On Display in February: The Month in Art

From Canaletto to the Kennedys, this is a big month for exhibitions

By: Sophie Gilbert

February is a huge month for art lovers in Washington. The National Gallery has two major exhibits opening, both from London, and the Phillips Collection is hosting a look at sculptor David Smith’s work as well as an Italian-themed collection by Philip Guston. If real life’s more to your taste, check out an intriguing exhibition at the American Art Museum that explores what happens when photographers turn the lens on their own families. And the National Museum of American History has nine rarely displayed Richard Avedon portraits of John F. Kennedy and his family, on view until the end of the month.

“Venice: Canaletto and His Rivals” is from London’s National Gallery, where the Daily Telegraph dubbed it “exhilarating and beautiful.” Curator David Brown of Washington’s National Gallery calls the show “a virtual tour of Venice,” complete with an authentic gondola. The exhibit juxtaposes Italian painter Canaletto’s 18th-century masterpieces with those of his peers, including Bernardo Bellotto and Francesco Guardi. “Each artist approached the task of recording Venice differently,” says Brown. “So it’ll be interesting for visitors to compare these approaches to monuments that are both famous and unfamiliar.” The exhibit is in the East Building February 20 through May 30.

“Gauguin: Maker of Myth,” previously at London’s Tate Gallery, is the first major US exhibition of Paul Gauguin’s work since the 1980s. The intent, says NGA curator Mary Morton, was to move beyond the common understanding of the French Post-Impressionist, known for his tumultuous life, and explore other aspects of his artistic inspirations. “Gauguin has traditionally been dealt with as a modernist, and people are obsessed with his biography because he was poor, misunderstood, hard-drinking, womanizing,” she says. “But he was also a really interesting thinker and writer. For all of his exoticism and rebelliousness, he was very much engaged in the tradition of telling stories.” The exhibit is in the East Building February 27 through June 5.

At the Phillips Collection, “David Smith Invents”—the first local show of the American abstract-expressionist sculptor’s work in 25 years—looks at the artist’s career, from his geometric sculptures to a number of paintings and drawings. Running at the same time is “Philip Guston: Roma,” which features nearly 40 paintings from Guston’s residency at the American Academy in Rome. The colorful expressionist paintings evolved in response to the masterpieces that Guston found in the Italian capital as well as his disappointment over poor reviews from the New York art establishment. February 12 through May 15. Admission to both exhibits is $12, students and seniors $10.

“Artists in Dialogue II,” at the National Museum of African Art, features new site-specific pieces by Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira and South African Sandile Zulu, each of whose work is intended to comment on the other’s. Oliveira’s large-scale installations recycle discarded plywood; Zulu scavenges organic materials to create his precisely patterned works. February 2 through December 4.

“Close to Home: Photographers and Their Families,” at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, shows work by nine photographers who turned the lens on their loved ones, including New York photographer Tina Barney and Washingtonian Muriel Hasbun. February 4 through July 24.

“Second Lives: The Age-Old Art of Recycling Textiles,” at the Textile Museum, looks at the creative reuse of fabrics in different cultures, from a 15th-century Chinese rank badge (worn by government officials) to a 19th-century Japanese coat. Suggested donation $5. February 4 through January 8.

“America I Am: The African American Imprint,” at the National Geographic Museum, examines 500 years of African-American contributions to the United States. Included are the “bill of sale” certifying Frederick Douglass’s freedom as well as Malcolm X’s Koran. February 2 through May 1. Admission $12.

The Hirshhorn Museum hosts a retrospective of German abstract painter Blinky Palermo. The exhibit features his monochromatic cloth pictures and wall paintings as well as his monumental installation “To the People of New York City.” February 24 through May 15.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, the National Museum of American History is displaying nine photographs that Richard Avedon took of the late President and his family 50 years ago, none of which have been previously displayed since the museum acquired them in 1966. Images include a serene Jackie Kennedy cradling her infant son and an adorable snapshot of three-year-old Caroline. The exhibition, which also includes some of Avedon’s original contact sheets, runs through February 28.

It’s the last chance to see the National Portrait Gallery’s now-infamous exhibition, “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” before it closes February 13. Despite the furor that erupted when a conservative publication took umbrage over one of the exhibition’s more controversial elements, the show was called “fascinating” and “full of tragedy” by the Washington Post’s former art critic, Blake Gopnik.

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