Things to Do

February Art Preview

French paintings, dragons, dark matter, and an exhibition by late photographer Tim Hetherington open this month.

Manet’s “Masked Ball at the Opera,” now on display in the French Galleries in the National Gallery of Art’s West Building. Photograph courtesy of the NGA.


The French paintings at the National Gallery of Art have a brand new home. Following a two-year renovation and reorganization at the hands of curator Mary Morton, the French Galleries in the NGA’s West Building are now open on the second floor, with Monets, Manets, Cezannes, and Gauguins galore. Morton’s curation groups paintings by theme, so one room groups view paintings, another places women artists together (including six remarkable works by Mary Cassatt), and another has what appears to be an “Eastern boudoir” motif. Jokes aside, there are some outstanding works to be seen here, so it’s well worth a trip if you haven’t visited recently.

Also at the National Gallery: In advance of the London Olympics, an exhibition in the West Building looks at how cities have historically spruced themselves up for major events. “From the Library: The Fleeting Structures of Early Modern Europe,” February 4 through July 29, draws from the museum’s rare-books collection to explore the temporary structures built in the 15th and 16th centuries for everything from royal weddings to coronations.

Also in the West Building through July 8, “The Baroque Genius of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione” brings together around 80 prints and drawings by Castiglione, an influential Italian baroque artist.

Maurice Denis, Noële and Her Mother, 1896. Private collection. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

“Dragons, Nagas, and Creatures of the Deep” opens at the Textile Museum February 3 in honor of the Chinese year of the dragon. The show looks at how dragons, or nagas (divine snakes) have been used to adorn clothes, furnishings, fabrics, and more. Through January 6, 2013.

At the Freer Gallery, “Winged Spirits: Birds in Chinese Painting”—February 11 through August 5—includes decorative images dating from the 12th century. And at the Sackler, “Feast Your Eyes: A Taste for Luxury in Early Iran,” opening February 4, commemorates the museum’s 25th anniversary with a display of intricate Persian metalwork dating from 550 BC on. Continues indefinitely.

“Shadows of History: Photographs of the Civil War from the Collection of Julia J. Norrell” runs February 4 through May 6 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (the Obamas got a sneak preview last weekend). Included are images by George Barnard, Alexander Gardner, D.B. Woodbury, and more.

And also at the Corcoran for the same period is “Tim Hetherington: Sleeping Soldiers,” a show of photographs and video by the British photographer and documentarian, who was killed in Libya last year. The show features images Hetherington took at Restrepo, the American post in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley.

“Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and other French National Collections,” at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, includes 77 prints, paintings, and sculptures on loan from France, by 35 female artists of the 18th and 19th centuries, including Marguerite Gérard, Sophie Rude, and Anne Vallayer-Coster. Through July 29.

February 3 through May 31, the Hirshhorn unveils “Dark Matter” a show of work drawn from the permanent collection exploring themes of darkness and its power. And opening at the Hirshhorn February 23 is “Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color, and Space,” an exhibition exploring the Light and Space movement of the late 20th century. The show features work by five Latin American artists considered hugely influential: Carlos Cruz-Diez, Lucio Fontana, Julio Le Parc, Hélio Oiticica, and Jesús Rafael Soto, who each manipulated color, texture, and scale to engage the viewer on a new level.


Maurice Denis, Marthe offering Bernadette a bunch of grapes, Le Pouldu, September 15, 1890. Réunion des Musées Nationaux. Photograph courtesy of Art Resource, NY.


Continuing at the Honfleur Gallery through February 24 is “Visual Audio,” an exhibition of two collaborative projects inspired by urban neighborhoods. “Radio Transmission Ark” draws on the Honfleur’s own Anacostia location through drawings and documentation of sounds, while “Vernacular Preservation Society” looks at ’70s-era signage found in parts of Baltimore. Read our review of the show here.

Through March 10, Hemphill Fine Arts has “Willem de Looper: Paintings 1968–72,” an exhibition of four large-scale paintings by the Washington Color School artist.

Hillyer Art Space has three exhibitions running this month. “Elizabeth Holtry: Toile de Jouy” features the artist’s technicolor riffs on the popular 18th-century decorative fabric, adorned with wild animals and beasts. “David Meyer: Confined: Visual Synonyms” also looks at the animal kingdom, showing photographs Meyer took of zoo animals in captivity. And in the members’ gallery, “Brian Kirk: Natural Reaction” explores the fascinating and often bizarre patterns found in nature. All three run February 3 through 24.

February 4 through March 10, Conner Contemporary has the first Washington solo exhibition of New York artist Patricia Cronin, “Bodies and Soul.” The show includes “Memorial to a Marriage,” a life-size bronze sculpture Cronin made of herself and her partner ten years ago to commemorate their relationship when gay marriage was still illegal in New York.

“Jacqueline Levine: The Temptation” opens February 10 at Flashpoint, with a site-specific installation inspired by both the epic paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and the ’80s movie Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Through March 16.

Also opening February 10 is “Emerging from the Curious: Common Place Anomalies,” an exhibition of work by local artist Stephanie Williams, who uses sculpture, drawings, and animation to explore the oddities of the world around us.

February 16 through March 25, Transformer presents work by 18 emerging Japanese artists in a collaboration with DANDANS, a Tokyo-based artists’ collective. The exhibition is titled “2:46 and Thereafter,” a nod to the March 2011 earthquake in Japan, which inspired the works.

And in a major coup for Artisphere, the Arlington venue gets the only US showing of “Frida Kahlo: Her Photos,” a collection of never-before-seen private photographs and snapshots from the tempestuous Mexican artist’s collection. February 23 through March 25.



Tonight, February 2, Phillips After 5 has a Rothko theme, with acting classes led by Arena Stage (in honor of the company’s current production of Red) and music by the Marshall Keys Quartet.

February 8 and 9, the National Gallery has three screenings of Le Mystère Picasso, a 1956 film made by Clouzot in honor of his artist friend.

February 15, the Phillips has a conversation with avant-garde Brit artist Anthony McCall.

February 22 and 23, the NGA screens Rothko’s Rooms, a 45-minute documentary detailing the creation of the Tate Modern’s home for Rothko’s Seagram murals (known colloquially as the “Rothko room”).

February 24, the National Museum of African Art hosts Africa Underground, in celebration of Black History Month. The regular evening event features music, spoken-word performances, henna tattoos, and weaving workshops.