Tag Archives: art

Going, going – almost gone!

5 May

 

 

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My parents visited from Michigan back in March. I’d been itching to visit the Renwick Gallery since it reopened in November, and my parents were game to check it out.

If you’re not familiar with the Renwick, here’s the quick back-story on it:

  • It is part of the Smithsonian. (And because I answer this question for almost every visitor to Washington: the Smithsonian is a collection of museums and galleries – not a single destination – and they are all open free of charge to the public.)
  • The Renwick was the first art gallery built in the US intended to be used as an art gallery. (A lot of the other older art galleries were originally private homes.)
  • The exterior was completed in 1861 – and then the construction was paused because of the Civil War.
  • In the 20th century, there was talk of tearing it down, but Jacqueline Kennedy led a successful crusade to save it, and it returned to use as an art gallery in 1972.
  • It closed again for renovations in 2013 and just reopened in November.

To re-open the Renwick, the entire building was used for an installation of nine works by different artists, each specifically designed for and filling an entire room. The theme of the exhibit was, “Wonder” and I have to say: Mission Accomplished. I can’t imagine anyone going through the entire exhibit without at least one, “WHOA!” moment.

Here’s the exhibit’s opening plaque, which provides a bit of context for what it contains:

People have debated the meaning and value of wonder for more than two thousand years. It has been described as everything from the origins of our understanding of the universe, to how we respond to something defying categorization, to a naïve emotion delaying us from reason, to a shock to the heart, and a surprise of the soul.

The two rooms that provided me with the most amazement were those where common items were used to create very uncommon results.

The first example was Jennifer Angus’s pink-washed room that used insects for three-dimensional wall decoration. When we walked in the room, our initial reaction was, “Cool,” as we saw the “dia de los muertos” skeletons covering the walls. We quickly followed that by asking, “Those can’t be REAL beetles, can they?”

As it turns out, they WERE. Which then made the whole room a bit more creepy. And I felt compelled to try to approximate how many little insect corpses were pinned to the walls. It made my head hurt. Further, the wall plaque informed us that the pink of the walls was created by using the “juice” from other insects. Ew? And still – ahhhh!

Here are a few photos I snapped that don’t do it justice:

The other example that had me rubbing my chin in wonder was what appeared to be a simple construction of colored thread – pinned to the floor, then running to the ceiling, where it was pinned at a right angle. Sounds boring, but the effect was surprising. As we moved around it, it shifted from being individual clusters of thread to a see-through rainbow that seemed to be made from light.

Again, it doesn’t translate well in photos, but here’s an attempt – and no, I have no idea who that dude is posing in this shot:

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Those were the two creations that I found most provoking, but I heard people exclaiming in delight in every room, whether it was John Grade’s over-sized tree trunk constructed from small blocks of wood, or the glass ball formation created by Maya Lin (of Vietnam Wall fame), that climbed the walls of one room.

In addition to the art work, there were quotes in each room related to the theme. A few of my favorite examples include:

“It is not understanding that destroys wonder, it is familiarity.” —John Stuart Mill

“The mere knowledge that such a work could be created makes me twice the person I was.” —Goethe

The full exhibit is only available through Sunday (May 8), so if you’re in the DC area, if you hustle you can hit it! Even if you’re not usually a fan of art, I’d be willing to offer a money-back satisfaction guarantee. (Did I mention that it’s free?!)

A tourist in my own city

15 Oct

We’re having an amazing fall (read: 70 degrees and sunny) in DC, so I’ve been taking advantage of the weather by playing tourist. For my nerdy self, that means one thing: WALKING TOURS.

Last weekend I tagged onto a walking tour of Embassy Row, which felt a bit lazy since the starting point was a ten minute walk from my place. While it may sound dumb to take a walking tour of your own neighborhood, I wanted to do it because whenever I have visitors, I find myself making up stories in response to their questions. I thought it might be helpful to equip myself with a few facts for a change.

And man was I ever equipped! I learned a ton. Here are just two highlights to tease you into attending your own tour:

  • Embassy Row was originally called Millionaires’ Row and was where “new money” built their homes – and it became Embassy Row after the crash of the stock market, when many residents were forced to sell their homes (and foreign countries were the only entities flush with cash to purchase them).
  • Westinghouse lived here when the whole AC/DC battle was going on with Edison and he spent $1m of his own money to defend a guy on death row in NY to try to prevent the electric chair (with his current) making its debut (and generating some pretty horrible PR for his cause). It goes without saying that his house was pretty fantastic.

Excited from all that I learned on that tour, this weekend I signed up for a walking tour of Georgetown. Unfortunately, the guide had an artificially boisterous delivery style and over-the-top vocal projection, so listening to him made me cringe. I felt like a legitimate tourist as he yelled history at us on the otherwise quiet streets of Georgetown, so about halfway through the tour, when the group turned left, I turned right and walked home.

If I’m being fair, the guide was only part of the reason I bailed. My feet were hurting because I’d already walked seven miles that day because I’d stumbled upon something called “Do the Loop,” which was an art event in which several museums and galleries in upper Northwest opened their doors at no charge for the day. I used this as an excuse to check out the Kreeger Museum up on Foxhall Road, and I was impressed with the collection, which included many Picassos, Monets, Renoirs – and even a small Calder mobile.

As fantastic as the collection was, I was actually slightly more intrigued by the museum building itself, which had originally been designed and built as the private residence for the Kreegers (president of GEICO back in the day) – with the stipulation by the architect (Philip Johnson) that they leave it as a museum one day. Imagine living in a home designed to one day become a museum? It was fun to roam around and imagine decorating it for entertainment back in the 70s.

So… not much pith in this post, but if you find yourself in DC and looking for something to do, perhaps this will give you some ideas. And if you have an obnoxious tour guide, hopefully you’ll feel fine turning right when he goes left. Because he deserves it.

Artomatic: A Photo Essay

24 Jun

One of my favorite DC events is something called Artomatic. It’s a month-long art festival held every 1-3 years (depending on their ability to get organized and secure space) – usually in a building that’s under construction or slated for demolition. This year’s festival occupied ten floors of an old office building in Arlington and featured more than 1,000 artists.

Pretty awesome, right?

The event is not juried, so it’s a mishmash of stuff – some is Art with a capital-A, while other stuff looks like a classroom of kindergarteners could produce it.

Since the building is otherwise vacant, it’s easy to get lost. Fortunately they have bars on almost every floor, so you’re usually well fortified for your wandering. And there’s a stage area for entertainment on each floor – everything from poetry readings, to garage bands to fashion shows.

Last night was this year’s closing night, so my friend Betsy and I went over to check it out. Here are some of the more bizarre highlights:

There almost an entire floor dedicated to dioramas made from Peeps. This was my favorite because it was a fairly accurate portrayal of the Occupy movement in DC:

Peep Show

This was an entire room decorated bizarrely. Kind of what I assume a crack den looks like:

The End Is Near?

Not exactly sure what’s happening here, but it’s the only clown exhibit that didn’t completely terrify me:

Maybe because the hands are more creepy?

I took this mainly to taunt my sister, who offers to knit me things. If you REALLY loved me, you would make me a body-sized glove. Or a mitten. I’m not that picky…

Ain’t no needles large enough…

I’m pretty sure this is some kind of Cat’s Cradle reference, but I named him MC Knittin’ Kitten.

Let’s raise the roof.

I’m not sure what makes this art. Did the guy make Godzilla’s body from scratch? If so, I’ll put a tick in the “art” column. If he simply chopped holes and stuck frightening baby arms out of a dinosaur? Not so much.

How evolution really started…

Um… anyone want to attempt to interpret this one?

At least give her more nipples.

Forget about the goose who lays the golden egg. I want to birth a solid gold baby.

When gold-diggers get pregnant.

I didn’t take this photo for the message, though I do like the “Buy car, kick tires” idea. No. I liked this because the little drip of paint running down from his crown reminded me of the stick that holds up opera glasses. Very delicate for an Abe Lincoln skull.

Kick those tires!

Back on the Peep floor – someone had constructed a Peepmobile for kids to play with. What you may not be able to see – in this photo, it is a large fifty year old man in there driving.

When you can’t afford a corvette for your midlife crisis…

So Artomatic. Aren’t you sad you missed it? I swear – there is also REAL art there. It just didn’t photograph well.

Also? There was a fashion show with legitimate models walking a catwalk in ridiculous shoes. Knowing my obsession with models falling, any guesses what I spent my time doing? Standing with my iPhone filming, hoping I’d get footage for my own YouTube wipeout. Maybe next year.

A girl can hope.