If you were around the Capitol Hill area this morning, you may have noticed Banksy-style fliers adorning lampposts and walls, particularly around the Capitol South Metro station. The posters use one of guerrilla street artist Banksy’s most famous images: a little girl with windswept hair letting go of a red, heart-shaped balloon, only in this case the girl’s head is covered and the poster bears the hashtag #withsyria.
It’s uncertain who actually posted the fliers around town, but they are the work of Banksy—he designed the image to help raise awareness about Syria’s plight. And he’s found support on the hill from Senator John McCain, who tweeted, “To mark 3rd anniv of #Syria uprising, pls RT new #Banksy image to stand #WithSyria & 10,000+ children killed there” earlier this afternoon, along with a picture of the image. Whether the senator approves of illegally putting up posters around town is another matter.
Through March 21, Washington Project for the Arts presents its annual Art Auction Exhibition at Artisphere. The showcase of local artists features work by Holly Bass, Meaghan Carpenter, Frank Hallam Day, Victoria F. Gaitan, Patrick McDonough, and others.
“Garry Winogrand,” at the National Gallery of Art through June 8, features 160 photographs making up a retrospective of the American street photographer’s career, from images taken at the Bronx Zoo in the 1960s to pictures of John F. Kennedy, Muhammad Ali, and more.
Through July 31, the Kreeger Museum celebrates its 20th anniversary with “K@20,” an exhibition of work by 14 area artists, each of whom has exhibited at the museum over its two-decade history. The show features work by Gene Davis, Ledelle Moe, Jann Rosen-Queralt, and more.
“Made in the USA: American Masters From the Phillips Collection, 1850-1970” is at the Phillips through August 31, celebrating the return home of some 200-plus of the museum’s most compelling works of American art. Among the 120 artists included are Milton Avery, Mark Rothko, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Edward Hopper.
“Directions: Jeremy Deller” continues through July 31 at the Hirshhorn, featuring “English Magic,” a 14-minute video by the British conceptual artist.
“Cool and Collected: Recent Acquisitions,” at the National Building Museum from March 8 through May 2015, allows the museum to show off additions to its collection, including a “kaleidoscope dollhouse” by Laurie Simmons (a.k.a. the mother of Girls creator Lena Dunham) and Peter Wheelwright, as well as work by local sculptor Raymond Kaskey.
“Pop Art Prints,” on display March 21 through August 31 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, offers a rare look at 39 prints from its collection, including work by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann, and Jasper Johns.
Opening at the Corcoran March 22 are “Rineke Djikstra: The Crazyhouse,” a video installation of young adults dancing and singing for the artist at a nightclub in Liverpool, and “Jenny Steinkamp and Jimmy Johnson: Loop,” an immersive video-and-sound installation originally commissioned by the museum in 2000.
James Dean had it. So did Muhammad Ali. John Travolta had it and lost it. Defining “cool” is a task that has challenged teenagers and lexicographers alike for generations. Tulane University historian Joel Dinerstein and then-National Portrait Gallery curator Frank H. Goodyear III had been casually discussing an exhibition about the history of cool for several years, but it wasn’t till a politician named Barack Obama entered the picture that they wrote a proposal.
“There was a lot of conversation about Obama’s cool during the lead-up to the 2008 election,” Goodyear says. “We thought what we should do was excavate the origins and evolution of that particular persona.” The result is “American Cool,” an exhibit of photographs—opening February 7 at the Portrait Gallery—that looks at 100 people who have embodied cool at one point or another, from Greta Garbo and James Cagney to Patti Smith and Jay-Z.
The show’s four sections explore the roots of cool, its birth in the ’40s and ’50s, its links to the counterculture in the ’60s and ’70s, and cool from the ’80s to today. Dinerstein and Goodyear had four criteria: Subjects had to have made an obvious contribution in their field, have had some kind of transgressive or rebellious side, and have had a lasting impact beyond their generation; most important, there had to be a good picture of them available.
Some were obvious choices, others more contentious. “Frank and I worked incredibly harmoniously, but there were disagreements,” Dinerstein says. “We had a huge argument over John Travolta.” Says Goodyear: “While the movies he made in the mid- to late ’70s were resonant at that time, what I knew Travolta from was some fairly lame movies and his connection with Scientology.” So they took an academic approach and polled students between ages 18 and 21, who overwhelmingly agreed Travolta should be included. The same with rapper Missy Elliott, to whom students gave preference over Queen Latifah.
Besides exploring cool, the show examines how the rise of photography ran parallel to the word’s entry into the public consciousness. “Photography was the dominant visual medium during the midcentury when these figures were making their mark,” Goodyear says. “It was through photography that the public came to know them.” Among the highlights: images by Diane Arbus, Annie Leibovitz, Richard Avedon, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Although Goodyear and Dinerstein agree Washington isn’t renowned as the center of cool, they think it’s a fitting location for the show. “Cool is central to the American self-concept,” Dinerstein says. “What better place than the nation’s capital and the Smithsonian?” But despite the fact that Obama’s election served as inspiration, the President didn’t make the cut. “When he was elected, the public perception of him—and to some degree his larger persona—changed,” Goodyear says. “As President, it’s impossible to be antiestablishment.”
Through September 7; npg.si.edu.
This article appears in the February 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
“Gravity’s Edge” opens February 15 at the Hirshhorn, drawing from the museum’s permanent collection to explore how Color Field artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, and Kenneth Noland played with structure, depth, and space. Through June 15.
“American Cool,” at the National Portrait Gallery February 7 through September 7, attempts to define the quality of cool through 100 photographs of Americans who’ve embodied it at one point or another. The show includes images of people such as Greta Garbo, James Dean, Patti Smith, and Jay-Z, taken by photographers from Annie Leibovitz to Richard Avedon.
At the National Building Museum February 8 through May 18 is “The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Dan Kiley.” The show examines the outsize influence of the modernist landscape architect, who died in 2004.
The Hillwood Museum presents “Passion of the Empress: Catherine the Great’s Art Patronage” February 15 through June 8. The show looks at the artistic and cultural legacy of Catherine the Great, ruler of Russia from 1762 through 1796, whose patronage led craftsmen to produce a distinctive style of decorative art. The exhibit features items in gold, silver, and ceramics.
In “Chigusa and the Art of Tea,” the Sackler Gallery explores the links between visual art and the Asian culture of tea. February 22 through July 7.
Opening February 23 at the National Gallery of Art is “Modern German Prints and Drawings from the Kainen Collection.” More than 120 works recently donated to the National Gallery by Ruth Kainen go on display in this look at German expressionism featuring pieces by Carl Willhelm Kolbe, Ludwig Meidner, Max Klinger, and more. Through June 29.
“Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection,” at the Smithsonian American Art Museum February 28 through August 17, compiles more than 70 pieces from a body of work donated to the museum in 1986. The show examines strains of American realism, from politics to satire, and includes paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence, Isabel Bishop, and others.
It’s a question that presumably puzzled the organizers of “Tapas: Spanish Design for Food,” which opens in DC today at the former residence of the Ambassadors of Spain and boasts none other than José Andrés as chief creative adviser. How do you showcase the ingenuity and innovation that surrounds Spain’s cuisine without actually cooking any food?
The answer seems to come from Ferran Adrià, molecular gastronomist, winner of three Michelin stars, force behind El Bulli, friend of DC’s own Andrés, and author of the show’s accompanying catalog: You explore food as art. One of the most intriguing moments in the exhibition shows how Adrià used plasticine to train chefs to perfectly reproduce the correct size and shape of items on a plate, from the precise number of seeds suspended in jelly to the appropriate length and position of a green shoot accompanying the plate. The focus of “Spanish Design for Food” is on how and why the best chefs in Spain employ engineering, design, science, and an unmistakable sense of humor while creating what’s essentially bar food. (No stodgy nachos and frozen mozzarella sticks here.)
The exhibition is presented by the Acción Cultural Española and Spain Arts and Culture, curated by designer and architect Juli Capella, and comes to Washington after stops in Tokyo and Miami. Laid out across four rooms of the historic Beaux-Arts mansion near Columbia Heights, it looks at three elements in the creation of tapas: the kitchen, the table, and the meal itself. The wealth of utensils on display makes the final room feel a little like a cutting-edge craft fair, showcasing everything from a device that turns a lemon into a juice dispenser to a wooden board crafted to help cocktail party guests manage their drinks and their canapés at the same time.
There are tidbits of historical context along the way, such as the fact that Salvador Dalí designed the logo for the humble Chupa Chups lollipop, and a crash course on iconic Spanish foods (stuffed canned olives, churros, paella). But more interesting is the wealth of information on contemporary design as it relates to food, from spectacular photographs of the architecture of Spanish wineries to videos revealing how chefs make chairs out of bread and cutlery out of vegetables. If the show had a gift shop hawking some of the ingenious products on display (utensils that fit over fingers, a tiny dinner table for small spaces, a trivet that also allows you to show off your cork collection), it would make a mint.
Local tapas fans will also sense Andrés’s influence. His foosball dining table is on display, as is the Perspex tennis shoe in which he serves croquetas at Jaleo. An accompanying note says Andrés originally wanted to serve the fried morsels out of real tennis shoes but was rebuffed by the local health department—something for which we can all be a little grateful.
“Tapas: Spanish Design for Food” is at the former residence of the Ambassadors of Spain (2801 16th St., NW) through March 23. For more information, visit the exhibition’s website.
“Judy Chicago: Circa ’75” opens January 17 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and celebrates Chicago’s 75th birthday by exhibiting some of her best-known works, including her “Great Ladies” series honoring artists such as Virginia Woolf and Emily Dickinson. Through April 13.
At the Art League January 8 through February 3 is “Abstract Expressionism Revisited,” which looks at the movement during the 1950s curated by Anne Marchand.
January 9 through 23, the Art League offers a preview of all its solo artist exhibits upcoming in 2014, featuring work by E.E. McCollum, Natalie Shudt, Courtney Hengerer, and more.
“Common Ground: Catherine Tzu-Lan Mann and Michael B. Platt” is at Honfleur Gallery January 10 through February 28. The two artists, one a painter and one a photographer, combine their different techniques to create a “common space.”
“Urban Eyes: The Girl From Nowhere” is at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop January 11 through February 25, displaying photographs by French-American artist Camille Clifton.
Open January 17 through February 15 at Flashpoint is “Lindsay Pichaske: Everything That Rises,” featuring a 3D drawing installation crafted from pieces of human hair.
Two exhibitions open at Hemphill Fine Arts January 18. “Marley Dawson: Statistics and Dynamics” riffs on mechanics and consumer culture, while “Martin Puryear: Recent Prints” explores the shapes and spaces of three-dimensional sculptures through printmaking. Both are through March 29.
At Hillyer Art Space in January, see work by Washington-based artists Fawna Xiao and J.D. Deardourff, as well as Virginia’s Greg Braun.
The next Phillips After 5 returns January 2 with a van Gogh theme and music by Dutch deejay Marvin Piqué.
January 9, the Phillips Collection hosts a staged reading of Vincent in Brixton, the 2003 Tony-winning play by Nicholas Wright.
The next Bethesda Art Walk is January 10.
Artist Caitlin Price hosts a Studio Time event at the National Portrait Gallery January 11, offering a hands-on art class dedicated to photography. Price, whose work is featured in the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition exhibition, also gives a talk with Tim Doud January 18.
The National Portrait Gallery’s Pop Quiz returns January 15.
Some of America’s most beloved puppets are celebrated on one of the National Museum of American History’s “artifact walls” starting December 13. “Puppetry in America” looks at the history of puppets from the Civil War era to the present, from ventriloquists’ dummies and marionettes to more recent characters created by Jim Henson and for director Tim Burton.
The exhibit draws on research by curator Dwight Blocker Bowers for a book about the puppets as well more than 20 Muppets donated to the museum this year by the Henson family. To help protect the items, the show is divided into two parts, with the first rotation (through January 26) featuring old Punch and Judy figures; marionettes from the TV show Howdy Doody; Edgar Bergen’s dummy sidekick, Charlie McCarthy; characters from Captain Kangaroo; and a handful of Muppets. The second half, on display from early March to mid- to late April, includes puppets from all over the world as well as one notable crank: Oscar the Grouch.
The show aims to take the museum’s collection of puppets and “reexamine them in contemporary terms,” says Bowers, who counts Kermit the Frog among his favorites. “The contribution of Jim Henson and the breeziness and humor he ushered in is unmistakable. Kermit is this wonderful alter ego, not just for Henson but for the American public because he’s so gentle and unassuming. We hope to show the infinite variety encompassed by the word ‘puppet.’”
“Puppetry in America.” Through January 29 at the National Museum of American History. For more information visit the museum’s website.
This article appears in the December 2013 issue of Washingtonian.
Of stereotypes, philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Once you label me, you negate me.” Artist Hank Willis Thomas puts it another way: “I really want to believe that I’m a human being, and that my identity isn’t restricted to being these two things that haven’t served me: being black and being male.”
Understanding what it means to be a black man in America is the mission of “Question Bridge: Black Males,” a video installation by Thomas, Chris Johnson, Bayeté Ross Smith, and Kamal Sinclair currently on display at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The work curates some three hours of footage taken from interviews with over 150 subjects into an installation displayed on five video screens simultaneously, with subjects appearing and disappearing intermittently.
The interviews flip the format on its head by requiring subjects ask questions as well as answer them. “Rather than doing a traditional documentary of having people sit in a room and have a conversation, we thought we could record people asking questions on camera and then show those questions to people and record their answers,” says Thomas. “You get a more authentic answer because a lot of the social mores that people deal with in person are cut out.”
Facing the inquiry of what questions they would want to ask of other black men, subjects responded with everything from “Why wouldn’t you be happy with your son being gay?” to, “Do you want to get out of the situation you’re in?” One subject, after watching another person record their interview, asked if he could submit his own question: “Why didn’t y’all leave us the blueprint?”
“The question was just there, and it was obviously something he’d been thinking about for some time, and it was so potent,” says Thomas. “That’s what the project does. We all have the capacity for critical thinking and doing very important research, but we can’t all always get on a microphone.”
Thomas, a photographer and visual artist, attended the Duke Ellington School of the Performing Arts in DC, which he credits for teaching him that there are many different ways to “be black,” whatever those words might mean. His work has been exhibited all over the world, as well as locally at the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of American History, and at the Corcoran, where an exhibition of his work, “Strange Fruit,” was featured alongside the museum’s “30 Americans” showcase of contemporary African American artists in 2011.
“Question Bridge” was initially a project conducted by artist Chris Johnson, a professor of Thomas’ who filmed subjects in San Diego discussing beliefs and issues affecting their community. About seven years ago, Thomas asked if he could reprise the work, focusing this time on black men. Questions led the four collaborators towards other subjects, sometimes in complex ways: After one man asked the question, “What’s so cool about selling crack?”, Johnson started teaching meditation in a San Francisco jail so he’d have access to incarcerated men who could answer that very question. “The journey of these questions is almost as interesting as the questions themselves,” says Thomas.
In addition to the installation at the Corcoran, “Question Bridge” also has an app in development that will allow people to record and submit their own questions and answers to the database. January 23 at THEARC in southeast DC, co-creator Bayeté Ross Smith will host a “Blueprint Roundtable Discussion” with community-nominated leaders to discuss the project. The work also features a curriculum teachers can use to talk about the work with their classes, and will eventually be developed into a documentary.
While “Question Bridge” can’t offer a definitive answer in terms of explaining the perimeters of black maleness, one subject puts it this way: “Our commonality is in our history, but our beauty as black men is in our diversity.”
“Question Bridge: Black Males” is at the Corcoran Gallery of Art through February 16. See a trailer for the work below. For more information about the exhibition and its accompanying programs, visit the Corcoran’s website.
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.
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.