Art in the Nation’s Capitol

Art in the Nation’s Capitol

In front of the National Gallery in Washington D.C.
In front of the National Gallery in Washington D.C.

This past weekend, I attended a family wedding in Washington D.C. While I was there, I had a whole day to kill before the wedding so I decided to see some art. I started out in the west building of the National Gallery of Art, where they mainly have what I call “the old stuff”. 

Rotunda in entrance of West Building
Rotunda in entrance of West Building

While there is so much to appreciate and study in art from early art history, I usually bypass the collections from the middle ages, renaissance, and prehistoric times. I typically choose to look at artwork made after 1900. Today, I decided to just take it all in (or at least as much as I could in 4 hours) and wandered through each room in the grand building.

Bronze casts of French members of Parliament made from Daumier original unbaked clay sculptures
Bronze casts of French members of Parliament made from Daumier’s original unbaked clay sculptures

Not surprisingly, the things I was drawn to were not that old. Highlights for me from the West Building include bronze sculptures of French officials by Daumier; Color in Context, a small exhibition of prints by Edvard Munch focusing on the use of color and the specific theosophical meaning of his colors; and Posing For The Camera, an exhibition of 60 photographs chronicling how posing for a portrait has changed since the invention of photography.

(left) Photo of playwright Jean Genêt by Brassaï, (center) Untitled photo from Berlin by György Kepes; and (right) Photo of Lucian Freud by Brassaï
(left) Photo of playwright Jean Genêt by Brassaï, (center) Untitled photo from Berlin by György Kepes; and (right) Photo of Lucian Freud by Brassaï

Moving to the East building (with a break for a burrito in the park) you notice the distinct differences in the architecture. The first building was classical, the second building was modern and angular.

Interior shot of the east building of the National Gallery
Interior shot of the East Building

The highlights from this building of the National Gallery include a drawing with soot by Lee Bontecou; “Blue Blood” by Martin Puryear, a large circular piece made from pine and cedar; and the thing that knocked me out the most was a film by James Nares called “Street” with a score by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth.

"Untitled" drawing with soot by Lee Bontecou
“Untitled” drawing with soot by Lee Bontecou
"Blue Blood" by Martin Puryear
“Blue Blood” by Martin Puryear (with security guy for scale reference)
In the viewing room at The National Gallery watching "Street" by James Nares
In the viewing room at The National Gallery watching “Street” by James Nares

It was a slow motion ride around the streets of NYC and the way we get to interact with these people, usually staring at us or off in to the distance, is very intriguing.  See a clip from the piece here.

Large Robert motherwell painting on the bottom level
Large Robert motherwell painting on the bottom level
"Achilles" by Barnet Newman (left) and two paintings by Clifford Still (right)
“Achilles” by Barnet Newman (left) and two paintings by Clifford Still (right)
"Salut Tom", a huge painting by Joan Mitchell
“Salut Tom”, a huge painting by Joan Mitchell

There were of course some large abstract expressionist paintings, which I always like but the Nares film was my favorite piece. I wish I was able to experience all 61 minutes of it but I didn’t have enough time.

It is always a good idea to check out galleries and museums that you’ve never been to. Sometimes when I am on a trip or vacation, there just isn’t enough time. I’m glad I made the time during this short trip.

204 of Thousands, an installation of cups by Ehren Tool at the Renwick Gallery
“204 of Thousands”, an installation of cups by Ehren Tool at the Renwick Gallery

I also stopped into the Renwick Gallery the day before and saw a great installation of cups by Ehren Tool. Part of his ongoing body of work dealing with war through pottery. This installation at the Renwick Gallery was just a small number compared to the 14,000+ that he has made as part of this project. Powerful to see.

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