The Eyes

The Eyes

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Behind the Scenes | Watch the President Get Printed in 3D

The Smithsonian stopped by the White House to take a 3D portrait of President Obama, in what will be the highest resolution digital model of a head of state. 

In order to make the 3D presidential portrait, Obama sat in front of a "mobile light stage" with 50 customized LED lights that replicated multiple different lighting conditions. While Obama sat, he was photographed by multiple cameras. Smithsonian staffers also used handheld 3D scanners. The portrait session yielded exact measurements of Obama that were used to make a presidential bust.

"This isn't an artistic likeness of the president this is actually millions upon millions of measurements that create a 3D likeness of the president," Adam Metallo, the Smithsonian's 3D Digitization Program Officer explained.

The scans and printed models will become part of a collection at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, which showcases multiple images of each president. The 3D portraits will be added to the museum's current collection of works representing Obama.

The Smithsonian launched a 3D scanning and imaging program called Smithsonian X 3D in 2013, to make its museum collections and scientific specimens more widely available to researchers.

Take a look at the process, and the 3D rendering created from this technology.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Art, Theater, Ballet, Degas

A new musical and an exhibit celebrate artist Edgar Degas and his ballet model for Little Dancer this fall in Washington.

Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts | Part fact, part fiction, and set in the harsh backstage world of the Paris Opera Ballet, a world premiere Kennedy Center musical is inspired by the story of Marie van Goethem, a young ballerina who posed for Edgar Degas and became, inadvertently, the most famous dancer in the world. Torn by her family's poverty, her debt to the artist, and the lure of wealthy men, she struggles to keep her place in the corps de ballet—a girl on the verge of womanhood, caught between the conflicting demands of life and art. 

Degas's sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen continues to captivate as one of the National Gallery of Art's most popular sculptures—and now the Kennedy Center brings its fascinating story to life in what is unquestionably the landmark event of the new D.C. theater season. Starring four-time Tony Award winner Boyd Gaines (Gypsy, The Heidi Chronicles) as Edgar Degas, three-time Tony Award nominee Rebecca Luker (Mary Poppins, The Music Man) as adult Marie, and New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Tiler Peck as young Marie, the musical is being penned by the Tony Award–winning team of book and lyrics writer Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Rocky), with direction and choreography by five-time Tony Award winner Susan Stroman (The Producers, Oklahoma!).

National Gallery of Art | The sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen is presented with 13 additional objects from the Gallery's collection, including the monumental pastel Ballet Scene (c. 1907), monotypes, and smaller original statuettes by Degas that explore the theme of ballet. The exhibition also includes the oil painting The Dance Class (c. 1873) and the pastel The Ballet (c. 1880), both from the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

Little Dancer at the Kennedy Center
October 25-November 30, 2014

Little Dancer by Degas at the National Gallery of Art 
October 5, 2014-January 11, 2015

Friday, November 7, 2014

Glackens Retrospective at The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia

The first comprehensive survey of William Glackens in nearly half a century, this exhibition at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia has nearly 90 major paintings and works on paper from some of America's finest private and public collections. Glackens’s influential career spanned five decades and this exhibition will show a new generation the breadth of his oeuvre, displaying key works from each decade of his career and revealing his enchanting zest for life, as well as his arsenal of sophisticated techniques. Several important canvases and works on paper will be on public view for the first time.

The exhibition—open Nov. 8 through Feb. 2—is highly selective, concentrating on the most pivotal, adventurous, accomplished, and distinctive works, including the magisterial At Mouquin’s (1905) and The Soda Fountain (1935). Several works in the collection of the Barnes Foundation are included in the exhibition. A joyous and pure painter, Glackens also served as an advocate for the development of avant-garde art in America through his participation in the landmark exhibitions of The Eight (1908), the Armory Show (1913), and the Society of Independent Artists (1917).

Albert C. Barnes and William Glackens attended Philadelphia’s prestigious Central High School together. When they renewed their friendship in 1911, Glackens encouraged Barnes’s appreciation of modern French painting. Glackens went to Paris in 1912 on a buying trip, sending back works by Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and others. The men remained close, and Barnes became his most important patron and acknowledged his friend’s importance to his collecting endeavors: “The most valuable single educational factor to me has been my frequent association with a life-long friend who combines greatness as an artist with a big man’s mind.”

At Mouquin's | 1905
Oil on Canvas | 48 1/8 in. x 36 1/4 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago
The Soda Fountain | 1935
Oil on Canvas | 48 in. x 36 in.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
A Family Group | 1910/1911
Oil on Canvas | 71 15/16 in. x 84 in. 
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Architectural Image, 1920 - 1950 | National Building Museum

Between 1920 and 1950, architecture changed more profoundly and more rapidly than during any similar time span in history. At the beginning of the period, an ornate form of neoclassicism—as promoted by the centuries-old École des Beaux Arts in Paris—was still prevalent in the U.S. and much of Europe. But that tradition was soon challenged by the newly established Bauhaus school in Germany, which advocated functional design free of unnecessary ornament. By the end of the period, International Style modernism, which was largely based on Bauhaus principles, was by far the predominant force in architectural education and practice.

The changing tastes, theories, and obsessions of that era were often documented by prominent artists who found architecture and construction to be compelling subject matter. Some of these artists saw beauty in the inherent geometries of buildings, which they crisply captured via woodcuts or similar high-contrast media. Some celebrated the workers who built soaring skyscrapers or who toiled in modern factories. Others were simply fascinated by the burgeoning skylines and great works of infrastructure that distinguished the modern metropolis.

Opening November 8, this exhibition at the National Building Museum presents 70 prints, original drawings, and paintings from the period, all drawn from a single private collection in Washington, D.C. Included are works by such noteworthy printmakers as Howard Cook, Louis Lozowick, and Charles Turzak. Collectively, these works not only shed light on the dramatic emergence of modernism, but also reveal a certain optimistic spirit that seemed to persist amid the ongoing political, economic, and social upheaval of the era. By virtue of their bold patterns, intriguing perspectives, and masterful execution, these images invite the viewer into the captivating realm that lies at the intersection of art and architecture.

Looking Up Broadway | 1937
Howard Cook

Monday, November 3, 2014

El Greco: A 400th Anniversary Celebration

The 400th anniversary of El Greco's death will be remembered at the National Gallery of Art with an exhibition of 11 paintings from the Gallery, Dumbarton Oaks, and the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, and from the Walters Art Museum, in Baltimore. On view in the West Building, from November 2, 2014 through February 16, 2015, El Greco in the National Gallery of Art and Washington-Area Collections: A 400th Anniversary Celebration will include some of the artist's most beloved paintings, renowned for compositions of bold colors and subjects with dramatic expression.

Domenikos Theotokopoulos, universally known as El Greco, was born on the Greek island of Crete, where he achieved mastery as a painter of Byzantine icons. Aspiring to success on a larger stage, he moved to Venice in his late twenties and absorbed the lessons of High Renaissance masters, especially Titian and Tintoretto. In 1570 he departed for Rome, where he studied the work of Michelangelo and encountered the style known as mannerism, which rejected the logic and naturalism of Renaissance art.

El Greco relocated to Spain in 1576 and spent the rest of his life in Toledo, where he finally received the major commissions that had eluded him in Italy. Unlike the Italian mannerists, who aimed at elegant artifice, El Greco used their dramatically elongated figures and ambiguous treatment of space for expressive ends, creating transcendent works that, like the icons of his youth, convey deep spirituality. Blending diverse influences—Byzantine, Renaissance, mannerist—he developed a unique style that captures the religious fervor of Counter-Reformation Spain.

At the close of the 19th century, artists striving for emotional or expressive effects found a kindred spirit in El Greco, and since that time his influence has been immense. Many have regarded him as a forerunner of modernism. Echoes of his art appear in the works of such diverse artists as Paul Cézanne, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Alberto Giacometti, Thomas Hart Benton, Jackson Pollock, and Francis Bacon.

With seven paintings by El Greco, the Gallery has one of the largest collections of his work in the United States, made possible by the generosity of the Gallery's early benefactors Andrew W. Mellon, Samuel H. Kress, Joseph Widener, and Chester Dale.

From November 4, 2014 through February 1, 2015, New York City will commemorate the 400th anniversary of El Greco's death with two exhibitions showcasing all of the artist's work from New York public collections. The exhibitions will be on view at The Frick Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (with works on loan from the Hispanic Society of America).

Saint Martin and the Beggar | c. 1600/1614
Oil on Canvas | Andrew W. Mellon Collection
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Friday, August 22, 2014

Postal Service Issues Stamps Celebrating Hudson River School Painters

During the 19th century, the artists of a young America searched for a new way of viewing the world and found it in the very landscapes around them. Inspired by the stunning natural beauty of New York state, the loose-knit Hudson River School of painters flourished from the mid-1830s to the mid-1870s and gave America its first major school of art.

This 12th issuance in the American Treasures series features details of paintings by four renowned Hudson River School artists. The paintings on these stamps are: Distant View of Niagara Falls (1830) by Thomas Cole, from the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago; Summer Afternoon (1865) by Asher B. Durand, from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Sunset (1856) by Frederic Edwin Church, from the collection of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute; and Grand Canyon (1912) by Thomas Moran, from the collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Art Everywhere

People throughout the United States have voted for the works of American art they most want to see installed in Art Everywhere US, the initiative that will transform billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms, airport dioramas, movie theaters and more into a free, open-air art gallery across the country. The top three vote-getters are in the Art Institute of Chicago’s permanent collection: Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks (1942), Mary Cassatt’s The Child’s Bath (1893) and Grant Wood’s American Gothic (1930) took first, second and third. All three are currently on display at the Art Institute.

Fourteen works were chosen from the National Gallery of Art, Washington collection including Thomas Eakins's The Biglin Brothers Racing (1872), Winslow Homer's Breezing Up (A Fair Wind) (1873-76), and Gilbert Stuart's George Washington (1821).

Art Everywhere US is organized through a collaboration among five major museums—the Art Institute of Chicago, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York—and the Outdoor Advertising Association of America and its members, with the cooperation of artists, estates, foundations, and rights agencies. 

In April 2014, voting began on the official website, where the public was invited to register their preferences among 100 artworks nominated by the five museums. The website has now been converted into an interactive art gallery, where there is more information about the selected works and the story of American art in the United States.

A nationwide celebration of America’s artistic legacy, Art Everywhere US will begin on August 4, 2014, with a launch event in New York’s Times Square, where digital billboards will display all 58 of the selected artworks. For the subsequent four weeks, through August 31, Art Everywhere US will be installed on as many as 50,000 displays, both static and digital, in all 50 states.

Nighthawks (1942) | Winslow Homer
The Child's Bath (1893) | Mary Cassatt
American Gothic (1930) | Grant Wood
The Biglin Brothers Racing (1872) | Thomas Eakins
Breezing Up (A Fair Wind) (1873-76) | Winslow Homer
George Washington (1820) | Gilbert Stuart

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Stolen Matisse Painting Returned to Caracas, Venezuela Museum

Venezuelan authorities on Monday welcomed home a painting by the artist Henri Matisse more than a decade after it had disappeared from a Caracas museum.  The painting, Odalisque in Red Pants (1925), was recovered in 2012 by F.B.I. agents in Miami when they arrested two people and charged them with trying to sell the long-missing artwork.  Officials do not know when it was stolen from the Contemporary Art Museum of Caracas, where it was part of the museum’s collection, because the thieves put up a fake version of the painting in its place — a ruse that was discovered in 2002.  Photographs showed that the fake, which experts said was crudely executed, was in place at least as early as 2000.  News of the painting’s recovery two years ago caused a stir in Venezuela, and officials on Monday made a show of bringing it home, with a live television broadcast from the Caracas airport.  When it was recovered, American officials said the painting was worth $3 million.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Summer of Van Gogh at National Gallery of Art, Washington

A portrait of Joseph Roulin, the postman Vincent van Gogh made famous through a series of portraits, will be exhibited for the first time in the National Gallery of Art’s West Building French galleries from June 8 to September 7, 2014. On loan from the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, The Netherlands, Portrait of Monsieur Roulin (1889) will hang alongside the Gallery’s own Roulin’s Baby (1888), the portrait of the postman’s daughter Marcelle as an infant. The loan adds to the National Gallery’s celebration of two new paintings by Van Gogh that arrived within the last year from the bequest of renowned philanthropist, art collector and Gallery benefactor Paul Mellon. They had been living with Mellon’s wife, Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, until her death in March of this year. 

Shortly after moving to the river port town of Arles in the south of France, Van Gogh began painting the Roulin family. In letters, the artist idealized the patriarch. On canvas, he immortalized him; his wife, Augustine; and their three children, Armand, Camille and baby Marcelle. “The relationship between Van Gogh and the Roulins was extraordinary,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “The artist’s admiration for them is evident in these portraits and the opportunity to see these portraits of father and daughter reunited again, for the first time in 125 years, is not only a touching tribute to the enduring bonds of friendship, but a poignant reflection on family.”

The portraits of the postman and his daughter Marcelle will go on view with seven other paintings by Van Gogh from the Gallery’s holdings, including Girl in White (1890), La Mousmé (1888), The Olive Orchard (1889), Roses (1890), and the recent acquisitions, Green Wheat Fields, Auvers (1890) and Still Life of Oranges and Lemons with Blue Gloves (1889).

Farmhouse in Provence (1888) will be on view until early July, when it will be replaced with the artist’s Self-Portrait (1889), returning from a loan exhibition.

Portrait of Monseiur Roulin | 1889
Oil on Canvas |  25 9/16 in. x  21 1/4 in.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Union Station | Washington, D.C.

In 1901, the U.S. Senate Park Commission invited master American architect and planner Daniel Burnham to orchestrate a sweeping urban plan for Washington, D.C and make it in a setting that was both practical and grandly befitting a world capital.

Burnham, remembered for his work constructing the stunning “White City” in Chicago for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, would help create the colossal architecture now associated with the National Mall.  He designed Union Station to remove the rail lines from the center of the Mall, which had become a tangle of paths, gardens, and buildings, and brought two major railroads—the Pennsylvania and the Baltimore and Ohio—into one terminal.

The white granite and classic lines of Union Station set the mode for Washington's classic monumental architecture for the next 40 years through the construction of the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the Federal Triangle, the Supreme Court Building, and the National Gallery of Art.

Ionic columns and chiseled inscriptions mark Union Station's neoclassical facade which includes a soaring vaulted entryway and heroic statuary on its 600-foot length.  Just above the main cornice of the central block are six statues representing fire (Prometheus), electricity (Thales), freedom and justice (Themis), imagination and inspiration (Apollo), agriculture (Ceres), and mechanics (Archimedes).

Completed in 1908, the Beaux-Arts national historical landmark was constructed with bones of modern concrete and steel. The 96-foot high coffered Main Hall ceiling shimmers with gold leaf, reflecting light onto the expanse of its marble floor through spacious skylights and windows, while 26 centurion statues stand at attention overhead.

When the building first opened, it also featured a private, secure waiting room for the president and his visitors, as well as a public dining room with walls covered in murals modeled after those excavated at the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

I captured the following images during a behind-the-scenes tour for winners of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Instagram contest. The Trust has designated Union Station as part of their National Treasures program.

Fun Fact | On January 15, 1953, an out of control train on Track 16, crashed through the staionmaster's office, a newsstand, and into the main concourse of the station. Miraculously, no one was killed. A tower crew member, located about a mile from Union Station, was able to warn the stationmaster that a runaway train was on its way.  The concourse was cleared in just two and a half minutes. Within hours, the marble floor of the station collapsed under the weight of the locomotive.  Ninety-six hours later, President-elect Dwight Eisenhower's inaugural train rolled to a stop on Track 16 into a concourse that showed little evidence of the accident.

Photos by Cary Knox

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Happy Birthday, Albrecht Dürer!

Mein Agnes (My Agnes), detail | 1494
Albertina Museum | Vienna

In the summer of 1494, soon after his engagement, Albrecht Dürer made a startlingly intimate drawing of his fiancée Agnes Frey. One might have expected a twenty-three-year-old to depict his betrothed as a source of love, or comfort, or well-being, all the more since her substantial dowry would soon launch his independent career. Instead, Albrecht showed Agnes twisted up in a knot of anxious introversion. She looks withdrawn and preoccupied, and the circles under her heavy-lidded eyes may even make one think she has been crying.

In its frank portrayal of an informal moment of unguarded emotion, there had never been a drawing quite like this before. Typically portraiture was honorific and meant to represent the exemplary virtues of the person shown; Dürer instead often sought to capture the idiosyncratic and psychological characteristics of the people he portrayed. He was fascinated with the close scrutiny of dark and brooding emotion. This is especially evident in his self-portraits, many of which show him in states of melancholy, doubt, or disease. Consider the self-portrait that he drew at the age of thirteen. It is made in ravishingly fine silverpoint, yet his large, staring eyes have a curiously anxious and unsettled look. The precocity evident in this sheet is not only in the flawless technique, but also in the impulse to self-examination.

Self-Portrait, detail | 1484
Albertina Museum | Vienna

Source: New York Review of Books

Monday, May 12, 2014

Portraiture in the Age of Abstraction

Frank O'Hara | 1959-60
Alex Katz
Oil on Wood Cutout
Courtesy Robert Miller Gallery
Now at the National Portrait Gallery, Face Value: Portraiture in the Age of Abstraction features mid-20th century artists who were reinventing portraiture at a moment when most agreed that figuration was dead as a progressive art form. And yet, with startling freshness and a touch of defiance, a group of young artists demonstrated the value of exploring the face and figure.

I was thrilled to see some of the Gallery's permanent holdings of portraits alongside many stunning and important works on loan for this exhibition. It was a treat to see the depiction of poet and Museum of Modern Art curator Frank O'Hara painted by Jane Freilicher and the cutout by Alex Katz, that up until now, I had only seen images in books.

Not only did they paint each other and their friends, but two stunning works in the Gallery's permanent collection in this exhibition include portraits of the art critics who helped define the Abstract Expressionist movement, Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg.

With more than 50 paintings, drawings, prints, and sculpture from approximately 1945 to 1975, Face Value highlights the innovations of American portraiture hiding behind the vogue for abstraction. Artists such as Alice Neel, Elaine de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Beauford Delaney, Romare Bearden, Fairfield Porter, Jamie Wyeth, and Andy Warhol, along with lesser-known artists, pushed the boundaries of portrait traditions. Inspired by the theories and ambitions of the Abstract Expressionists and keenly attuned to the themes of their own turbulent times, they reinterpreted human portrayal, reinventing portraiture for the next generation.

Harold Rosenberg | 1956
Elaine de Kooning
Oil on Canvas | 80 in. x 51 in.
Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

Friday, May 9, 2014

Hitler Album of Nazi Looted Art Given to the National Archives

To mark the May 8 anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe in 1945, the National Archives in Washington held a press conference yesterday to unveil the last known leather-bound "Hitler Album" of art works stolen by the Nazis during the war. The Monuments Men Foundation donated this album to the National Archives, which was found at Hitler's home in Berchtesgaden, Germany, in the closing days of the war and has since been in private hands.

Created by the staff of a special Nazi task force, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), the so-called "Hitler Albums" document the unprecedented and systematic looting of European art by the Nazis, a story recently brought to the screen by George Clooney in The Monuments Men film. The ERR was the main Nazi agency engaged in art looting in Nazi-occupied countries. As the ERR looted, photographed, and catalogued French collections, they created albums, including the one donated. Each page of the album shows a photograph of one stolen item.

After the war, the U.S. Army discovered 39 of these albums and turned them over to the Monuments Men for use in identifying art work to be restituted. These volumes, in the holdings of the National Archives, served as evidence in the Nuremburg trials to document the massive Nazi art looting operations. Until recently, it was believed that the missing ERR albums had been destroyed. Thanks to the Monuments Men Foundation, four additional albums have been recovered, and the fourth was donated at this event.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt at the National Gallery of Art

Edgar Degas's (1834–1917) influence on fellow impressionist Mary Cassatt (1844–1926) is widely known, but her role in shaping his work and introducing him to American audiences is fully examined for the first time in Degas/Cassatt. On view at the National Gallery of Art, Washington—the sole venue worldwide—from May 11 through October 5, 2014, the exhibition includes some 70 works in a variety of media. 

The Gallery is exceptionally rich in holdings by both artists, with one of the finest collections of works by Cassatt in existence, totaling 119, and the third largest collection of works by Degas in the world, totaling 158. Cassatt's Young Woman in Black (Portrait of Madame J) is on view for the first time beside Degas's Fan Mount: Ballet Girls which appears in the background of her painting.

Degas/Cassatt is organized thematically over four galleries with a focus on the height of Degas and Cassatt's artistic alliance—the late 1870s through the mid-1880s. Included are oil paintings, pastels, and works on paper (etchings, lithographs, monotypes, and drawings), with several that were once in the artists' personal collections. Cassatt stated that her first encounter with Degas's art "changed my life," while Degas, upon seeing Cassatt's art for the first time, reputedly remarked, "there is someone who feels as I do."

Young Woman in Black (Portrait of Madame J) | 1883
Mary Cassatt
Oil on Canvas | 31.5 in. x 25 in.
The Peabody Art Collection
Fan Mount: Ballet Girls | 1879
Edgar Degas
Watercolor, Silver, and Gold on Silk
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Friday, May 2, 2014

Whistler at the Freer-Sackler Galleries | Washington, DC

American industrialist Charles Freer met James McNeill Whistler in 1890 when, on his first trip to London, he paid a call at the artist's Chelsea studio and initiated a long and fruitful friendship. With Whistler's encouragement and cooperation, Freer built the most important collection of his works in the world, including the Peacock Room,* which is now a part of the Freer Gallery of Art.** An American in London: Whistler and the Thames will be at the Sackler Gallery of Art,** May 3 - August 17, 2014.

In the Gallery’s first major Whistler exhibition, more than seventy works—paintings of famed London sites in Chelsea and along the Thames River, as well as prints and rarely seen drawings, watercolors, and pastels—present a captivating survey of the artist’s unique depictions of a rapidly changing urban environment. The exhibition culminates with some of Whistler’s stunning, iconic nocturnes, including Blue and Gold—Old Battersea Bridge (1872–77).

The Peacock Room
Freer Gallery of Art | Washington, DC

Blue and Gold—Old Battersea Bridge | (1872–77)
Oil on Canvas | 26 7/8 in. x 20 1/8 in.
Tate Gallery | London

The Peacock Room is open during museum hours, but once a month it is shown in a whole new light. When the shutters of Whistler’s “harmony in blue and gold” are open, a flood of natural light turns the Peacock Room into a glowing jewel of blue, green, and gold tones. Details, colors, and textures are revealed in the sunlight—and a special filtering film on the windows minimizes fading.

** The Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery form the Smithsonian Institution's national museums of Asian art. The Freer and Sackler galleries house the largest Asian art research library in the United States and contain art from East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Islamic world, the ancient Near East, and ancient Egypt, as well as a significant collection of American art.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Poets and Painters | Frank O'Hara and Grace Hartigan

In 1952, artist Grace Hartigan told her friend and poet, Frank O'Hara, that she wanted to paint "a lot of something." He replied, "How about oranges? I have a dozen." What resulted was a collaboration culminating at a Tibor de Nagy Gallery exhibition that showed the Oranges series. John Bernard Myers printed one hundred copies of O'Hara's poems on which the paintings were based, Hartigan painted covers, in oil, for each copy, and they sold for one dollar.

One of the hand-painted covers for the Oranges Poems publication
Black Crows (Oranges No. 1) | 1952
Oil on Paper | 45 in. x 35 in.
University at Buffalo Art Galleries
Hartigan and O'Hara in her studio

Monday, February 10, 2014

Lincoln Kirstein | A Real Life "Monuments" Man

As the movie, Monuments Men, opened this weekend, you know I had to run to see it. While I thought it to be a good movie, it only made me want to know more about this war effort and the men and women who saved many of the treasures of Europe from destruction. I'm now engrossed in the book on which the movie was based. One of the characters in the movie, Preston Savitz (played by Bob Balaban), is based on the real-life person, Lincoln Kirstein.

Lincoln Kirstein
(Photo by George Platt Lynes)
Kirstein, after enlisting in the Army in 1943, started working on a project gathering and documenting soldier art that would eventually become an exhibit and book, Artists Under Fire. In the spring of 1944 he was sent to London for the U.S. Arts and Monuments Commission, and within weeks he was transferred to the unit in France that came to be known as the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section. Soon after being promoted to Private First Class in January 1945 (in General Patton's Third Army), his unit moved to Germany and he was personally involved with retrieving artworks around Munich and in the salt mines at Altaussee.

In his lifetime, Kirstein was a tireless champion of the arts in America. Working behind the scenes to provide artists with money, space, audiences, and, at times, emotional support. He helped found such landmark cultural institutions as the New York City Ballet, the School of American Ballet, and New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Kirstein received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1984); the National Medal of Arts (1985); and with choreographer and co-founder of the New York City Ballet George Balanchine, the National Gold Medal of Merit Award of the National Society of Arts and Letters. A poet, novelist, historian, art collector, and critic, Kirstein died in 1996 at the age of 88.

For more information about this extraordinary piece of art history visit:
Monuments Men: On the Front Line to Save Europe's Art, 1942–1946 (Archives of American Art)

Friday, January 31, 2014

Detroit Institute of Arts Secures the Museum's Collection

Once at risk of losing its collection to save the failing City of Detroit, the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) confirmed its participation in a plan being facilitated to help bring an end to the City’s bankruptcy, expand support for the City’s pensioners, and protect the museum’s collection for the public in perpetuity. Its Board of Directors approved a commitment by DIA to raise $100 million from corporate and individual donors toward these efforts. 

None of the funds raised by DIA will directly benefit the museum. The funds will be directed to a third party, which will disburse the funds for pension payments. As part of the agreement, the City of Detroit will transfer to DIA free and clear legal title to the museum building, the art collection and all related assets. DIA will continue to operate the museum with funds raised from its current donor base and from the tri-county millage. 

DIA will focus its initial fundraising efforts on Detroit’s corporate community. DIA leadership has compiled a list of initial prospects, finalized support materials, and held several preliminary conversations with interested donors. Details of the overall agreement are still in negotiation, but DIA is moving forward with fundraising as those talks continue. 

One of the premier art museums in the United States, DIA is home to more than 60,000 works that comprise a multicultural survey of human creativity from ancient times through the 21st century. From the first Van Gogh painting to enter a U.S. museum (Self-Portrait, 1887), to Diego Rivera's world-renowned Detroit Industry murals (1932–33), DIA’s collection is known for its quality, range, and depth. Its mission is to create opportunities for all visitors to find personal meaning in art.

Detroit Industry murals by Diego Rivera
Detroit Institute of Arts

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Human Form in Art

Whether portraiture or abstraction, artists have portrayed the human form for thousands of years on cave walls, papyrus, marble, and canvas. Some figures were used to illustrate a story or an historical event, others to sculpt or paint the magnificence of the human body. 

An artist may struggle with a particular facial feature, a hand, a foot, or bodily proportions, working and reworking, sometimes agonizing until achieving their vision; and a finished work of art will not likely ever reveal the tumultuous exercise required to reach that perfection. Models have sat frozen in position for hours on end to allow the artist to capture the curvature of a bicep, the graceful bend of a finger, or the spiral of an ear.

Artist James Brock has a terrific grasp of the male form. His masterful use of color and brush strokes on canvas and execution of pastel on paper show us that he has a vision—a revelation that is both portrait and abstract. You want to reach out and touch them, but be careful, you might get burned! 

Male | 2007
Acrylic on Canvas | 14 in. x 11 in.
Male | 2011
Acrylic on Canvas | 16 in. x 20 in.
Man | 2014
Mixed Media on Canvas | 10 in. x 10 in.
See more of James Brock's art at

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Art of Robert De Niro, Sr.

Father and Son | Actor Robert De Niro and Artist Robert De Niro, Sr.

Poet, sculptor and artist Robert De Niro, Sr. became known during the post World War II era for his dynamic, richly-colored paintings that gracefully synthesized modernist abstraction with more traditional compositions and formal themes. 

Born in Syracuse, New York in 1922, De Niro was passionate about art from an early age. While still in high school, he attended art classes at the Syracuse Museum, where he was provided with a private room where he could paint independently. De Niro studied under two of the 20th century’s leading colorists: first with Joseph Albers at Black Mountain College (1940), and later with Hans Hofmann (1941-42). A perfectionist, De Niro painted and repainted his canvases again and again. He would do hundreds of studies before he decided to paint the subject. 

At Hofmann's summer school, he met fellow student Virginia Admiral, whom he married in 1942. The couple moved into a large loft in New York's Greenwich Village, where they were able to paint and surrounded themselves with a circle of friends, which included writers Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller and playwright Tennessee Williams. Admiral and De Niro, Sr. separated shortly after their son, Robert, was born in August 1943.

In 1945, he was included in the Fall exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim's The Art of This Century gallery on 57th Street in New York. Reviews of the exhibition praised the work of De Niro as well as that of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. He had his first solo exhibition at The Art of This Century the following year.

De Niro had a series of solo exhibitions in the 1950s at the Charles Egan Gallery in New York, which also exhibited the work of Willem de Kooning and Knox Martin. By the mid-1950s, De Niro was regularly included in important group exhibitions such as the Whitney Annual, the Stable Annual, and the Jewish Museum.

From 1961-1964, De Niro traveled to France to paint in Paris and in the surrounding countryside. Collector Joseph Hirshhorn purchased a number of the artist's paintings and works on paper, which are now in the permanent collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC. 

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, De Niro continued to exhibit in museums and galleries throughout the United States and taught at several art schools and colleges. His work is included in several museum collections including the Brooklyn Museum, Baltimore Museum of Art, Mint Museum, Hirshhorn Museum, Kansas City Art Institute, and the Yellowstone Museum Art Center.

De Niro, Sr., died of cancer in 1993 at the age of 71 in New York City. The film "A Bronx Tale" was dedicated to him after his death; it was the directorial debut of his son, Robert De Niro.

Actor/director Robert De Niro has painstakingly preserved
his father's studio and his legacy. In 2010, he launched 
an annual $25,000 award for an outstanding mid-career
American artist for achievements in painting. The award
is administered by De Niro's Tribeca Film Institute.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Native American Themes in New Deal-Era Post Office Murals

The National Museum of the American Indian and the National Postal Museum are co-sponsoring a digital exhibit on post office murals focused on the American Indian.

From 1934 to 1943, the U.S. Treasury Department, through its Section of Painting and Sculpture, commissioned over 1,600 murals and sculptures to be installed in post offices throughout the United States. It was a major endeavor, intended to signify the breadth and range of the country to the American people. The post office murals project was in the grand design of public works launched during President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Four hundred of these murals contained Native American images.

Many of the artists were unfamiliar with the region connected to the post office they were assigned, and most were unfamiliar with American Indian culture. While some mural images succeeded in capturing the importance of Native peoples in the American historic tableau as a result of an increased national consciousness, others were based on rumor, legend, and stereotype resulting in dramatic and sometimes bizarre inaccuracy. Only 24 Native-themed murals were painted by American Indian artists.

Artists were provided guidelines and themes for executing their mural studies. They engaged in often lengthy negotiations between the Post Office Department, the town, and other interested parties before paintings could begin. Many local communities deemed the approved designs unacceptable due to theme, content, design elements and/or method of expression. Artists were constantly reminded the communities were their patrons, and they must go to great lengths to satisfy the desires of everyone involved in the project in order to save their commissions. 

The long-range goal of this project titled Indians at the Post Office: Native Themes in New Deal-Era Murals, is to critique, from a contemporary vantage point, all 400 of the Native American-themed murals. The purpose is to address both the virtues and the inaccuracies in these historic depictions, and to launch and continue to populate a web-based virtual exhibition on the Smithsonian National Postal Museum website.

The Scene Changes 
by Ila McAfee Turner
Cordell, Oklahoma Post Office
United States Postal Service®