Hawaiian Art, Italian Masters, and Pictures of the Year: May Art Preview

Plan your month in Washington art events

By: Sophie Gilbert

The "Giovedì Grasso" Festival before the Ducal Palace in Venice, 1763/1766 Wolfgang Ratjen Collection, courtesy National Gallery of Art.

With all the attention the National Gallery of Art gets for its flashy, big-name shows, it’s easy to forget how well the institution tackles lesser-known artists. This month, two thoughtful, illuminating shows open in the National Gallery’s West Building. “Italian Master Drawings From the Wolfgang Ratjen Collection” reveals works acquired in 2007 from the estate of German private collector Ratjen, in a remarkably comprehensive look at post-Renaissance, pre-1835 Italian art. The show has stars—one of its highlights is a mesmerizing pen-and-ink drawing by Canaletto—but the caliber, precision, and beauty of the works elevate what could otherwise be a repetitive or pedestrian display.

Incredible artistry and painstaking attention to detail go one step further in “The Gothic Style of John Taylor Arms,” an introduction to the work of the relatively obscure American printmaker. Arms, who died in 1953, had a meticulous approach to rendering views in copperplate, sometimes peering through three magnifying glasses at a time to capture minute details. The show demands commitment—you’ll need to look closely to appreciate how carefully prints were created—but it’s an absorbing experience. Both exhibitions are on display May 8 through November 10; for more information, see the National Gallery’s Web site.

Fresh from its final, official confirmation as the final, official birthplace of our current President, Hawaii takes the spotlight again at the National Museum of the American Indian—this time in a look at the island’s contemporary-art scene. “This Is Hawaii”—a collaboration with the DC art gallery Transformer, running May 19 through July 4—showcases works by illustrator/muralist Solomon Enos and mixed-media artist Puni Kukahiko at the museum, along with works by sculptor Maika’i Tubbs at Transformer. Visit the Museum of the American Indian’s Web site or Transformer’s Web site for more information.

“Green: The Color and the Cause,” at the Textile Museum through September 11, looks at the symbolism and meaning of green in textiles, from its origins in plants to its significance for the environmental movement. Two site-specific installations, Michele Brody’s “Arbor Lace” and Nancy Cohen’s “Estuary: Moods and Modes,” play on the relationship between art and environmental sustainability. $8 suggested donation. For more information, see the Textile Museum’s Web site.

Also on the subject of sustainability, “Contain, Maintain, Sustain” opens at Artisphere May 19, focusing on the influence environmental concerns have had on contemporary visual artists through the use of recycling, remediation, and repair. Twenty-four artists are featured, nine of whom are local, including superb large-scale sculptor Barbara Liotta. The exhibition runs through July 17 at Artisphere’s Terrace Gallery; for more information, visit Artisphere’s Web site.

“Pictures of the Year,” on the Newseum’s Concourse Level through October 31, presents award-winning images of 2010’s biggest news stories, from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the earthquake in Haiti. The show is in a smaller space than it deserves but still immensely powerful (and notable for the fact that it marks Lady Gaga’s first appearance in a local museum—time to catch up, Madame Tussauds). More information can be found at the Newseum’s Web site.

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