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Processing Dada's Merit
WASHINGTON - The movement of "very calculated nonsense" that influenced contemporary art gets a striking exhibition... It is hard to take seriously a group of grown men and women who submit a store-bought urinal to an art show, declaim meaningless sounds as poetry, stage mock trials of novelists they dislike, wear a string with two empty tin cans as a bra, provide an ax for dissatisfied art connoisseurs, call their movement Dada, and then proclaim proudly, "Dada means nothing"...
April 9, 2006
History's new verdict on the Dreyfus case
Historians are hailing accused 19th-century spy Alfred Dreyfus as a hero, not a simple victim of anti-Semitism... In 1899, a broken Alfred Dreyfus accepted a presidential pardon — and its implication that he had committed treason against France. It was a matter of life or death, for Dreyfus feared that he would not survive the notorious penal colony on Devil's Island, where he had been sent after a military court convicted him of betraying his country. Those who believed that he was innocent and had called for his exoneration were deeply disappointed. "We were prepared to die for Dreyfus," said poet Charles Péguy, "but Dreyfus was not." His decision to accept a pardon is one of the cornerstones of a long-standing French perception that Dreyfus is the model of a submissive victim. But on the eve of the 100th anniversary of his exoneration in 1906 and the official end of the tumultuous affair that convulsed France for a dozen years, that view may be changing. Indeed, some historians see Dreyfus the patriot, not Dreyfus the victim...
July 9, 2006
Countrymen, get reacquainted
George Washington the man, the myths and even the teeth make up the new Mount Vernon experience... The private organization that runs Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, will soon open an opulent and dramatic visitors complex that will try to fill a need spawned by the growing ignorance of Americans about their own history. There was a time when most visitors came to the 18th century estate and lovely grounds in northern Virginia already full of facts and insights into the life and times of the first president of the United States. But this is no longer so — a lack of knowledge that first attracted notice in the 1990s...
October 22, 2006
Artwork for the masses borne of revolution
An exhibition highlights the golden age of Mexican printmaking... In the wake of a long revolution against dictatorship, Mexican artists vowed in the 1920s to create works that would instruct and enrich the masses. They even signed a manifesto proclaiming, "We repudiate so-called easel painting and every kind of art favored by ultra-intellectual circles." Out of this mood came the great murals of modern Mexico, especially the monumental works of Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. But the mood also spawned a lesser-known burst of creativity — an enormous production of prints for 30 years. Unlike paintings that would likely be savored by rich families in their homes, the multiples of these woodcuts, linoleum cuts and lithographs could reach many people...
October 29, 2006
A legacy of Modernism's breakaway style
'Designing a New World: 1914-1939' shows how a movement moved a century function forward... When portions of "Ulysses" first appeared in a literary magazine from 1918 to 1920, its Irish author, James Joyce, wanted the world to know that he had created a new kind of novel, resembling nothing that came before. When Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" premiered in Paris in 1913, the Russian composer's music was so dissonant, new and shocking that the audience rioted. Other artists such as the painter Pablo Picasso, architect Le Corbusier, designer Marcel Breuer and filmmaker Fritz Lang wanted to do the same: break completely with the past and re-create their form of art, taking it to new and different heights...
April 8, 2007
'Sargent and Venice': an artist's true passion revealed
VENICE, ITALY - John Singer Sargent put portraits aside to capture the workings of an ethereal city... John Singer Sargent was the most popular portrait painter of his day, but the tedium of the work often oppressed him. In letters to friends, he liked to mock his lucrative success in what he called "paughtraits." He found it a nuisance "to entertain the sitter and to look happy when one feels wretched." When he took time off from the portraits, he would say, "No more mugs!" Accompanied by friends and family, and armed with oils and watercolors, he would leave his London studio every year for a long vacation, usually to the Alps in the summer and then south to Venice in the fall...
July 8, 2007
Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries
WASHINGTON DC - Smithsonian exhibition explores a world trader's legacy... In the 1400s, decades before the voyages of Christopher Columbus, sailors from little Portugal braved the oceans to map the world, carry back spices and other treasures, spread Christianity and set down an empire that would extend in the next two centuries from Africa to India to China to Brazil. The impact was enormous. Europe was inundated with images and objects from the outside world. And, from then on, the rest of the world would never escape the influence of Europe...
August 12, 2007
J.M.W. Turner's sprawling landscape
WASHINGTON DC - In a Washington exhibition, the British painter's wide-ranging influence is seen through the swirls and mists of his search for the sublime... A dramatic exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1966 set the way many Americans still look at the works of the British painter Joseph Mallord William Turner. By then, Turner had been dead for more than a century -- hardly a conventional subject for a temple of Modern art. But, by concentrating on his later paintings, filled with swirls of color and light and mists and fire and storm, the museum hailed Turner as a godfather of French Impressionism and, even more important, a precursor of American Abstract Expressionism. The show prompted abstract painter Mark Rothko to joke, "That guy Turner learned a lot from me!" Now, another major exhibition, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, is trying to put Turner in better perspective...
November 18, 2007
'Condoleezza Rice: An American Life,' by Elisabeth Bumiller
A talented, ambitious woman whose judgment is clouded by intense loyalty... In late August 2005, Condoleezza Rice stepped into a Broadway theater to see the musical "Spamalot." At the end, when the lights came on, some in the audience noticed the secretary of State. Evidently angry about both the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, they stood up and booed. A careful, well-documented new biography, "Condoleezza Rice: An American Life," will not dissipate such anger. Elisabeth Bumiller, who covered the White House for the New York Times during most of George W. Bush's presidency, has labored to present an evenhanded look at Rice. She shows some sympathy for her subject and even more understanding. But, in the end, this is a portrait of a talented, ambitious woman who has allowed intense loyalty to cloud her judgment and good sense...
December 11, 2007
Condoleezza Rice: An American Life
by Elisabeth Bumiller (Random House)
Landscapes are the draw at National Gallery
WASHINGTON DC - For much of the 19th century, scores of French painters, laden with knapsacks and portable easels, trekked through the Forest of Fontainebleau to capture the shifting wonders of nature with their brushes right on the spot. Some came for weekends; some stayed for a lifetime. Pioneers of the new art called photography, laden with even more equipment, made the pilgrimage as well. So did the young Impressionists. Together they all raised the art of landscape to new heights in France. A generous sampling of this work is on display in an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art that celebrates a place rather than a painter. Called "In the Forest of Fontainebleau: Painters and Photographers From Corot to Monet," the show closes June 8 and goes on to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston in July. The place celebrated is a forest that was once the hunting grounds for the royal chateau in the town of Fontainebleau...
April 20, 2008
Back out in the world, Afghanistan's hidden treasures...
WASHINGTON DC - Ancient artifacts secretly kept in a bank vault in the war-torn country, safe from marauding militia, looters and the Taliban, are now on a museum tour for all the world to see. In an act that provoked worldwide outrage, the fundamentalist Taliban rulers of Afghanistan in March 2001 destroyed the monumental statues of Buddha that had been carved into the rock cliffs of Bamiyan 1,600 years ago. The shocking destruction was not an isolated event. As part of the same campaign, the Taliban sent hordes of militants into the Kabul Museum to smash every statue, no matter how small, that depicted a human figure or any other creature... But the museum did not die. Unknown to outsiders, museum director Omara Khan Massoudi and his assistants had packed the finest treasures of the museum during the 1980s and placed them in the vaults of the Central Bank in the presidential palace. "What kept them safe," says Hiebert, "was the code of silence"...
June 15, 2008
Royal armor and portraits at the National Gallery of Art
A second Spanish-accented exhibition, on painter Luis Meléndez, is bound for Los Angeles.
-- Reporting from Washington --
Suits of armor were once so finely wrought that an attacking lance would glance off their smooth metal harmlessly. But then, as the Middle Ages moved into the Renaissance, European kings demanded that the craftsmen finish the armor with elaborate decoration. All the engraving and embossing upset the surface of the armor. A lance would no longer slip away. But that did not matter. Decorated armor was for show, so that the kings would look majestic and powerful and indestructible, especially in portraits by great painters...
July 12, 2009
Marcel Duchamp's Étant donnés: The revival of a masterpiece
The Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has had the late Frenchman's landmark work as part of its permanent collection for 40 years, marks the anniversary with a greatly expanded exhibition.
-- Reporting from Philadelphia --
Marcel Duchamp served for many years as both a prince and court jester to modern art in the 20th century. While creating some well-known works, he also punctured pretensions with jokes, pranks, aphorisms and a perpetual hunt for new byways of art. Then he announced he was abandoning art, giving it all up to play chess. But he was not telling the truth. He worked in secret for 20 years, assembling a huge, fanciful and puzzling diorama. When he died in 1968, only a few people knew about his secret. A year after his death, the Philadelphia Museum of Art installed the secret work and displayed it to the public. While some patrons were shocked by its sexuality, it soon became a magnet for young artists looking for new paths to take their own work. Duchamp's masterpiece, known as "Étant donnés," a shortened form of its French title, is now regarded as one of the most powerful and dynamic influences on contemporary art...
September 27, 2009
'The Sacred Made Real' at National Gallery
Spanish painted wooden sculptures of Christ, many of which have never before left their churches, are in an exhibition in Washington.
-- Reporting from Washington, D.C. --
Any tourist quickly senses something different in the churches of Spain. Unlike the pure idealized figures of Christ in most of the rest of Europe, those of Spain seem to bleed. The skins show bruising, the eyes droop in anguish, the feet gnarl in pain. Spain's realistic sculptures of Christ and Christian saints usually leave their churches and monasteries only once a year. They are placed on massive floats and carried by strong men in the processions of Holy Week. Hooded penitents walk behind barefoot, some striking their backs with the cords of a whip. The painted wooden sculptures, most created in the 17th century, are regarded as some of Spain's finest works of art. But, still venerated for their religious power, they are seldom seen in a museum...
March 28, 2010
'Hide/Seek': National Portrait Gallery's exhibition of homosexual art
'Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture' celebrates gay and lesbian work, some created when it didn't dare truly expose itself.
-- Reporting from Washington, D.C. --
In 1989, the private Corcoran Gallery of Art, battered by threats from Congress and worried about future federal grants, canceled an exhibition by photographer Robert Mapplethorpe that included male nudity and homosexual scenes. The controversial banning made the Washington art establishment seem philistine, intolerant and spineless. Times and attitudes change. Now, a Washington museum is pioneering a show that celebrates gay and lesbian art and delineates its place in the history of American painting and photography...
November 14, 2010
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