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