In the February 2016 Issue
Global Melting Pot
Winternational Showcases Food, Culture from Dozens of Countries
by Larru Luxner
Tiny cups of strong Turkish coffee. Coconut slices from Fiji. Hand-painting by artists from Bangladesh. Delicate Ukrainian embroidery, just in time for the holidays.
The fourth annual Winternational Embassy Showcase offered all that and more.
The Dec. 9 event took place at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center (RRB/ITC), which at 3.1 million square feet ranks as the largest federal building in Washington. It attracted 2,500 visitors for a colorful midday celebration of culture, travel and tourism, organized by Trade Center Management Associates (TCMA).
As Azerbaijani-born violinist Rafael Javadov entertained the crowds with his classical, jazz and klezmer music, people browsed the exhibitions organized and staffed by a record 34 embassies including the African Union (which represents 54 countries); the 28-member European Union; and the 22-member League of Arab States.
In the January 2016 Issue
Women Found Alternative Ways to Leave Mark on Midcentury Modernism
by Kate Oczypok
In the “Mad Men” era of the 1950s and ’60s, painting, sculpture and architecture were dominated by men. So women turned to alternative avenues and materials like furniture, textiles, ceramics and metals to leave their artistic stamp.
“Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today” at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) examines the impact these women artists and designers had on midcentury modernism.
“For these mid-20th-century women, architecture and industrial design were essentially closed male societies,” said NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling. “So they had to create their own professional pathways through ceramics, textiles and metals. They also found freedoms in academia, where their ideas helped inspire the next generation. The resulting serious, conceptually crafted objects helped define midcentury modernism in the U.S.”
In the December 2015 Issue
National Gallery of Art Toasts Its Photographic Legacy
by Gary Tischler
The National Gallery of Art is marking several major milestones in one huge exhibit. “Celebrating Photography at the National Gallery of Art: Recent Gifts” pays tribute to the culmination of a yearlong celebration as well as a three-year initiative showcasing photographing at the museum. It features 200 works acquired in honor of the 25th anniversary of the gallery’s photography program — some of the photos dating to the 1840s.
But the impressive numbers belie the even more striking imagery and history on display.
The exhibition itself — culled from actual or promised gifts that total over 1,300 works since a massive undertaking to expand the photography collection was launched three years ago — is a remarkable survey of not just the gallery’s holdings, but how the contemporary world views photography, how it has changed in focus and approach, what it means in terms of art and what it means in terms of documentation.
In the November 2015 Issue
Swiss Go Big
Modern Masterworks Echo Duncan Phillips’s Collecting Habits
by Gary Tischler and Anna Gawel
In size, Switzerland is small — California is about 10 times bigger. But in other areas, the pristine Alpine country punches above its weight. Its 8.2 million inhabitants enjoy a GDP of nearly $690 billion thanks in large part to the country’s reputation as a banking hub. But the Swiss excel in another domain: art.
The city of Basel bills itself as the cultural capital of Switzerland. It was also the longtime home of Dorothy Kosinski, a Swiss citizen and director of the Phillips Collection.
Duncan Phillips, the D.C.-based art collector who founded the museum, played a pivotal role in introducing American audiences to modern art. Apparently, he also had two kindred spirits in Switzerland.
In the October 2015 Issue
‘Latin Heat’ Expands Washington Ballet’s Diverse Repertoire
by Karin Sun
With the exception of Spanish soap operas, tango classes and musicians ranging from rapper Pitbull to 1950s Cuban-American television icon Ricky Ricardo, most average Americans’ exposure to Latin culture is spotty, at best.
Just as he’s spent years trying to change the perception of ballet in Washington, Septime Webre, artistic director of the Washington Ballet, is hoping to broaden the city’s appreciation of Latin culture with the launch of “PROJECT GLOBAL,” the dance troupe’s multiyear initiative that aims to highlight and celebrate different cultures around the world. This year’s inaugural festival focuses on Latin dance and music, running from late September to the middle of November. A centerpiece of the event will be “Latin Heat,” a five-act extravaganza that combines classical ballet with a variety of Latin dance styles including salsa, flamenco and tango.
In the September 2015 Issue
History Is Seen Through Wardrobe of a Washington Socialite
by Lauren Hodges
When most Washingtonians hear the name Merriweather Post, they likely think of the namesake concert venue in Maryland where they spent the summer lifting their phone screens to the live performances of Mumford & Sons, Sam Smith and Florence and the Machine.
Yet Marjorie Merriweather Post was hardly one to don a concert t-shirt. One of the tastemakers of the early 20th century, the heiress to the Post cereal empire and founder of General Foods was followed relentlessly by the press, who were desperate to snap photos of her high fashion wardrobe.
“They would show what she wore to every event,” said Kate Markert, executive director of Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens. “There were even sketches of new outfits.”
In the August 2015 Issue
Iran In Your Face
Exiled Shirin Neshat Offers Compelling Insights Into Homeland
by Lauren Hodges
Summer headlines are abuzz with updates and analysis of the recent nuclear agreement in Vienna. Open any major media outlet and Iran is likely to have a comfortable place somewhere in front. Yet many American readers are comfortably removed enough to either absorb the news or flip right past it in search of last night’s game or the latest think piece about online dating.
But for those born in Iran, there is no distance. Tehran is their daily think piece. They cannot just turn the page.
“Every Iranian artist is, in one way or another, political,” said Shirin Neshat. “Politics has defined our lives.”
Neshat is the artist behind the lens at the Hirshhorn Museum’s exhibit “Facing History,” a film and photography collection on identity and power in Iran, Neshat’s home country.
In the July 2015 Issue
Mutually Beneficial Merger
Textile Museum, George Washington University Combine Forces
by Stephanie Kanowitz
At first blush, it doesn’t really make sense. Merging a textile museum that focuses on non-Western pieces with a private collection of hyper-local Washington memorabilia sounds as mixable as oil and water.
But a closer look reveals a juxtaposition that is quite representative of D.C. — a combination of cultures and history uniting in one capital.
That’s the underlying message of the new $33 million George Washington University Museum and the Textile Museum, which opened March 21 after three years of planning. It joins works from the formerly private Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection and the Textile Museum, a 90-year-old institution whose prestigious collection spans six continents and five millennia.
In the June 2015 Issue
Not So Little Lady
Elaine de Kooning, Eclipsed by Husband, Shines in Portrait Show
by Gary Tischler
We get lost in the thick paint, the whirls, the faceless men, their splayed lower bodies and the gestural essence of portraits that loom large in life and personality. But a small part of our hypnotic fascination, and admiration, may lie in the fact that the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery is called “Elaine de Kooning: Portraits,” and not “Elaine Fried: Portraits.”
That is to say that Elaine de Kooning was married, with interruptions for a lengthy separation, to Willem de Kooning, one of the supernovas of American abstract expressionism, which shifted the balance of cutting-edge and contemporary art from Paris to New York beginning in the 1940s. The de Koonings lived and loved and fought as part of a scintillating New York art and cultural scene, and de Kooning was by all accounts a mentor to the young Elaine, whom the Dutch-born painter took under his wing in 1938.
In the May 2015 Issue
African Artists Embark on Afterlife in ‘Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell’
by Michael Coleman
If you’ve visited the National Museum of African Art and been impressed, it’s time to go again and be transported.
The museum’s new exhibition “The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists” is a sprawling but compelling collection of mixed media that transforms the dramatic, subterranean space into reflections on heaven, purgatory and hell.
Featuring works from over 40 African artists representing 18 countries as well as the African diaspora, the exhibition is inspired by Dante’s 1320 poem, a masterpiece of Italian literature. The art includes paintings, videos, sculptures, textiles, photography, prints and collages, some pieces specially commissioned for the exhibition. “The Divine Comedy” is the first African art showcase to encompass all four floors of the striking museum, which descends from its first floor off the National Mall to several subfloors below centered by a spiral staircase.
In the April 2015 Issue
Sister Cities International Embodies Citizen Diplomacy
by Karin Zeitvogel
Eleven years after the end of World War II, the world was still roiled by conflict. The Cold War was in full swing. The Korean Peninsula was seething. Kenya was four years into the Mau Mau rebellion against colonial power Britain. Algerians were fighting for independence from France. Sudan’s first civil war had broken out.
That’s not even a complete list of the conflicts that flared up in the 1950s. It seemed that the lessons World War II should have taught governments and military leaders had fallen on deaf ears, or maybe the students weren’t paying attention in class. Amidst all of the tensions, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower decided to take a different approach to peacemaking. Why not, he thought, kick world leaders out of the classroom and replace them with grassroots citizens? He convened a meeting at the White House and called on ordinary Americans to do something that smacked of insurrectionism.
“If we are going to … take advantage of the assumption that all people want peace, then the problem is for people to get together, to leap governments, if necessary; to evade governments; work out not one method but thousands of methods by which people can gradually learn a little bit more of each other,” Eisenhower said in a speech at a citizen diplomacy summit on Sept. 11, 1956.
In the March 2015 Issue
Kennedy Center Spotlights Spanish- and Portuguese-Speaking Worlds
by Molly McCluskey
This spring, the Kennedy Center will open its stages to a full range of performances highlighting culture from Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking countries from around the world.
More than 600 artists will participate in “Iberian Suite: global arts remix,” an international festival running from March 3 to 24. The festival’s opening performance will be held on March 3 in the Eisenhower Theatre and will include singers Carminho (Portugal) and Eugenia León (Mexico); dance company Grupo Corpo (Brazil); Arakaendar Choir and Orchestra (Bolivia); jazz saxophonist Moreira Chonguiça (Mozambique); D.C.’s own experimental orchestra PostClassical Ensemble; and ballet dancers Ángel and Carmen Corella (Spain) in their only festival appearance. The festival is presented in cooperation with the governments of Portugal and Spain.
“Iberian Suite will offer an extensive and vibrant panorama of contemporary cultural traditions whose roots trace back to more than a millennium,” said festival curator Alicia Adams, the Kennedy Center’s vice president of international programming and dance. “The intersections of arts across continents show the movement and metaphor, the quality, plurality and creativeness of the various genres and trends that have emerged from contact and encounters between artists that share the Spanish and Portuguese languages.”
In the February 2015 Issue
Landmark Exhibit Pictures Virgin Mary as Woman, Mother, Idea
by Michael Coleman
When curators at the National Museum of Women in the Arts began planning a comprehensive exhibition representing the Virgin Mary last year, they had plenty of material from which to choose.
After all, the mother of Jesus — arguably the second most-important person in the Bible — is one of the most popular subjects in Western art, and has been for centuries. “Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea” at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) is not just an inspired idea for an exhibition that is sure to draw large crowds, but a particularly impressive collection of iconic pieces.
The tightly focused but comprehensive exhibition combines more than 60 paintings, sculptures and textiles from the Vatican, major museums, churches and private collections throughout Europe and the United States. Well-known Renaissance and Baroque artists, including Botticelli, Dürer, Michelangelo, Pontormo, Gentileschi and Sirani, are represented in an array of immaculately preserved masterworks.
In the January 2015 Issue
Postcards From Asia
‘The Traveler’s Eye’ Memorializes a Continent’s Worth of Journeys
by Vanessa H. Larson
For many people, travel becomes most meaningful when we are able to capture the experience — through postcards, photos or a blog — to remember it later and share it with others. But the urge to document and memorialize our travels is not just a modern phenomenon. As a major exhibit currently on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery makes clear, travel has long been a theme in art, just as art has frequently served as a medium for recording travel.
A collaborative effort among seven curators, “The Traveler’s Eye: Scenes of Asia” explores representations of travel at different times and places in Asia throughout the last five centuries. The diverse works range from 16th- and 17th-century Chinese and Japanese scrolls depicting traveling merchants, to vintage postcards of the Middle East and Asia, to photographs of people taking everyday modes of transport in late-20th-century India. In all, more than 100 pieces chronicle different travels across the continent, from tourist trips to trade expeditions to pilgrimages.
It’s a lot to take in, but the beauty of such an eclectic array of works is that visitors can approach the exhibit as a personal journey, from which everyone will take away something different.
In the December 2014 Issue
A Captain’s Eye
Linnaeus Tripe Offered British a Picture of India and Burma
by Stephanie Kanowitz
When Linnaeus Tripe first visited India and Burma (now Myanmar) in 1839, he was a member of the British military. When he returned in 1854, he was armed with something more: a camera.
Photography had just emerged when Tripe, a Devonport, England, native, visited the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 while on leave from the army. He embraced the new technology and his success with it is the subject of “Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852-1860,” on view at the National Gallery of Art.
The exhibit displays about 60 of his photographs in a chronological retrospective that aims to acquaint American audiences with Tripe and his pioneering work. (The exhibition travels next to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.) The images show peaceful landscapes and religious and secular sites in India and Burma, several of which are now destroyed. Many of the pictures are the first taken of important monuments, shrines and temples there, said Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the Department of Photographs at the National Gallery.
“Photography was just bursting on the scene in India when he began to work,” Greenough said.
In the November 2014 Issue
Adventures in Archeology
Sackler Goes in Search of a Legend in ‘Unearthing Arabia’
by Vanessa H. Larson
The story of the Queen of Sheba, who is known in both the Biblical and Koranic traditions for visiting King Solomon in Jerusalem bearing spices, jewels and other riches from the distant lands where she reigned, is shrouded in legend. In 1949, that legend, along with visions of the famed “incense routes” of antiquity, brought an adventurous American paleontologist named Wendell Phillips to South Arabia — modern-day Yemen — on a reconnaissance trip.
Phillips found a land where the “husks of ancient civilizations were buried in deep sand,” as he later wrote. “The land looked forbidding, but it was rich with the spoils of time, and I wanted to unearth some of those riches.”
Over the next couple of years, Phillips, then only in his late 20s, organized some of the first large-scale archaeological expeditions to the remote region. He and his team excavated several ancient sites — including Marib, the purported capital of the Sabaean kingdom ruled by Bilqis, as the Queen of Sheba is known in Arabic — making a number of important discoveries before being forced to leave due to local political tensions.
In the October 2014 Issue
Czech Mutual Inspirations Festival Exposes Different Sides to Kafka
by Lisa Troshinsky
Prague-born Franz Kafka, unassuming during his lifetime despite his literary genius, would feel honored by this year’s Mutual Inspirations Festival, organized by the Embassy of the Czech Republic. It’s all about him, after all.
The multidisciplinary festival, now in its fifth year, highlights how Czechs and Americans have inspired each other. It features concerts, exhibitions, films, lectures and theater performances taking place at various cultural, religious and educational community venues around D.C.
Each year spotlights a different Czech personality who has influenced others through his/her work; past festivals have showcased composer Antonín Dvořák (2011), director Miloš Forman (2012) and former Czech President Václav Havel (2013).
In the September 2014 Issue
Telling Their Stories
Newseum Explores How Minorities Discovered Power of Press
by Sarah Alaoui
While the Pledge of Allegiance does not directly mention a democratic press, the Newseum has consecrated a new exhibition around the notion of “One Nation With News for All.” Representing the first partnership between the Newseum and the Smithsonian Institution, “News for All” showcases the stories of immigrant and minority groups who strived to personalize and share their American experience through media.
“We wanted people to walk away with a better understanding of how their various ethnic communities contributed to the American experience,” said Sharon Shahid, the exhibit’s lead writer.
In the August 2014 Issue
Art in War
National Gallery Documents WWII Preservation of Cultural Treasures
by Miranda Katz
World War II caused innumerable losses for nations around the globe, but a new exhibition at the National Gallery of Art seeks to draw attention to an oft-overlooked area of destruction: the art and architecture damaged in the war. Hidden in the study center of the East Building, “In the Library: Preservation and Loss during World War II” details efforts to preserve and recover art during and after the fighting. The timely exhibition, coming on the heels of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Normandy, also pays homage to works that were rendered irreparable by war.
In the July 2014 Issue
National Geographic Strikes Gold with Ancient Peruvian Artifacts
by Gail Scott
The Inca Empire, the largest empire of the pre-Columbian era, arose in the Peruvian highlands in the early 13th century and continues to fascinate historians and archeologists today.
But Peru was also home to a wealth of culture and civilization long before the Inca, and the remnants of that golden past have been dug up in archeological finds over the past half-century.
Now, a remarkable collection of ancient gold and silver artifacts excavated from Peru’s legendary royal tombs has made its way to D.C. for “Peruvian Gold: Ancient Treasures Unearthed.” The dazzling new exhibit at the National Geographic Museum shines a light on extraordinary objects from Peru’s pre-Inca heritage — spanning 1250 B.C. to A.D. 1450 — and includes gold ceremonial and funerary masks, beakers, textiles, ceremonial ornaments, ceramics and jewelry.
In the June 2014 Issue
Preparing for the Worst
‘Designing for Disaster’ Shows How People Can Protect Themselves
by Stephanie Kanowitz
As hurricane season officially begins June 1, media reports reminding residents of the Eastern Seaboard to stock up on water and duct tape start to appear. The National Building Museum wants people to be ready with more than that.
“Designing for Disaster” is a new exhibit that looks at past natural disasters for lessons learned and showcases new innovations that could help keep people safer in the future. The target audience includes building planners, government officials, homeowners, renters and kids — everyone who would play a role in building a disaster mitigation plan from the ground up, both figuratively and literally.
“Statistics show that civilians are generally the first to respond in emergencies, so the more each of us knows about what to do, the better off we’ll all be,” said Chrysanthe Broikos, exhibit curator.
In the May 2014 Issue
PostClassical Celebrates 10 Years of Putting Music in Context
by Kate Oczypok
For any fledging arts organization, finding the audience — and funding — to endure is a perennial challenge. And it can be especially daunting for groups trying to challenge convention, as PostClassical Ensemble does with its brand of “experimental musical laboratory.”
But this spring, PostClassical celebrates 10 years of defying both convention and expectation to not only survive, but thrive in Washington’s competitive artistic arena.
Founded by Angel Gil-Ordóñez and Joseph Horowitz, PostClassical is marking the decade milestone with a series of events on the Mexican Revolution, featuring the group’s signature blend of thematic, cross-disciplinary programming that intertwines music with dance, discussion, theater and film.
The Mexican Revolution program was made possible in part by a $200,000, three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the ensemble’s ongoing partnerships with Strathmore, Georgetown University and the National Gallery of Art — proof of PostClassical’s staying power. (Altos Hornos de México, one of Mexico’s largest steel and mining companies, also supported the endeavor with a gift of $100,000 toward the production of a DVD recording.)
In the April 2014 Issue
It’s All French
Francophonie Cultural Festival Brings Joie de Vivre to D.C.
by Sarah Alaoui
Francophiles of all breeds, do not fret — now is your time to shine. Once again, just as spring is slowly starting to grace D.C. with its presence, the annual Francophonie Cultural Festival will be held across the city. The event, now in its 14th year, is the largest Francophone festival in the world and includes more than six weeks’ worth of concerts, theater, film, literary salons, children’s activities and of course cuisine from the world’s French-speaking countries.
And it’s a big world, encompassing dozens of nations throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas. The International Organization of La Francophonie, which represents one of the largest linguistic zones on the planet, has 75 member states and governments that together represent a population of more than 890 million people, including 220 million French speakers. In fact, since 2001, more than 40 countries have collaborated each year to showcase their Francophone culture and language in the nation’s capital.
In the March 2014 Issue
With International Theater Festival, All the Kennedy Center’s a Stage
by Stephanie Kanowitz
Shakespeare was onto something when he said, “All the world’s a stage,” but it’s the Kennedy Center that’s bringing the world to the stage.
“World Stages: International Theater Festival 2014” is a three-week event (March 10-30) that will offer 13 fully staged productions, four theater-focused installations, three readings of new works, and two forums featuring pieces from countries such as Australia, Canada, Chile, China, England, France, Iceland, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Mexico, Pakistan, Palestine, Scotland, South Africa, Sudan, Syria and the United States.
“While we present international theater on an annual basis as part of the festivals and the theater season, we decided that rather than focus the international festival on a country or region, that we would focus on international theater from around the world,” said Alicia Adams, the event’s curator and vice president of international programming at the Kennedy Center (and the brainchild behind many of the center’s ambitious globe-spanning festivals). “This would nuance our international festivals by focusing on a single discipline while complementing the Kennedy Center’s American theater season.”
In the February 2014 Issue
‘Damage Control’ at Hirshhorn Surveys Ruins of Artistic Creation
by Michael Coleman
For most people, art is creation, but an unorthodox exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum presents art as exactly the opposite.
“Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950” delves into destruction and reminds us of its important place in the world of contemporary art. Featuring approximately 90 works by more than 40 international artists, the exhibition includes paintings, sculpture, drawings, printmaking, photography, film, video, installation and performance art.
The exhibition occupies most of the Hirshhorn’s second-floor gallery and begins with the biggest bang of all — a nuclear explosion.
In the 1950s, Harold Edgerton, along with his colleagues Kenneth Germeshausen and Herbert Grier, produced the film “Photography of Nuclear Detonations,” which captured a number of test explosions at the behest of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. One of their films, a 16-minute nuclear testing film, depicts a hydrogen bomb detonated in all its fury over the parched desert of southern New Mexico. The roiling intensity of the nuclear inferno and the velocity of the smoke rising to form a dreaded mushroom cloud wasn’t intended as art, but projected here on a wide screen in the Hirshhorn, it is nothing short of mesmerizing.
In the January 2014 Issue
Masterpieces from Enduring Empire in D.C. for First Time
by Molly McCluskey
Evidence of the Byzantine Empire has long existed in pockets in Washington, D.C. In Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, icons venerate the altar. At Dumbarton Oaks, the Byzantine collection includes Greek, Roman and western medieval art. But for the first time at the National Gallery of Art, a vast, almost impassively expansive exhibit showcases 170 pieces of Byzantine art from 13 museums located throughout mainland Greece and the islands, spanning the fourth to the 15th centuries.
The exhibit, “Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections,” features icons, coins, jewelry, sculptures, mosaics, glass, ceramics and embroideries crafted in Egypt, Asia Minor, Syria, Cyprus and Constantinople, now Istanbul.
Ambassador to Greece Christos Panagopoulos said “Heaven and Earth” is “the first exhibition on Byzantine art of such magnitude to ever be shown in Washington, D.C. It is an excellent opportunity for Greece to showcase the invaluable treasures, many of them for the first time, that are a significant and integral part of our cultural and historical heritage.”
In the December 2013 Issue
Exercise in Enlightenment
Landmark ‘Yoga’ Exhibit Is a Spiritual Stretch Back in Time
by Sarah Alaoui
Many Washingtonians flock to yoga classes to escape the stress of daily life, but few know about the roots of this trendy yet ancient discipline. That’s partly why the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery recently unveiled the world’s first yogic art exhibition, “Yoga: The Art of Transformation,” to showcase the origins and evolution of the practice over the past 2,000 years.
“This exhibition looks at yoga’s ancient roots, and how people have been trying to master body and spirit for millennia,” said Julian Raby, the Dame Jillian Sackler director of the Sackler and Freer Gallery of Art. “By applying new scholarship to both rarely seen artworks and recognized masterpieces, we’re able to shed light on practices that evolved over time — from yoga’s ancient origins to its more modern emergence in India, which set the stage for today’s global phenomenon.”
In the November 2013 Issue
All the Right Moves
International Dancers Find Expressive Home at Washington Ballet
by Lisa Troshinsky
The Washington Ballet (TWB) has always had an international bent, but Artistic Director Septime Webre recently decided to ramp up this endeavor considerably. This season is no different, with several new company members who hail from other countries. TWB’s percentage of international dancers is now 40 percent, with dancers from 14 different countries and six continents.
“I am thrilled to welcome such a diverse group of new dancers to TWB,” said Webre. “About five to six years ago, we started purposefully recruiting internationally and accepting invitations to judge international ballet competitions around the world,” Webre, who is Cuban American, told The Washington Diplomat.
In the October 2013 Issue
NMWA Highlights Racial Inequality and Fantastical Musings
by Gary Tischler
There are probably few museum exhibitions occupying one floor that appear at first glance to be so dramatically different from each other than “American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s” and “Awake in the Dream World: The Art of Audrey Niffenegger,” both at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA).
Ringgold’s paintings are boldly political, an unapologetic mirror on America’s racially divided history that echoes particularly loudly this year — the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, the murder of four young African American girls in a church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., and the political assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Medgar Evers.
In contrast, the Niffenegger exhibit inhabits a more fantastical, lyrical world, one that ponders universal themes — death and decay, love, jealousy, redemption and the inevitability of change — but from a surreal, internal place of the intellect, imagination and heart.
In the September 2013 Issue
Totality of War
Corcoran Surveys Mankind’s Penchant for Destruction
by Gary Tischler
As I’m writing this, I can hear John Wayne bellowing orders to his troops in the 1962 film “The Longest Day,” which depicts the D-Day invasion of Normandy that would turn the tide of World War II.
You won’t find John Wayne in “War/Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath,” the vast, ambitious exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art that seeks to generate a new and larger understanding of war in all its guises, whether it’s the clash of empires in the 19th-century Crimean War, or America’s modern-day war on terrorism — a high-tech campaign that in many ways resembles the old-fashioned guerilla wars of yesteryear.
The scope of the exhibit speaks to mankind’s timeless appetite to pick a fight — documented by 185 photographers representing more than 25 nationalities, covering 165 years’ worth of battles. It took organizers of the exhibition, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, 10 years to cull through a staggering 1 million photographs and collections in 17 countries.
In the August 2013 Issue
Collector and Cubist
Duncan Phillips’s Veneration of Georges Braque on Display
by Kat Lucero
At the turn of the 20th century, technological advances in electricity and communications altered societies and art. The Cubist movement emerged from this period in response to the rapid innovation the world was experiencing and a desire by artists to move past established norms and find new ways to interpret the chaotic world around them.
Enter Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, the men who pioneered the first style of abstract, avant-garde art. Together in the early 1900s in Paris, the Spaniard and the Frenchmen radicalized the art world by rejecting the traditional forms of techniques, perspective and modeling. Instead, they broke down and reassembled objects using angular geometric forms that became a hallmark of Cubism, fragmenting the subject yet lending it three-dimensional depth.
To Duncan Phillips, founder of the Phillips Collection, Braque was the apple of his eye. The collector was first appalled by Cubism in its early stages, led by Picasso. However, he credits his later understanding of the style in the late 1920s largely to Braque’s work.
In the July 2013 Issue
Down to Earth
African Artists Dig Deep in ‘Land as Material and Metaphor’
by Audrey Hoffer
In a spacious, high-ceilinged gallery two levels below ground in the beautifully designed National Museum of African Art, a grand multimedia exhibit of paintings, ceramics, sculptures, photography and film takes on no less than the entire planet itself — and man’s relationship to it.
“Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa” showcases the primacy of land as an element of African life — a fitting examination given that the continent is the cradle of humanity. In fact, “Earth Matters” is the first major exhibition to explore the ways in which African artists and communities navigate their relationship with the land on which they live, work and draw their inspiration.
Another first is “Earth Works,” the first installation of land art by three artists to be assembled outside in the Smithsonian Gardens and on the National Mall.
Inside the museum, there is a lot of terrain to uncover in the 100 works from 24 countries by more than 40 artists that span the 19th to 21st centuries. They are arranged thematically around five categories: Material Earth, Power of the Earth, Imagining the Underground, Strategies of the Surface, and Art as Environmental Action.
In the June 2013 Issue
Toying with War
Levinthal’s Images Humanize Conflict Through Action Figures
by Michael Coleman
Union Army Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman famously declared that “war is hell,” but for almost as long as armed conflict has existed, there have been figurines, or toy soldiers, that depict war as noble and courageous — glamorous, even.
A compelling and unusual exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art explores these disparate notions of war through the use of antique and modern-day toy soldiers and other props. “David Levinthal: War Games” is a vivid study of the acclaimed New York photographer’s surprising — and sometimes shocking — ability to explore the boundaries between simulated reality and historical truth.
Levinthal’s earliest work in this medium, titled “Hitler Moves East,” dates to 1972, as the Vietnam War was coming to an end. As a young student at the Yale School of Art, Levinthal met Garry Trudeau, who went on to fame as the creator of the popular comic strip “Doonesbury.” The two young art students collaborated on a book that documented the infamous and rarely photographed Nazi invasion of Russia, known in history books as Operation Barbarossa. Using a classic written document of the account that included no photographs (also called “Hitler Moves East”), the men painstakingly recreated the military movements of the epic conflict using traditional plastic toy soldiers, others small materials and cameras.
In the May 2013 Issue
Trusty Travel Companion
New Cultural Tourism Chief Ready to Take Flight with Passport DC
by Stephanie Kanowitz
Steven Shulman returned to Washington, D.C., in part so he could travel the world. The new executive director of Cultural Tourism DC kicks off his tenure with the organization’s sixth annual Passport DC celebration, a month-long series of international programming in May that includes dozens of embassy open houses.
“One of my great disappointments was that I was in Hollywood when this incredible event was going on, and I loved the international aspect of Washington,” Shulman said, referring to the city in Florida where he spent the past six years improving culture as president of the Greater Hollywood Arts Foundation Inc. “It’s really thrilling to not only be leading the organization that presents it, but to be here and be participating throughout the month.”
Shulman isn’t new to Cultural Tourism DC, an independent nonprofit coalition of more than 230 organizations aimed at promoting the District’s arts, culture and heritage. Between 2001 and 2007, he served on its board of directors and executive committee.
In the April 2013 Issue
Built by Design
First-Ever Festival Showcases Innovation of Industrial Design
by Stephanie Kanowitz
Have you ever considered why a doorknob is shaped a certain way or why drawers open in only one direction? Douglas Burton thinks you should. That’s why he curated the first-ever Washington, DC International Design Festival highlighting achievements in contemporary industrial design.
“I think many people don’t know what industrial design is,” said Burton, co-owner of Apartment Zero, a Washington-based design studio, retail space and gallery that helps industrial designers worldwide showcase their works and concepts through collaborations with area embassies, museums and universities. “When I heard the words ‘industrial design,’ I thought of something that was made in industry, something that was made out of metal or glass, but it encompasses so many of the things we use and touch and see every single day.”
Industrial design applies to everything from toothbrushes to cars. It combines science and aesthetics to improve these everyday products and entice people to use, keep and admire them.
In the March 2013 Issue
Italy’s Charm Offensive
Yearlong Cultural Festival Showcases All Country Has to Offer
by Sean Lyngaas
Rome has declared 2013 to be “The Year of Italian Culture,” but its embassy in Washington understands that simply coining the phrase will not give the year cultural imprimatur among Americans. So the Italian Embassy is busy coordinating a cultural charm offensive that is unfolding across the United States, from art exhibitions in Boston to robotics demonstrations in San Francisco.
The Italian term for this charm offensive is sistema paese, roughly translated as “the country as a whole,” or “the country seen systematically.” It is the belief that Italian culture should be presented holistically rather than in isolation. The goal is to showcase the breadth of the culture, from Michelangelo to modern science. “The idea is not to have a single, specific event, but events as a trampoline for cooperation,” between the United States and Italy, Antonio Bartoli, head of the Italian Embassy’s cultural office, told The Washington Diplomat recently.
Just two years ago, the Italians had a similar cultural blitz in honor of the 150th anniversary of the country’s unification (also see “Venetian Views: Canaletto and Company Capture Landmark City on the Water” and “Philip Guston: A ‘Roma’ Retreat at the Phillips Collection” in the April 2011 issue of The Diplomat). But that initiative was more nostalgic, highlighting Renaissance art and other things one reflexively associates with Italian culture.
In the February 2013 Issue
Chills and Thrills
Kennedy Center Expects Warm Reception for Nordic Cool
by Stephanie Kanowitz
This year, the Kennedy Center is going north for the winter with Nordic Cool 2013, its first festival devoted to Nordic culture. The event boasts dozens of theater and dance performances, concerts, art and history exhibits, food tastings and films with the purpose of increasing awareness about this distinct region in Europe.
“This festival encompasses an experience for all the senses,” said Danish Ambassador Peter Taksøe. “Over the course of a month you will see, hear, smell and feel all good things Nordic.”
Past festivals of this scale at the Kennedy Center have highlighted China, India and the Arab world. Nordic Cool runs from Feb. 19 to March 17 and will include more than 700 artists from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden as well as Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Áland Islands — a part of the world not well known here, said Alicia Adams, festival curator and vice president of international programming and dance at the Kennedy Center.
In the January 2013 Issue
‘Roads’ Digs Up Wide-Ranging History of Ancient Arabia
by Gail Sullivan
Artifacts unearthed from the shifting sands of the Arabian desert in the past 40 years have radically transformed our understanding of this ancient region. Some 300 objects now on display at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery illuminate Saudi Arabia’s pre-Islamic heritage and its rise to prominence as a cultural and religious center.
Organized in conjunction with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, “Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” features objects, some dating as far back as 7,000 years ago, from more than 10 archeological sites throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The exhibit opened in the summer of 2010 at the Louvre in Paris and traveled to Barcelona, St. Petersburg and Berlin before making its American debut at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery.
The exhibit is organized geographically and historically in three parts, which chronicle the cross-cultural exchange of ancient trade routes, the rise of Islam as seen in the pilgrimage trails that led to Mecca, and finally the unification of the modern Saudi kingdom in 1932.
In the December 2012 Issue
Spain’s New Space
Iberian Avant-Garde Finds Home in New Cultural Center
A Beaux-Arts mansion sits majestically on the corner of 16th Street, the city’s Embassy Row of the early 19th century and today’s direct thoroughfare to the White House.
This former residence of the ambassador of Spain and now the Spanish Cultural Center is hosting two photography exhibits from renowned and emerging artists of the Iberian countries — Spain, Portugal, Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.
Presented as part of FotoWeekDC 2012, an annual citywide photography festival now in its fourth year, the exhibits mark the official launch of the building’s transformation to a cultural space.
In the November 2012 Issue
Dane Taps His Inner Geologist to Evolve Artistically
by Michael Coleman
If a visitor to the Phillips Collection was unaware of Per Kirkeby’s formal training as a geologist, they might find clues simply by viewing the gallery’s comprehensive new exhibition of the acclaimed Danish artist’s work.
Earthen vitality infuses many of the 26 paintings and 11 sculptures featured in “Per Kirkeby: Paintings and Sculpture,” the first major exhibition of Kirkeby’s art in the United States. The viewing experience at the Phillips is sometimes akin to tripping around an abstract forest splashed with autumnal rusts, icy blues and sunny yellow hues. The artist, who is still creating, seems deeply interested in time, space and the relationship of natural objects to each other and to human beings. The cycle of life is threaded throughout his art, which he says is constantly in flux, like science itself.
In the October 2012 Issue
Wanderers with Aim
‘Nomads and Networks’ Traces Sophisticated Unsettled Society
At the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, transient and well-connected denizens of the District can meet their ancient counterparts: the nomadic tribes of Iron Age Kazakhstan.
“Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan” is the first U.S. exhibition devoted entirely to the nomadic culture of ancient Kazakhstan. It includes more than 150 recently excavated objects of gold, horn, precious gems and organic materials from the eighth to third centuries BC.
The term “nomad” implies a lack of direction, or even arrested development. It’s a word you might use to describe a kid bumming around Europe after college instead of applying to grad school, or the friend who always seems to be trading one job or city for another.
In the September 2012 Issue
Dutch Artist Captures and Humanizes Inner Lives of Animals
Resolute, conflicted, expectant, discerning, resigned. These aren’t words often used to describe animals. A dog is “good” or “bad.” A puppy is “playful,” and a steed “noble.” Dutch photographer Charlotte Dumas defies conventional vocabulary; her formal portraits of animals suggest a more complex inner life, inviting viewers to reconsider the relationship between mankind and animals.
From the stray dogs of Palermo, Italy, to search and recovery dogs of 9/11, Dumas has photographed animals in various contexts and in countries around the world. She typically works in series, creating portraits of groups of animals characterized by their utility, social function or relationship to people.
In the August 2012 Issue
‘Modern American Genius’ Showcased at Three Museums
by Suzanne Kurtz
Three popular art museums around D.C. are collaborating on a three-artist retrospective that celebrates the achievements of the “Modern American Genius.”
Throughout the summer, the cutting-edge contributions to the art world of Richard Diebenkorn, Jasper Johns and Barnett Newman will be on display at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Phillips Collection and the National Gallery of Art, respectively. Each museum will be hosting an exhibition dedicated to a seminal body of work from one of these major trailblazers, each of whom helped to elevate the stature of modern American art on the international stage.
In the July 2012 Issue
Mexican Institute Eschews Doomsday Predictions for Real Relics
by Michael Coleman
When conversations turn to the ancient Mayans of Mexico these days, they often center on the alleged demise of civilization when the Mayan calendar runs out in December 2012.
Thankfully, the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington has given us something a bit more substantial — and certainly less stressful — to ponder than Mayan doomsday scenarios. “Hina/Jaina: On the Threshold of the Mayan Underworld (600-900 AD)” showcases a rich array of Mayan figurines excavated from burial sites on the man-made island of Jaina, a vital ritual and religious site off the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.
The exhibition features more than 50 small-scale “Jaina style” figurines that represent Mayan religious themes, cosmology and elements of society.
In the June 2012 Issue
Joan Miró’s Multifaceted Art Reflected Turbulent World
by Gary Tischler
The life and work of the great Spanish artist Joan Miró (1893-1983) is almost swamped in every artistic “ism” of the 20th century — surrealism, magical realism, cubism, primitivism, expressionism, Fauvism, to name a few.
Yet the Barcelona-born painter, sculptor and ceramicist insisted he was a “self-taught amateur” to express his contempt for convention, constantly experimenting and innovating in what he famously described as an “assassination of painting” to upend the establishment.
“Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape,” the new and comprehensive exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, alongside a smaller exhibition at the Kreeger Museum, showcase Miró’s most fundamental and important “ism”: his humanism.
In the May 2012 Issue
Passport DC Still Opening Doors — And Not Just to Embassies
by Stephanie Kanowitz
Passport DC is not just about embassies anymore. Although the open house tours remain the highlight of the month-long cultural celebration, its popularity has helped Passport expand beyond its first iteration to include museum exhibits, street festivals and children’s activities. Still, the original goal is far from forgotten with record participation from about 70 of Washington’s 170 embassies.
In addition, the wide-ranging culture that is showcased is anything but formulaic.
“There’s this really fun juxtaposition of what we think about as international oftentimes being traditional or folk, but what we see with all of this is a lot of the exhibits and concerts and so forth are bringing forward very contemporary art and new trends and new activities,” said Linda Donavan Harper, executive director of Cultural Tourism DC, which puts together Passport DC. “You shouldn’t think about it as what a country has been, but what a country is becoming or doing now as well.”
In the April 2012 Issue
Unmasking a Society
‘A Thousand and One Faces’ Profiles Mexican Expression
by Michael Coleman
In the realm of Washington embassies and art, few places have as much fun as the Mexican Cultural Institute.
Housed in a magnificent mansion with a spiral staircase, soaring ceilings and intricate tile and murals, the institute routinely puts on fascinating cultural events from cooking demonstrations to concerts to seminars.
A high-tone exhibition that showcased the lowbrow work of Mexican street artists a few years back was brilliantly whimsical. The institute’s recent partnership with National Geographic to showcase 50 years of the magazine’s Mexican photography mesmerized viewers and made us want to jump on the first plane headed south of the border.
In the March 2012 Issue
Festival Celebrates 100th Year of Bridge-Building Pink Blossoms
by Stephanie Kanowitz
Although temperatures have been spring-like for months, officially the season is almost here, bringing the coveted annual National Cherry Blossom Festival with it — and this year’s popular pink extravaganza will really be bursting with pride.
That’s because 2012 marks the centennial of Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki’s gift of 3,000 cherry trees to Washington. Running March 20 to April 27, the festival celebrates not only the enduring legacy of that gift, but Japanese culture as well. To that end, as the tiny pink blossoms flourish around the D.C. metro region, so too will various art exhibits and events commemorating their 100th bloom in our area. Here is a look at four of them.
In the February 2012 Issue
Ancient Ruins of the Americas Seen in Ethereal New Light
by Dave Seminara
Two years ago, photographer Arthur Drooker was sitting beside the majestic ruins of Saint-Pierre, a city in Martinique that was devastated by a volcano in 1902, waiting for a fickle wind to blow some puffy clouds into the frame of a photo he hoped to take. Drooker was prepared to wait all day to get the shot and when his girlfriend, Ivy, agreed to wait with him, he decided that she was the woman he would marry.
Visitors who venture to see “Lost Worlds: Ruins of the Americas” will experience that labor of love in this stunning collection of haunting, ethereal black-and-white photographs shot with a special infrared camera that helps capture especially dramatic contrast and light.
In the January 2012 Issue
African American Artists Ponder Full Spectrum of American Experience
by Stephanie Kanowitz
Individually, each work in the newest exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art freezes moments of not only African American history but of U.S. history into single modern interpretations. Together, the pieces show how those histories continue to evolve and interact as emerging artists learn from seasoned ones and offer fresh viewpoints on racial, sexual and historical identity in contemporary culture.
“The art history there has not been concluded; it’s still being written,” Henry Thaggert, chairman of the museum’s advisory committee, said of “30 Americans,” on display through next February. “That’s very, very exciting.”
Selected from the Rubell Family Collection, the group of 76 photographs, paintings, drawings, sculptures and videos represents the work of 31 of the most influential African American artists of the past 30 years and is linked by a common theme: identity.
In the December 2011 Issue
Quite A Ride
Horse-Human Bond Strengthens American Indian History
by Kaitlin Kovach
Some relationships seem like they have always existed. The one between Native American Indians and horses is among those. But as visitors to the National Museum of the American Indian’s newest exhibition, “A Song for the Horse Nation,” will discover, that relationship is only about as old as European contact with native tribes.
Despite the animal’s origins in the Americas about 40 million years ago, horses had become extinct here because of migrations to Europe and Asia. It wasn’t until Christopher Columbus’ second voyage to the Americas in 1493, when he left behind a herd of 25 horses, that the animals returned for good.
In the November 2011 Issue
Warhol Makes News
Man Behind ’15 Minutes of Fame’ Skewers Media That Riveted Him
Perhaps no American artist of the 20th century stirred as much passion and ambivalence as Andy Warhol.
To his devotees, Warhol was a visionary who transcended abstract expressionism, offered brilliant artistic commentary on the issues of the day, and made the world of high art more accessible to the masses. To his detractors, Warhol was overrated and derivative, pilfering ideas about pop art from groundbreakers like Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein while convincing the world that his own works said more than they really did.
Regardless of your own view of Warhol, one element of the Pittsburgh native’s work is indisputable: He had an uncanny understanding of pop culture and the media and used it to smartly skewer tabloid notions of “news.” The guy who coined the now ubiquitous expression that “in the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” was unparalleled in his intelligent exploration of the intersection of media, fame and art.
In the October 2011 Issue
Katzen’s Creative Canopy
Hodgepodge of Life, from Subterra Australia to 1940s D.C.
by Gary Tischler
There are times when you go to the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center and what you find are scattered little leaflets containing a bold smattering of ideas for art exhibitions that seemed to have dropped out of the sky and were picked up at random by museum director and curator Jack Rasmussen.
Ever since the Katzen Arts Center arose by Ward Circle, Rasmussen seems to have plunged himself into an almost subversive process of creating and assembling a panoply of exhibitions that don’t readily connect to one another, but together make up some of the most fascinating, cutting-edge shows in town. The museum space, three floors plus an outdoor sculpture garden, is ready-made for this kind of eclectic approach, aided with a flood of natural light and an expansive curatorial vision.
In the September 2011 Issue
Embassies Cleverly Offer Taste of Culture With Cuisine
by Stephanie Kanowitz
The way to cultural understanding may be through our stomachs. Indeed, Washington’s melting pot of foreign embassies stirs up gastronomic opportunities to travel and taste the world without leaving the city’s 100-square-mile radius.
“Food is different in that it appeals to all of the senses, including taste and smell, and is a participatory as well as personal experience,” said Alejandra de la Paz, director of the Mexican Cultural Institute. “This inclusive, engaging aspect of food works to create bridges of understanding.”
That’s why more and more embassies are reaching out through their kitchens — spicing up traditional public diplomacy efforts with what’s always been a key ingredient in any culture: food. After all, viewing a piece of art or listening to a lecture is one thing; sampling a home-cooked meal or exotic delicacy is quite another. Embassies have realized that showcasing their native cuisines — and tapping into the growing foodie phenomenon across America — is an irresistible and clever strategy to highlight their national cultures.