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5 Questions for Christopher Kendall on the 21st Century Consort's Aviary Performance
October 23, 2014


American Art's Jo Ann Gillula speaks with Artistic Director Christopher Kendall about the upcoming season of the musical group in residence at the museum, 21st Century Consort, which opens their season with Aviary on October 25 in the museum's McEvoy Auditorium from 5 p.m to 8 p.m.

Tomaselli

Fred Tomaselli, Migrant Fruit Thugs, 2006, leaves, photo collage, gouache, acrylic and resin on wood panel, Glenstone. © Fred Tomaselli. Image courtesy Glenstone

Eye Level: Is it really the 39th season of the consort? What was the very first concert and where was it held? Are you planning a special celebration next fall for the 40th anniversary?

Christopher Kendall: True confession: I can never quite figure out when you celebrate anniversaries (ask my wife). If this is our 39th season (it is), should we be celebrating this year or next? We decided on next, and are making some exciting plans (more on that at some later point). In any case, at our age, the Consort can justifiably celebrate every year: there aren't many new music or chamber groups who have survived so long. We credit our residency at the Smithsonian to a large degree for this; our home at American Art has been a terrific tonic, its exhibitions and collection an inspiration, and you and your staff the ideal partners in crime! One of the joys —and a poignancy too— of our residency here is that our very first concert 39 years ago took place in the Lincoln Gallery in this very building!

EL: Christopher, you have a most unusual repertoire lined up for the first concert, even for you who programs such varied contemporary music for the group. Are you actually combining 14th century and 21st century music? And as this concert celebrates our contemporary art exhibition, The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art, how do the two "blackbird" pieces differ?

CK: Perhaps the most unusual thing about this program is that most of it is downright un-American. Wait! I mean, not written by American composers, as a large percentage of our programs are (they are, after all, frequently related to the American art at the museum). But it happens there is an especially rich trove of European music having to do with birds, apropos this bird exhibition, running all the way back to the middle ages. Our arrangements, by Adam Har-zvi, of music of the 14th century follows a distinguished tradition by composers such as Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies, Charles Wuorinen and others, who are clearly fascinated by the complexity and, to our modern ears, strangeness of this music. It may not be easy, in fact, for audiences at the concert to tell that these pieces were written so many centuries ago. I'm looking forward to experiencing these medieval French pieces in juxtaposition to music by the most bird-song-obsessed composer of our (and all) time, Olivier Messiaen. To answer your question: the blackbird and other ornithologically-inspired pieces are all quite different, but all are for the birds (in the very best sense!). And stay tuned for a special, thematically appropriate encore....

EL: We have gotten such acclaim for the now "annual" Christmas concert, featuring William Sharp as Ebeneezer Scrooge. Why do you think audiences respond so positively to this piece?

CK: We're grateful that our audiences' tastes align so well with ours, since we now appear to have to play this piece (The Passion of Scrooge or A Christmas Carol) year in and year out! But performing it is sheer pleasure, perhaps for some of the same reasons people want to hear (and see) it. It is music that truly appeals to head and heart. Compressing the entire Dickens novella into about an hour, basically squeezing out a lot of the text and replacing it with notes, means the composer Jon Deak has achieved an intense and engrossing experience, to perform and to witness. If anything, the loss of text and gain of notes makes this beloved story all the more touching and funny, scary and ultimately, uplifting. I'm moved to tears every year! And there is William Sharp's inimitable depiction of Scrooge (and most of the other characters in the story). We say Bill is Ebenezer when he's on that stage. The characters he is not playing are all represented by the instrumentalists, who literally deliver their lines as part of the music. It's all endlessly challenging for us, and a blessing for us, every one!

EL: I know you gave us a teaser last year from O Brien's Algebra of Night. Why did you particularly want to perform the piece in its entirety? And how do the other two pieces also speak to cityscapes of New York?

CK: This is an extraordinary composition by a composer for whom I have a special sympathy (we are both administrators, he at Indiana University and I at University of Michigan). We both endeavor to keep our artistic production going while contending with academia. Frankly, I had worked as a dean with Gene for years, dimly aware he was a composer but without actually hearing his work. When I encountered Algebra of Night, I was stunned. Here is a masterful and incredibly beautiful work, intellectually deep, via some magnificent poetry, and intensely lyrical, via the poems' settings for mezzo-soprano and a quartet of piano and strings. I have been eager to premiere the entire work, a long and ambitious cycle, and, following our performance, to record it. That's the plan. And in the preview of a few of the movements last year and now in the entire cycle, it's been a pleasure to introduce the wonderful mezzo Deanne Meek to the Consort and our audience. And to add, I'm also partial to the other, "night in the city" works we'll do on this February program. And watch out for another of those surprise encores.

EL: The museum opens an exhibition on The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi next spring, a Japanese artist who painted in a modernist fashion in America. How did you select the various works to represent the immigrant experience?

CK: I appreciate the way you phrased this question, since the big challenge here was one of selection. American music has been endlessly enriched, even defined, by immigrant composers, initially from Europe and by now from all over the world. So as a theme for a program, it is really way too broad. But we're focusing on Asian composers in recognition of the remarkable artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi, with a few other works by immigrant composers with special meaning to the Consort. So, unusually for us, we begin and end the season this year with works not by American composers. But in a way, all these distinctions break down, as American music increasingly embraces and is transformed by international influences and becomes a truly global language.

The Concert's program, Aviary takes place in American Art's McEvoy Auditorium, beginning at 5 p.m. There is a pre-concert discussion at 4 p.m. Admission is free.

Posted by Jeff on October 23, 2014 in Five Question Interviews
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Luce Unplugged: Five Questions with Artist and Musician Furniteur aka Brittany Sims
October 21, 2014


Unwind after work and ease into the weekend this Friday, October 24 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. with an evening of music, art, and drinks at our Fall Luce Unplugged Community Showcase.

Furniteur AKA Brittany Sims

Furniteur AKA Brittany Sims and her collaborators Kevin Bayly and Mike Toohey will be performing at this Friday's Luce Unplugged.

Local music scene standouts Furniteur and Laughing Man, chosen by Washington City Paper, will perform, and Atlas Brew Works will offer tastings to visitors 21 and over. Furniteur AKA Brittany Sims and her collaborators Kevin Bayly and Mike Toohey will play her synthpop hits, which are guaranteed to make you dance or at least nod your head. Laughing Man will follow up and change the tune to experimental rock. Preview their sound by listening to their new album and check out Washington City Paper's review.

In addition to making music, Brittany Sims works as a visual artist. We spoke with her about her fine arts background, thoughts on art and music, and the meaning behind the name of her electronic act.

Eye Level: You're the first musician with a Master of Fine Arts to play Luce Unplugged. Tell us about your fine arts background.

Brittany Sims: It's cliché, but I was always an artist. I went to Tulane University and got a BFA in painting then went on to study portraiture in Joanette and Cedric Egeli's atelier in Edgewater, MD. I learned an extraordinary amount about the figure and color, but I wanted to learn more so I went to The New York Studio School in New York and got my MFA in painting. I currently paint and work by commission while doing faux finishing and murals with a DC design and fabrication company called Swatchroom. I also do a lot of live-painting at weddings. It is great to still get to spend everyday creating.

EL: As an artist and musician, what do you think about the increasing overlap of the two?

BS: The performance aspect of music and art have always been linked, but the increase of visual stimulation during performances of late is fantastic. I saw a Darkside show at the 9:30 Club with scenography by Children of the Light that absolutely blew my mind. It not only enhanced but elevated their performance exponentially. I have been trying to think of ways to emulate that feeling in my own performances as Furniteur ever since.

EL: Is Brittany Sims the fine artist any different from Brittany Sims of Furniteur?

BS: The fine artist is a more intimate identity that wants to hide in a cottage on the water and just create things that may or may not ever be seen. Furniteur is more interested in collaboration and interaction, but it took me a while to get used to the vulnerability of performance.

EL: Tell us about the name Furniteur.

BS: It actually came from the 1973 sci-fi movie, Soylent Green. In the film, the wealthy have apartments that come with a mistress they call "furniture." The literal objectification was interesting, the 1970s future wardrobes and style were impeccable, and Furniteur was born.

EL: Last April, you played at the Corcoran and more recently at the (e)merge art fair. How does playing in a gallery or museum compare to playing at a concert venue?

BS: As an artist, playing among works of art is such a cool experience. I have more of a connection. At concert venues, it's more about bringing the art into the space.

We can't wait to have Brittany play next to the artworks in the Luce Center. Catch her set on Friday at 6 p.m.!

Posted by Amelia on October 21, 2014
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Throwback Thursday: Picture This: Trees in our Kogod Courtyard
October 16, 2014


It's Throwback Thursday! And we at Eye Level have decided it's a great opportunity to bring back some of our interesting posts from the past. American Art has been publishing our blog since September 2005 (that's an eternity in Internet years) and some of our posts are as current now as the day we first posted them.

Today, we feature a photo I took in September 2007 as the last tree was lowered into our about-to-be opened Kogod Courtyard. The seventh anniversary of our covered courtyard is coming this November 18. And, since it's opening, it's been the "go to" place to hear music from our Take 5! series, watch films, and take part in our Family Festivals. Even if there's no special event, the Kogod is the place to go for a quiet place to read and even work.


Black Olive Tree being lowered into the Courtyard

Black Olive Tree Being Lowered Into the Courtyard (View larger image)

Timing is everything. On my way to photograph the installation of Andrea Zittel's work for our upcoming exhibition Celebrating the Lucelia Artist Award, 2001—2006, I stopped off to see what was happening in our courtyard. When I arrived at work this morning I had gotten wind of a pending tree arrival. Just as I entered the courtyard I looked up and saw the third black olive tree being lowered by the crane through the one remaining opening in the Norman Foster designed glass canopy.

Down below are a series of five photographs of the tree being lifted from the street, up to the canopy, and finally down to the courtyard floor. These were taken by Smithsonian Landscape Architect Paul Lindell. Great shots.


tree at street level tree being raised to roof of building tree over canopy tree going through canopy tree on courtyard floor

Click on photos for larger images.

Related Posts: Smithsonian Horticulturists Talk About American Art's Flora, Picture This: Courtyard Update and Picture This: A Hole in One

Top photo by Jeff Gates; bottom photos by Paul Lindell.

Posted by Jeff on October 16, 2014 in Picture This, Throwback Thursday
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Reflections on the Work of Richard Estes
October 15, 2014


Richard Estes

Richard Estes, Double Self-Portrait, 1976, oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Mr.and Mrs. Stuart M. Speiser Fund, 1976. © Richard Estes, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York. Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY

"Richard is in love, obviously, with the way the world looks, but he's also in love with the act of painting and the magic of the act of painting," said independent curator and art historian Patterson Sims during "An Evening with Richard Estes" last week at American Art's McEvoy Auditorium. Sims is co-curator of Richard Estes' Realism, the exhibition of the celebrated photorealist painter that originated in Portland, Maine and recently opened in the museum's first floor galleries, the final venue of a well-received, two-museum tour. The exhibition is the first complete overview of Estes' work in the U.S. since 1978.

Before Estes joined him for an onstage conversation, Sims took us on a journey through highlights of Estes' career. Projections of early works show the artist finding his footing in realism, having his first show in New York City in 1968, when he was in his mid-thirties. As Sims explained, that was a time when an artist could knock on gallery doors and show his or her work. Then, New York galleries were primarily situated between 57th and 86th streets. After going from gallery to gallery, Estes came to the last street and the last gallery, the Allan Stone Gallery. Fortunately, Stone said yes and agreed to represent Estes and give him a show.

Estes works from his own photographs, and in some of his iconic works, you can see his reflection in plate glass windows, the reflection of a man with a camera and tripod. Reflection is also key to Estes' work, as water, glass, and chrome often act as conduits for images to be seen in multiple perspectives on a single canvas. But it's an abstracted reality, as Estes often combines elements from different photographs to create a single image.

In the Q&A that followed the talk, we learned that many of Estes' compositions are oil on top of an acrylic base; that he's not a big fan of Pop or abstraction; and that he now uses a digital camera and manipulates his photos in PhotoShop. When it was time for self-reflection, Sims asked how he became an artist, to which Estes replied, "I couldn't do anything else. I like being an artist because I can do it myself."

Richard Estes' Realism remains on view at the museum through February 8, 2015. To find out more about the artist view the webcast of "An Evening with Richard Estes."

Posted by Howard on October 15, 2014 in American Art Here
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Seeing Things (14): Eric Fischl's Tumbling Woman
October 6, 2014


This is the fourteenth in a series of personal observations about how people experience and explore museums. Take a look at Howard's other blog posts about seeing things.

When Eric Fischl inaugurated the Clarice Smith Distinguised Lectures in American Art series recently, he covered a lot of material. Though best-known as a painter, he's worked in a variety of media in his more than forty year career. Ten Breaths: Tumbling Woman II a second sculpture he made in response to the events of 9/11 is currently on view on the third floor of the American Art Museum, and Fischl's remarks are certainly worth noting.

The original Tumbling Woman was unveiled at Rockefeller Center on the first annivesary of 9/11. A firestorm erupted around it and it was covered up and removed a few days later. According to Fischl, "The experience of 9/11, the trauma and tragedy was amplified by the fact that there were no bodies. You had 3000 people who died and no bodies, so the mourning process turned to the language of architecture." That led to a question about how to grieve and how to memorialize. "Do you shoot up lights that look and imitate like ghosts of the building, or do the footprints of the building have to be preserved as sacred ground?" Fischl asked.

What makes this Tumbling Woman different from the original, is a matter of scale and a simple gesture of the arm. "I extended her arm in the hopes that someone would grab her arm and help slow the tumbling down."

Unlike the people we lost on 9/11, Fischl's Tumbling Woman, remains with us, at the moment of impact—her skin a haunting shade of fire.

Posted by Howard on October 6, 2014 in American Art Here
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