Wednesday, April 18, 2012

art from the national mall instagram dump 1

I've been meaning to post some more shots from my visit to the National Mall a couple of weeks ago, to see some art. Here's the first set, through some Instagram filters. More to come soon!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

hokusai, jakuchu, and winged spirits at the freer/sackler galleries and national gallery, washington, d.c.

There's a lot of great art this month in Washington, D.C. as part of the annual cherry blossom festivities. While the blossoms have quickly, prematurely come and gone, the art will remain, at least for a little while longer. One such exhibit includes Japanese master Katsushika Hokusai's "Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji" series of prints, on view at the Sackler Gallery up through June 17, 2012. When I went last weekend, the gallery was jam-packed and photography was not permitted. So if you're in the area, take this rare opportunity to see the entire series of prints together in one setting before the exhibit ends. On a brief side note, if you do go and find the crowd slightly harrowing, as I did, take a walk directly across the hall to check out the "Art of Darkness" Japanese Mezzotint exhibit, which had very few viewers, at least when I went, thus adding to the sublime, quiet nature of the work. 

At the connecting Freer Gallery, you'll find more Hokusai works in the form of his giant screens (until July 29, 2012) and more intimate paintings and drawings (until June 24, 2012). While this Hokusai exhibit in particular wasn't quite as extensive as the one hosted at Freer/Sackler about six years ago, these works still have to be seen in person to be believed. 

Over at the National Gallery of Art, West wing, was a pleasant surprise exhibit that, I have to admit, surpassed even the Hokusai shows, called Colorful Realm: Japanese Bird-and-Flower Paintings by Itō Jakuchū. I had only briefly encountered some of Jakuchū's work through photographs, but to see this absolutely incredible collection of bird and flower paintings on 30 scrolls, in person was spellbinding. Again, as with Hokusai's "Thirty-six Views..." show, there was no photography permitted, and the space was packed with viewers wall-to-wall.  The book/catalogue was unfortunately sold-out, however the National Gallery will be getting a new shipment in by early May. Can't wait for mine to arrive! The exhibit itself won't be around for long unfortunately, ending on April 29, 2012. Not to be missed!

Back over to the Freer Gallery for more amazing Asian art (and more birds), this time in the form of "Winged Spirits: Birds in Chinese Painting", which ends August 5th, 2012. Never mind the crummy photos below and go see these magnificent ancient works in the flesh.  

On one last side note, in addition to the many amazing Asian art exhibits going on currently in D.C., there will be a "100% Miyazaki!" movie marathon on Sunday, April 15, appropriately, at Freer/Sackler from 11AM - 9PM. If you haven't seen a Miyazaki film on the big screen, as I was fortunate enough to have done with both "Spirited Away" and "Princess Mononoke", now is your chance! Special guest Helen McCarthy, author of "Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation" will be there presenting the films and signing books.

Friday, April 13, 2012

juan muñoz : "the last conversation piece"

The series of ten Instagram photos above were taken at the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, just outside the Hirshhorn Museum of Art building in Washington, D.C. last Sunday. I have always loved this cluster of five sculptures featured here in the photos, and have taken pictures of them many times, but never really as a "series". The art was created by Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz and is called "The Last Conversation Piece", completed in 1995. Muñoz had made quite a few of these humanoid-based sculptures, which resemble people, more specifically male figures with beanbag-like lower bodies, all interacting, and intended to tell a story, which was something the artist specialized in. 

Doing an online search, I'm far from being the first person to photograph (and in some cases film) "The Last Conversation Piece" as a cohesive series, however, this was my first real effort at getting to know and really attempt to understand and explore the work. Who knows - maybe I'm the first to do this through the medium of Instagram, though I doubt that even. Whatever the case, photography, and probably even more so with drawing, allows the viewer to do just that. Just what kind of story was the artist trying to tell here? Was there a specific, concrete meaning behind it or was it more of a vague commentary on human behavior, left open to viewer interpretation? I'd imagine it was a little bit of both, and from what I gather through the lens of my own perception is the work reflecting the darker, lower, and perhaps weaker side of humanity. Despite the subject matter, this is one of the most striking and dynamic three-dimensional works to grace the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, and truly has to be seen and mindfully viewed to be fully appreciated. 

Sculpture, especially on a larger scale, like this, and the act of being a sculptor has my full respect, as someone who has dabbled in some smaller-scale exercises in stone, ceramic and copper. There is a real commitment to being an artist and to the act of creating art, and believing in your creations, more so than any other medium, for a good number of reasons. Art in the round works on so many more levels than a two-dimensional work, and while any of these images could easily work as a powerful painting, as sculpture, you experience the piece from what could be an infinite number of angles and perspectives. What I love is how cleverly and strategically these five figures have been composed, and it's easy to imagine them completely and fully animated. 

Sadly, Juan Muñoz died at the young age of 48, from an odd, sudden health-related occurrence in 2001. He died at what could have very well been the peak of his artistic career, and I think if the man were still alive, he would have easily established himself as one of the great sculptors of our time. In the meantime I just ordered what looks to be a fairly comprehensive hardcover book about the artist and his work, and I look forward to getting to know Muñoz much more in the near future.