The Perfect Season for Visual Arts
In the seasonal cycle of arts and entertainment, summer and autumn bring about the blockbusters. Hollywood pulls out the big action spectacles and Oscar bait, lists of the year’s best books and music pop up in all our syndicated leisure sections, museums open their big name exhibitions to attract the inflated summer crowds and holiday visitors, and the Kennedy Center usually brings in “Wicked” for a few weeks. Over the past six months on our museum and gallery scene, we’ve seen a major Edgar Degas retrospective, a multifaceted citywide adulation of Andy Warhol, the wire-sculpture portraiture of Alexander Calder, the stentorian “30 Americans” exhibit at the Corcoran, and pioneering video artist Nam Jun Paik in the Tower of the National Gallery.
The winter months, on the other hand, often bring us rich and subtle experiences, opening the doors to work that might not have the opportunity to shine during the busy season. The work Sam Gilliam did with The Phillips Collection last winter, installing a site-specific work and curating a concurrent exhibition of his artistic influences, was an unprecedented homage to Washington art culture. Last February, The Hirshhorn’s retrospective of Blinky Palermo, a relatively obscure, German-born postwar painter, was the first comprehensive survey of the artist’s work in the United States. And while shows like this are the salty bone marrow for Washington’s art-going crowd, they would be overshadowed by the Warhols and Calders in the primetime months.
Now is the time for galleries and museums to release their B-sides and alternative works, and challenge tradition of the Western canon. It’s a two-month art junkie paradise. This is the stuff you don’t usually see in books. All you can do is bundle up to combat the whipping winter wind and go experience the work firsthand. Once your fingers thaw, you’ll be glad you did.
Annie Leibovitz at American Art Museum
Since she made her indelible mark in the landscape of contemporary pop culture with her Rolling Stone photographs of a naked John Lennon cocooned around a black-clad Yoko, Annie Leibovitz has been generally acknowledged as the eye of Hollywood. Anyone who’s anyone since the 1970s has assuredly looked down the barrel of Leibovitz’s lens.
But don’t expect to see Johnny Depp or Leonardo DiCaprio hanging on the walls of the American Art Museum this year. The exhibition, “Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage” (opening Jan. 20), is uncharacteristically void of any people at all.
Visiting the homes of iconic figures, including Thomas Jefferson, Emily Dickinson, Georgia O’Keeffe, Pete Seeger and Elvis Presley, as well as places such as Niagara Falls, Walden Pond, Old Faithful and the Yosemite Valley, Leibovitz let her instincts and intuitions guide her on a journey across America. Revealing her curiosity and infatuation with the country, the photographs span landscapes both dramatic and quiet, interiors of living rooms and bedrooms as well as objects, rendered in a way that feels almost unconscious. Some of the pictures focus on the remaining traces of photographers and artists Leibovitz admires such as Ansel Adams and Robert Smithson. The photographs in this exhibition, bridging a period between April 2009 and May 2011, were taken simply because Leibovitz was moved by the subject. And it cements her as much more than a photographer of American dreams, but a filter of the American experience. For more information, visit AmericanArt.si.edu.
Picasso’s Drawings at the National Gallery of Art
As an artist, Pablo Picasso covered so much ground it becomes difficult to discuss any of his individual contributions without missing an alternative, equally integral aspect of his work. From cubism and collage, to the undulating restraint of his blue period and the effortless, classical ambiguity of his Rose period, it’s easy to get lost in his composition, his perspective, his color and texture, his visual sense for love, madness, grief, joy and everything in between. What’s often overlooked is how well the guy could draw.
Picasso was a master draftsman, and his command will be on full display at the National Gallery this month in “Picasso’s Drawings, 1890–1921: Reinventing Tradition,” opening Jan. 29. The exhibit spans the artist’s drawings over 30 years, from his early studies as a young student in the 1890s (10 to 15 years before he shook the art world with the introduction of his cubist works around 1907), to his virtuoso drawings and portrait sketches of the early 1920s. Delving into the importance of drawing to Picasso’s process of creation, experimentation and discovery, the audience will get to see how intricately his work is connected with the grand tradition of drawing by European masters of the near and distant past from Rembrandt to Vermeer. For more information, visit NGA.gov.
‘Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color and Space’ at the Hirshhorn
The Light and Space movement was introduced to American around the 1960s in southern California. Focused on perceptual phenomena such as light, volume and scale, the tenets of the movement sound like a neo-impressionism for the 20th century, with a focus on the ethereal perception of light, volume and scale in its most raw form. Whether directing thre flow of natural light, toying with light through transparent, translucent and reflective materials or embedding artificial light within objects and architecture, the works always used a range of materials and often incorporated modern innovations in science and even aerospace engineering.
The Hirshhorn will be presenting the first exhibition to reevaluate the evolution of the international Light and Space movement through the work of five pivotal Latin American artists, who almost a decade before the movement’s introduction to America were creating environments of light and color that challenged traditional standards of art. The five installations that make up “Suprasensorial” (opening Feb. 23) will create enveloping optical effects that overwhelm and transform sensory experience and demonstrate Latin America as a source of innovation for the global Light and Space tradition. For more information, visit Hirshhorn.si.edu.