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Holiday cards made by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, quilts from the Brooklyn Museum, Lincoln’s DC, and more art to experience this month. By Sophie Gilbert
A holiday card handmade by Ed Bisese for Herbert Waide Hemphill Jr., 1992. Image courtesy of Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.


Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture
Through January 5, the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art presents “Handmade Holiday Cards,” an exhibition featuring 60 personal greetings cards made by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Alexander Calder, Milton Avery, and more.

Anacostia Community Museum
“Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence” and “Home Sewn: Quilts from the Lower Mississippi Valley” go on display December 4, revealing tapestries made by women in rural South Africa and quilts from the museum’s permanent collection.

Corcoran Gallery of Art
“Question Bridge: Black Males,” opening December 7, explores notions of contemporary blackness and male identity.

Freer Gallery of Art
“The Nile and Ancient Egypt,” opening December 7, displays artifacts from the Freer’s collection to trace the River Nile’s history and significance.

National Portrait Gallery
“Mr. Lincoln’s Washington: A Civil War Portfolio” opens December 13 and features large-scale reproductions of photos taken of the District of Columbia a century and a half ago.

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
“In Focus: Ara Guler’s Anatolia” presents photographs by Guler, known as “the eye of Istanbul” for his images of the Turkish city taken in the ’50s and ’60s. Opens December 14.

National Museum of Women in the Arts
“Workt by Hand: Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts” opens December 20 and comes from the Brooklyn Museum. The show examines the art of quilting and its importance to the women’s movement.

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Posted at 04:22 PM/ET, 12/04/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Artists Kelly Towles, Jasper Wong, and Dabs Myla are covering an empty building at First and M streets, Southeast, with murals for the next ten days. By Sophie Gilbert
The “Pour Mural” visible from M Street. All photographs by Ian Roche.

The former National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency building at the corner of First and M streets, Southeast, has long fascinated local residents thanks to its lack of windows, impossibly touchy security guards, and general air of desolation. So what better way to bid good riddance to a neighborhood eyesore than to cover it in pretty colors and drawings of dinosaurs?

Washington-based artist Kelly Towles has been tasked with transforming the building before its eventual demolition early next year, and will be covering it in murals for the next ten days in a project called Art Yards, finishing up on November 29. He’s enlisted the help of Hawaii-based artist Jasper Wong, who’s already finished his mural, and Australian duo Dabs Myla, who will outline and finish theirs starting November 22. This morning, Towles created a “Pour Mural” visible from M Street, pouring 111 gallons of paint over the side of the building.

Like all great works of street art, Art Yards is ephemeral—after the building is demolished, only photographs will remain. Follow the artists’ progress on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook using the hashtag #artyardsdc, or check it out in person through November 29.

Jasper Wong's work at Art Yards.

Posted at 11:58 AM/ET, 11/20/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The return of FotoWeek DC, new shows at the Corcoran and the National Museum of African Art, and much more this month. By Sophie Gilbert
See “Alex Prager: Face in the Crowd” at the Corcoran starting November 23. Pictured is “Crowd #3 (Beach)” by Alex Prager.


Phillips Collection
“Shaping a Modern Identity: Photographs From the Joseph and Charlotte Lichtenberg Collection” is on display through January 12, and reveals portraits by Ansel Adams, Chuck Close, and more.

Smithsonian American Art Museum
“Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art” displays 92 works from the permanent collection by artists such as Carlos Almaraz, Christina Fernandez, and Freddy Rodríguez, and looks at how modern and contemporary Latino artists have helped shape the movements of their time. Through March 2.

National Building Museum
“Overdrive: LA Constructs the Future, 1940-1990” comes from Los Angeles’ J. Paul Getty Museum, and focuses on how construction and development helped transform LA into a hotbed of architecture, design, and innovation. Through March 10.

National Portrait Gallery
“Yousuf Karsh: American Portraits” reveals works from a recent gift to the museum of more than 100 works by the Armenian-Canadian photographer, including images of Georgia O’Keeffe, Grace Kelly, I.M. Pei, Eleanor Roosevelt, and more. Through April 27.

Corcoran Gallery of Art
“Mia Feuer: An Unkindness”is the latest installment in the Corcoran’s contemporary NOW series, and features large-scale installations exploring the conflicts between industry and the environment. Read our review of the show. Through February 23.

Also at the Corcoran, “Alex Prager: Face in the Crowd” opens November 23 and presents a new series of work exploring staged crowd scenes and the individuals within them. The show includes a film featuring actress Elizabeth Banks. Through March 9.

National Museum of Women in the Arts
“Equal Exposure: Anita Steckel’s Fight Against Censorship” is a look at the photographs, letters, and artwork of the often controversial feminist artist who challenged censorship in museums. November 4 through May 9.

National Museum of African Art
“Africa Re-Viewed: The Photographic Legacy of Eliot Elisofon” opens November 21 and celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives with a retrospective of postwar images of Africa by the Life photojournalist, as well as African objects he collected. Through August 24.

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Posted at 11:09 AM/ET, 11/04/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Canadian-born, Washington-based artist’s first solo show is a spectacular meditation on the destruction of natural landscapes. (And there’s an ice rink.) By Sophie Gilbert
Photograph of “An Unkindness” by Paul Bothwell/courtesy of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and ConnerSmith.

You have to respect a Canadian artist ballsy enough to construct a skating rink in her first solo museum show. Mia Feuer’s “Rink,” which occupies the Corcoran’s rotunda for the next four months, is a fully functioning, ominously black oval surrounded by seemingly impenetrable black walls, and above it is “An Unkindness,” a looming sculptural installation that resembles a flock of nightmarish birds poised to attack. You can, if you wish, put on the skates assembled at one side of the room, enter the rink, and look at the work from underneath in the state of contemplation that Feuer believes is inherent when you’re the sole skater in a deserted landscape.

“Rink” could come across as cutesy or attention-seeking, but it does the opposite—there’s something about the opaque black surface that seems designed to repel. The rink is made from a thick black polymer rather than from ice, so it’s as alien to the cheery outdoor skating spaces of the holiday season as charcoal is to snow. The plastic has a dull quality that declines to reflect the magnificent atrocity suspended above it, and the lights mounted from the ceiling cast ghastly avian shadows all around the room. If Darren Aronofsky ever made a figure-skating sequel to Black Swan, chances are it would look a lot like this.

Feuer is the first Washington-based artist to be featured in the Corcoran’s contemporary NOW series—she lives and works at a studio in Brookland and teaches at George Mason—but she was raised in Winnipeg, and her Canadian heritage is one of the focal points of the show. “An Unkindness” explores both the physical and figurative intersections between natural landscapes and humankind, specifically the ways in which the oil industry leaves vast swaths of the world barren and uninhabitable. Feuer has traveled to tar sands and oil sites in Canada, Norway, and the Arctic Circle, exploring the production process and the remains of our insatiable thirst for oil—a substance she acknowledges is essential to her craft as an artist.

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Posted at 03:40 PM/ET, 10/30/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
“Van Gogh Repetitions” looks at different versions of the same subject. By Sophie Gilbert
(Left) A painting from the Art Institute of Chicago. (Right) Another from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Photograph of “Madame Roulin Rocking the Cradle” Courtesy of Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection/Art Institute of Chicago. Photograph of “Lullaby: Madame Augustine Roulin Rocking a Cradle” Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

So much of Vincent van Gogh’s life has been mythologized—his failure to sell more than one painting during his lifetime, his death at 37 from a gunshot wound, his infamous ear—that his work can get overlooked. As Phillips Collection curator Eliza Rathbone puts it, “He doesn’t have the place he has in art history simply because of the drama.”

“Van Gogh Repetitions”—opening October 12 at the Phillips—aims to explore the methodical way he made his paintings. While any van Gogh show is a challenge to produce because of his notoriety, this one is particularly ambitious in the way it compares similar paintings of the same subject. A portrait of Madame Augustine Roulin from the Art Institute of Chicago hangs next to an image of her from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts; other works are from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Musée d’Orsay. “We wanted to bring together works that aren’t normally seen together,” Rathbone says. “We’re excited about what those juxtapositions have to tell us about what kind of artist he was.”

One of the exhibit’s starting points was a painting from the Cleveland Museum of Art called “The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy)”—done on a piece of printed fabric used to make clothes because van Gogh wanted to quickly capture a scene he saw. Later, he painted a version on canvas, which is now in the permanent collection at the Phillips. “The second version reveals a sophisticated, deliberate, planned execution,” Rathbone says. “We wanted people to get to know both sides of his genius.”

With more than 30 paintings, the show offers a focused look at van Gogh’s process as well as his remarkable ability to produce a number of paintings in a short time. (He once made 70 in 70 days.) Says Rathbone: “You can visit these paintings if you travel all over the world, but it’s not the same as seeing them side by side. There will be revelations even for those of us who’ve been working on them for so long.”

“Van Gogh Repetitions”, October 12 through January 26 at the Phillips Collection. $12. Tickets available at

This article appears in the October 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.

Posted at 10:00 AM/ET, 10/11/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Museums on the Mall might be closed, but there’s plenty more to choose from this month. By Sophie Gilbert
The (still-open) Phillips Collection hosts "Van Gogh Repetitions," which looks at different versions of the same subject. Photograph of "Madame Roulin Rocking the Cradle" courtesy of Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection/Art Institute of Chicago; "Lullaby: Madame Augustine Roulin Rocking a Cradle" courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

First, a note: All Smithsonian museums and the National Gallery of Art are currently closed because of the government shutdown. We’re listing shows at those museums at the end of the Museum Exhibitions section in the hope that things might return to normal next week, and we’ll update this post if and when they do.


National Museum of Women in the Arts (OPEN)
“Wanderer: Travel Prints by Ellen Day Hale” presents a number of etchings by the American painter and printmaker, inspired by her travels around the world. October 4 through January 5; $12. Mention the ArtForAll promotion to get 20 percent off admission through October 6.

National Geographic Museum (OPEN)
“Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment” runs October 10 through March 9, and reveals work by 11 of National Geographic’s intrepid female photographers. $11. The museum is offering free admission for federal employees through the government shutdown.

Phillips Collection (OPEN)
“Van Gogh Repetitions”—opening October 12—aims to explore the methodical way the impossibly famous artist made his paintings, and the ways in which he returned to the same subjects over and over again. Through January 26; $12. The Phillips is offering buy one, get one free on tickets for federal employees through the government shutdown (plus 50 percent off coffee).

Kreeger Museum (OPEN)
“Mindy Weisel: Not Neutral” showcases three collections by the German-born artist, who splits her time between Jerusalem and Washington. Included are “Paintings of the Holocaust” and “Survival of Beauty,” which explore Weisel’s heritage as a descendant of people who died in the Holocaust, and “After Tohuku,” based on Weisel’s humanitarian work following the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Through December 28; $10.

Corcoran Gallery of Art (OPEN)
“American Journeys: Visions of Place,” which opened last month and runs through next September, reveals a new installation of the museum’s pre-1945 American paintings and sculpture. The museum is offering buy on, get one free on admission through the duration of the shutdown. $10.

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Posted at 04:30 PM/ET, 10/04/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Andy Warhol’s “Silver Clouds” at Artisphere, Mindy Weisel at the Kreeger, DC painters exploring John Cage, and more. By Sophie Gilbert
See "Andy Warhol: Silver Clouds" at Artisphere starting September 12. Photograph courtesy of Artisphere.


National Gallery of Art
“Yes, No, Maybe: Artists Working at Crown Point Press” looks at the history of the San Francisco printmaking studio named in the show’s title, with 125 prints and proofs made between 1972 and 2010 by artists such as Chuck Close, Sol LeWitt, and Richard Diebenkorn. September 1 through January 5.

“Tell It With Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial” commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Wagner, in which the African-American 54th Massachusetts Regiment led attempts to breach the South Carolina Confederate stronghold. The exhibit showcases a patinated plaster sculpture of Saint-Gaudens’s memorial plus images of the soldiers who fought for the Union. September 15 through January 20.

Corcoran Gallery of Art

“American Journeys: Visions of Place” opens September 21, and reveals a new installation of the museum’s pre-1945 American paintings and sculpture. Through September 21, 2014.

Freer Gallery of Art
“Off the Beaten Path: Early Works by James McNeill Whistler” reveals work made by the 24-year-old artist while he was traveling in Europe. September 28 through September 28, 2014.

“Andy Warhol: Silver Clouds” comes from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Artisphere’s Terrace Gallery is the site of 150 floating silver helium balloons, created for Warhol in 1964 by scientist Billy Klüver and a familiar presence at Warhol’s Factory in New York. September 12 through October 20.

Also opening at Artisphere to coincide with the show is “Sergio Albiac: Three Generative Video Portraits,” revealing the artist’s portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Queen Elizabeth II, as well as a new, Artisphere-commissioned portrait of Michelle Obama.

Kreeger Museum
“Mindy Weisel: Not Neutral” showcases three collections by the German-born artist, who splits her time between Jerusalem and Washington. Included are “Paintings of the Holocaust” and “Survival of Beauty,” which explore Weisel’s heritage as a descendant of people who died in the Holocaust, and “After Tohuku,” based on Weisel’s humanitarian work following the 2011 tsunami in Japan. September 3 through December 28.

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Posted at 04:25 PM/ET, 09/04/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Performance art at the Corcoran, landscape photography at American Art, and much more this month. By Sophie Gilbert
Artist Mary Coble appears at the Corcoran for a site-specific art installation August 7 through 10. Photograph by Junnie Shah/courtesy of the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

Museum Exhibitions

Smithsonian Museum of American Art
“Landscapes in Passing: Photographs by Steve Fitch, Robbert Flick, and Elaine Mayes” encompasses almost 50 images of the American landscape by three influential photographers working in the 1970s and ’80s. Fitch took pictures of roadsides for his “Diesels and Dinosaurs” series, Flick walked through the streets of Los Angeles photographing neighborhoods, and Mayes captured images from her car window. July 26 through January 20. 

National Museum of American History
“Little Golden Books” looks at the much-loved children’s series, which was launched in 1942 with titles such as The Little Red Hen and Mother Goose. The exhibit explores how the series made books more accessible and affordable for young readers and includes artists’ proofs from early editions. Through January 5. 

Phillips Collection
The Phillips marks the centennial of the first American show of modern art in “History in the Making: 100 Years After the Armory Show.” The exhibit comprises works from the museum’s collection by artists—including Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso—featured in the 1913 Armory Show, which was considered scandalous when it debuted in New York City. August 1 through January 5.

“Deferral,” a site-specific performance-art installation by Mary Coble, takes place August 7 through 10. Read more about it in our earlier post.

Library of Congress
“A Day Like No Other: Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington” marks five decades since Martin Luther King Jr. led his historic rally for civil rights on the Mall. The exhibit, which opens exactly 50 years to the day after the 1963 march, includes 42 black-and-white photographs taken that day. August 28 through February 28.

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Posted at 03:34 PM/ET, 08/02/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
During a four-day installation in August, the performance artist will write on the curtains of a makeshift theater using her own blood. By Sophie Gilbert
Photograph of Coble by Junnie Shah/courtesy of the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

For four days starting August 7, artist Mary Coble will protest the FDA’s ban on blood donations from gay men in “Deferral,” the latest performance art installation in the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s contemporary NOW series. Coble and a handful of gay male collaborators will work inside a makeshift anatomical theater crafted from hospital curtains inside the Corcoran’s atrium, covering their space with words and images. While Coble will use her own blood as a medium, her team will use red thread to draw awareness to the legitimacy of their own bodily fluids.

There’s a lengthy history of using blood and other bodily fluids in art, from Marc Quinn’s “Self” (a sculpture of Quinn’s head made from 4.5 liters of his blood) to musician Pete Doherty’s blood drawings, in which he uses his own “arterial splatter” technique. In 2005, Coble had the names of 436 LGBT individuals who were killed in hate crimes tattooed on her body without ink in a marathon 12-hour performance art installation at what was then Conner Contemporary. She pressed a sheet of paper against each name after it had been completed, making a blood painting for each one.

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Posted at 12:30 PM/ET, 07/24/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
At the Corcoran, the artist takes a cheeky approach to a serious inquiry into architecture and identity. By Sophie Gilbert

Photograph courtesy of Corcoran Gallery of Art.

In Ellen Harvey’s Washington, tourists flock to the city trying to make sense of its landmarks. But Harvey’s visitors are from another planet, exploring a world that’s been devoid of humans for thousands of years. In “The Alien’s Guide to the Ruins of Washington, D.C.”—July 3 through October 6 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art—the British-born Brooklyn artist explores notions of architecture, heritage, and identity by showing how aliens might interpret the neoclassical buildings here and around the world.

Harvey, a graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School, has long been interested in how art is defined—painting miniature landscapes illegally on buildings in her “New York Beautification Project” and offering people free portraits in return for their evaluation of her work at the 2008 Whitney Biennial. The idea for “The Alien’s Guide” was sparked in part by the Corcoran’s neoclassical building as well as the act of museum-going itself. “Institutions always have this desire to impose meaning on the chaos of reality,” Harvey says. “We look back to the classical architecture of the Greek and Roman eras, and it’s such a foreign society to us—we impose our own ideas upon it. I thought it would be fun to discuss assumptions of hierarchy, power, and democracy by having aliens come to earth and come up with the wrong end of the stick on everything.”

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Posted at 11:40 AM/ET, 07/03/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()