Yes, we’re spoiled with free museums in Washington, but that doesn’t mean this weekend’s Art Museum Day isn’t worth celebrating. Saturday, May 18, area institutions such as the Phillips Collection, the Corcoran, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the Hillwood Estate are opening their doors with special deals on admission. The details:
Baltimore Museum of Art
Admission to the BMA is free, but the museum is offering $10 off individual and family memberships on Art Museum Day, so you can join for $45 instead of the usual $55. New members also receive a $10 voucher to Gertrude’s, the museum’s restaurant.
Corcoran Gallery of Art
The Corcoran is offering free admission all day May 18, as well as every Saturday between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Additionally, use the hashtag #ArtMuseumDay to get 15 percent off at the museum shop.
Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens
Visit the Hillwood Museum on May 18 and receive two-for-one admission to the upcoming exhibit “Living Artfully: At Home With Marjorie Merriweather Post,” opening June 8.
National Museum of Women in the Arts
The NMWA will offer free admission all day May 18, from 10 to 5.
The Phillips is offering free admission all day on May 18, from 10 to 5.
Looking for a clue that the recession might be over? A sale of contemporary and postwar art at Christie’s last night raised $495 million for various sellers, including $58.3 million going to Washington billionaire and art collector Mitchell Rales for the purchase of his “No. 19, 1948” by Jackson Pollock.
The auction, said art dealer Larry Gagosian to the New York Times, “shows how broad the market is—as in deep pockets.” Rales’s drip painting, bought by an anonymous bidder, has an interesting background: It was sold to him by François Pinault, the French art collector and fashion magnate, who in turn bought it for a meager $2.4 million 20 years ago.
Rales, who was long notorious for shunning the spotlight, made the news in 2012 when he announced plans to build an expanded art museum the size of the National Gallery’s East Building near his Potomac home in order to showcase his collection. The founder of manufacturing and technology company Danaher Corp reportedly snapped up a number of masterpieces by Pollock, Mark Rothko, Yves Klein, and other abstract expressionists in the 1990s when prices were low after the market crashed, according to a New York Times profile from earlier this year.
Forbes estimates Rales’s net worth at $3.7 billion, so the sale of “No. 19, 1948” won’t necessarily be lifestyle-altering. But it will account for almost half of the $125 million Rales and his wife, Emily, are investing in the expansion of their appointment-only gallery, Glenstone.
There are a wealth of contradictions underpinning the National Gallery’s extravagant new show, “Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929: When Art Danced With Music.” The show explores the incomparable legacy of Serge Diaghilev, a pioneer of the avant-garde and a man who shaped the way ballet would evolve throughout the 20th century but who also freely described himself as one “with a complete absence of talent.” This is a show focused on Diaghilev, but there is very little of him in it, given that he didn’t dance or sketch costumes or choreograph ballets or compose music. A sense of him emerges only fleetingly, as a mustache-twirling impresario curating art in a thoroughly fascinating way.
Another contradiction: Despite the nomenclature, the Ballets Russes never performed in Russia. Before 1909, when the troupe was formed, Diaghilev (who was independently wealthy) had worked as an art critic and curator and had produced concerts and operas in St. Petersburg and in Paris, where the first Ballets Russes production was staged. His choreographer was Michel Fokine; his principal dancers included Vasily Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova. For the next 20 years, the company traveled around the world, presenting more than half of its productions in Britain and collaborating with talents as diverse as Igor Stravinsky and Coco Chanel. It is impossible to imagine modern dance being the same without it.
“Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes” is a reimagining of an exhibition that ran at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum in 2010, and while the Washington exhibition has more of a visual art bent to it than the British show, it’s still an unexpectedly broad undertaking for the National Gallery. The institution literally raised its roof in order to display two key items: a backdrop painted by Natalia Goncharova for a 1926 production of The Firebird, and a curtain designed by Picasso in 1924 for The Blue Train, both of which are more than 30 feet tall. Although the two items are imposing, visually, they feel curiously flat taken out of context. Like cubism, the show deconstructs ballet down to its composite parts and presents them as individual masterpieces, when by their very nature they were designed to play as part of an ensemble.
The same goes for the costumes, which seem to make up the majority of items on display. Most are extraordinary, both in their construction and their heritage, but to see them displayed on mannequins is only a small part of the story. The exhibition includes video footage of modern reconstructions of Ballets Russes performances featuring companies such as the Joffrey Ballet and the New York City Ballet, but the two-dimensional projections don’t quite evoke the sense of ferocious energy and sweat that live dance does. The heaviness and intensity of the early Ballets Russes costumes in particular provoke a hundred practical questions about their nature in performance that remain unanswered. As works of art, the costumes pale in comparison to their elegantly rendered designs, including the gorgeous drawings and watercolors by Alexandre Benois and Léon Bakst.
The Kreeger Museum inaugurates its newly installed reflecting pool May 1 with “Inventions,” an exhibition of sculpture by local artist John L. Dreyfuss. Dreyfuss explores concepts of form and space, incorporating design elements from aeronautical and architectural structures. Ongoing.
The National Museum of Women in the Arts collaborates with the Italian Embassy to present “Bice Lazzari: Signature Line,” an exhibition featuring work by the 20th-century Italian abstract artist. May 10 through September 22.
Opening at the National Gallery May 12 is “Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes,” an exhibit dedicated to the groundbreaking early 20th-century dance troupe. From 1909 to 1929 the group collaborated with artists and designers including Picasso, Matisse, and Coco Chanel on its lavish, inventive productions. Through September 2.
At the Hirshhorn Museum, “Jennie C. Jones: Higher Resonance” explores the career of the 45-year-old artist who won the prestigious 2012 Wein Prize for her collages, paintings, and installations forging connections between visual art and music. The show includes “Higher Resonance,” a sound installation that adapts the Hirshhorn’s circular architecture to play with acoustics. May 16 through October 27.
Boris Chaliapin illustrated 413 Time covers, including portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Thelonious Monk, Martin Luther King Jr., and John F. Kennedy. Twenty-six from the National Portrait Gallery’s collection are on display in “Mr. Time: Portraits by Boris Chaliapin.” May 17 through January 5.
The National Gallery celebrates the 150th anniversary of Edvard Munch’s birth by presenting 20 works by the artist in the West Building. May 19 through July 28.
“Sylvan Sounds: Freer, Dewing, and Japan” looks at how Freer Gallery founder Charles Lang Freer was inspired to collect Japanese art thanks to the works of tonalist American painters such as Thomas Dewing, known for his Impressionist-like landscapes. The exhibition displays works by Dewing alongside Japanese prints and scrolls. May 28 through May 28, 2014.
“Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa” is among the most ambitious projects in the National Museum of African Art’s history. Working with institutions including the US Botanic Garden and the National Museum of Natural History, the museum has brought together some 100 works spanning two centuries, including the first “land art” installations on the Mall.
“We’re all talking about Earth but not talking about it in the same way,” says curator Karen Milbourne. “You have people thinking about Earth in its relationship to a small sun in a giant universe—and notions of it as an ecosystem to be preserved—and artistic understandings of it as a source of pigment. I was interested in how we could connect the dots.”
The exhibit features five sections, from “The Material Earth” to “Art as Environmental Action.” Items include an image of a Ghanian gold mine by photographer George Osodi (above) and a 19th-century Gabonese reliquary of a female figure whose skirt is made of sachets of red earth.
“We live in an age characterized by territorial disputes and climate change,” says Milbourne. “The discourses worldwide are fundamentally about our relationship with the land. If we can help the public navigate these different systems of knowledge, we’ll all be better off.”
“Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa,” April 22 through January 5, 2014, at the National Museum of African Art. For more information, visit the museum’s website.
This article appears in the April 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
At the National Geographic Museum, “Beyond the Story: National Geographic Unpublished 2012” showcases some of the most compelling images that never made it into the magazine from last year’s stories—42 photographs by 29 photographers, including images of emperor penguins, koalas, orphan elephants, and more. Through July 7.
“Next Stop Italy: A Journey Into Italian Contemporary Photography” runs at the Phillips Collection through April 28, and features 12 works by photographers such as Andrea Galvani and Franco Vaccari.
“Hand-Held: Gerhard Pulverer’s Japanese Illustrated Books” opens April 6 at the Sackler Gallery, featuring illustrated books from Japan’s Edo period. Through August 11.
“NEXT,” an exhibition of work by the Corcoran’s graduating class, opens April 6.
April 12 through July 28, the Renwick Gallery presents “Thomas Day: Master Craftsman and Free Man of Color,” a show exploring the life and career of Day, an African-American living and working in the pre-Civil War 19th century. Thirty-six pieces of furniture illustrate the talent that helped him become one of the most successful furniture makers in North Carolina.
At the Textile Museum, “Out of Southeast Asia: Art That Sustains” features textiles ranging from Indonesian batiks to Laotian ikats, and looks at how they’ve evolved and inspired contemporary designers. April 12 through October 13.
It speaks volumes about the state of portraiture right now that the most mesmerizing rendering of a subject currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery is the languorous way Bo Gehring captures corduroy. In “Jessica Wickham,” a five-minute, large-scale video installation, Gehring draws a camera over his subject from head to toe with breathtaking stillness, starting at her orange Crocs and lingering for what feels like eons on her nubby brown pants. Every fiber of the material is distinct, every fragment of lint supersized. It isn’t until the camera gets waist-high that we realize Jessica is breathing—a living, moving portrait in infinitesimal HD.
Gehring’s portrait is the winner and the centerpiece of this year’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, dominating the room with its scale, its musical soundtrack (the piece is timed perfectly to match Arvo Pärt’s celestial “Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten”), and its vitality. The exhibition, on display at the National Portrait Gallery through February 2014, reveals 48 works chosen from more than 3,300 submissions, and offers a cross-section of contemporary portraiture that’s quite thrilling to behold. The diversity of media and approaches to subjects on display is broad (often, the process is as important a part of the finished piece as the subject is), but the show also has a sense of affirming optimism that comes as quite a surprise.
Take the second-place winner, for example: Jennifer Levonian’s “Buffalo Milk Yogurt,” a watercolor animation about a friend of Levonian’s having a minor breakdown in an eco-friendly grocery store. The subject, Corey Fogal, contributed to the accompanying score, and though his animated existential crisis is real, Levonian’s sketches add a sense of levity to the six-minute work. Perplexed by modernity, Fogal singes James Joyce novels in his George Foreman grill, dunks his head under water sprayers in the produce aisle, and stares, bewildered, at a naked woman meditating outside the store who seems to be as out of place as he is. The work itself is less a portrait of Fogal than it is a snapshot of a character recurring throughout the centuries—an artist outside of his era.
When it comes to Albrecht Dürer, some things are apparently worth waiting for. Seven years after the National Gallery of Art first hoped to present “Albrecht Dürer: Master Drawings, Watercolors, and Prints From the Albertina,” the exhibit finally opens March 24 in the East Building. Curator Andrew Robison calls the show “the greatest exhibition of Dürer ever held in this country.”
Dürer, who lived in Germany from 1471 to 1528, spanned the medieval and Renaissance eras in his work, which included paintings, prints, autobiographical texts, mathematical treatises, and more. Robison compares the artist to Leonardo da Vinci in the scope of his accomplishments: “He was a very curious man, and like Leonardo he was very aware of the changing notion of what an artist could be—this transition from being a craftsperson to being a kind of genius with a special sort of inspiration.”
The Albertina Museum in Vienna, Austria, has the world’s most extensive Dürer collection, and more than a decade ago Robison started discussing a collaboration. But the Albertina didn’t want to expose the fragile works to light too soon after its own Dürer retrospective in 2003, so the National Gallery agreed to wait. The exhibit, which explores Dürer as a draftsman, covers the whole of his career, from 91 drawings and watercolors—including masterpieces such as “The Praying Hands”—to 27 engravings and woodcuts.
“Dürer was above all a realist,” says Robison. “He’s interested in real objects, real aspects of nature, real human beings, and that’s what makes him a great portraitist. It’s a very colorful exhibition and a knockout visually. We’ll be able to survey the whole of this very intelligent, very complex, and supremely gifted human being.”
“Albrecht Dürer: Master Drawings, Watercolors, and Prints From the Albertina” at the National Gallery of Art through June 9. More information is at nga.gov.
This article appears in the March 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
If there are two things we’re passionate about over here at After Hours HQ, those two things are fine art and cocktails. Luckily both come together in fine form at Artini, the Corcoran’s annual event dedicated to a fusion of mixology and art.
Hosted by the 1869 Society, Artini brings together eight mixologists from local hotspots such as the Passenger, Daikaya, Jack Rose, and the Gibson. We have two tickets to give away to this year’s event, happening this Friday, March 22. To win, simply tweet @AfterHoursBlog the name of your favorite Washington bar with the hashtag #Artini, or e-mail us the name at email@example.com before noon on Thursday. We’ll pick a winner at random and notify them Thursday afternoon.
The final feature night for the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s Artini event happens Tuesday, March 19, at Barracks Row Balkan spot Ambar. Mixologist Milton Hernandez will stir up Le Corcoran, a cocktail inspired by Albert Bierstadt’s painting “Mount Corcoran.” Says Hernandez, “I chose three different liquors to represent the major natural forms in [the painting]. The mezcal infusion represents the clouds, the absinthe conjures up the clarity and emerald green color of the river, and the apple whiskey brings out the redness from the trees in the background.” Head to Ambar to have him make you one, or attempt it yourself with the help of the video.
2 ounces Dark Corner Distillery apple-flavored corn whiskey
1 ounces Mezcal Benevá-Añejo infused black tea
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
½ ounce La Muse Verte Absinthe Traditionnelle
1 teaspoon gelatin
Blend the milk, cream, and mezcal together to infuse, and allow it to sit in a refrigerator for a day before use.
At a low heat, warm up the absinthe and, using a whisk and a teaspoon, add one teaspoon of gelatin to the warm, but not boiling, absinthe, then let it cool in a refrigerator for five hours.
To put the drink together, pour the apple whiskey over ice and stir twice, add one tablespoon of the absinthe emulsion so it floats over the whiskey, then add the remaining mezcal infusion over the absinthe emulsion to create three layers.