Yasuo Kuniyoshi: Bearing the Weight
April 3, 2015
Opening today, the exhibition, The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi, looks at the evolution of the artist's work, and is the first comprehensive exhibition about the artist in the U.S. since 1948. It remains on view through August 30, 2015.
I was first drawn to the work of Yasuo Kuniyoshi through his painting from 1924 in American Art's Sara Roby collection, Strong Woman and Child, executed during a crucial period in the artist's life. Here, the unlikely pair (mother and son?) stand on a stage-like platform as if they've just performed some feats of strength, a dumbbell at their feet. Kuniyoshi, a photographer and printer as well as a painter, was born in Japan in 1889, and came to the US when he was a teenager. He would teach at the influential Art Students League in New York City, and became a star of the New York art world in the 1920s, the time when he painted Strong Woman and Child. He became one of the most celebrated modernist artists in America between the two world wars, mentioned alongside Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe and Stuart Davis. In 1948, Kuniyoshi became the first living artist to be given a retrospective exhibition at the Whitney Museum.
Influenced by American folk art, Japanese traditions, and European modernism, Kuniyoshi's art soared, but his immigrant status brought difficulties, especially during a wave of anti-immigrant fervor in the 1920s. In 1941, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, he was designated an enemy alien by the U.S. government. According to co-curator Joann Moser, deputy chief curator at American Art, “[Kuniyoshi's] paintings reveal a story of aspirations, disappointments, a striving for meaning and a place as an immigrant in America.”
Be sure to take a look at other works by Yasuo Kuniyoshi in our online exhibition.
Luce Unplugged: 5 +1 Questions with Gully Waters
April 2, 2015
Just last week Baby Bry Bry and the Apologists kicked off Luce Unplugged at its new, Thursday (early) evening time. Hard to believe, but it's already time for our April Luce Unplugged. One week from today Gully Waters, an up-and-coming D.C. trio, will take the marble-tiled stage of the Luce Foundation Center to play their contemporary take on R&B and soul music (preview their sound on Bandcamp).
Come at 5:30 p.m. next Thursday, April 9th to grab a drink from the bar (cash only!), explore the artworks of the Luce Center, and hear an art talk on a work chosen by the band; catch Gully Waters' set at 6 p.m. The show ends at 7 p.m., so you'll have plenty of time to go out to dinner after the set. For specifics about the event please see the new Luce Unplugged calendar page.
In anticipation of the show, we talked to Gully Waters, AKA Yaya Bey, Ajene Harley, and Nate Jarvis about making and performing music in D.C.
Eye Level: You have a pretty unique sound. What goes into that mix? Do you find genres more useful or limiting in describing your sound?
Ajene: Honestly, all of us go into our music. Genres aren't limiting because we use them, more or less, as familiar benchmarks to describe what to expect when listening to our work. But, as with most "unique sounding" music, it's a blending of these standards that congeal to create the final product, which is itself constantly changing and growing just as the people who are creating it.
EL: How did you guys meet? What do each of you bring to Gully Waters?
Nate: Yaya and I met through Facebook when she was looking for musicians to play with and they formed a group called The Meek. A year later Ajene joined the group and wrote some songs together and we called ourselves Gully Waters.
Yaya: I sing and write the songs.
Ajene: I play guitar, and share compositional, and arrangement duties.
Nate: I play bass, record synth/drum samples and help write some of the music.
EL: What's the most ridiculous way you've heard your sound described?
Nate: We were described as "PBR&B" which is kind of ridiculous, but I like it.
EL: You guys are pretty new, formed in late 2013, but have already received a lot of attention. What's it like coming up in D.C.'s music scene? What types of venues have you played?
Nate: Coming up in the D.C. music scene has been a really positive experience so far. We're still pretty new so it's been great that venues will give us a chance to play shows. We've got a lot of good feedback from local bands and promoters and we're excited to see what happens next.
We've played so many types of venues from intimate house shows to Rock & Roll Hotel. Some of our favorite places in D.C. to play are Bloombars, D.C.9, Velvet Lounge and the first annual Sanaa Festival.
EL: What's your favorite D.C. venue?
Ajene: I really enjoy Union Arts/Mousai, not so much as a performance venue, but rather a welcoming creative space. This is not to discount it as a venue in the least, as it is host to some of the best DIY shows and under the radar talent on the east coast.
Nate: Rock & Roll Hotel.
Yaya: Velvet lounge.
EL: What's the last song you had stuck in your head?
Nate: Salt-N-Pepa "Shoop."
Ajene: "Alright" by Kendrick Lamar (still is stuck).
Yaya: "Alright" by Kendrick Lamar.
Luce Unplugged: Five Questions with Baby Bry Bry
March 25, 2015
Luce Unplugged, our art talk and local concert series, is moving from Sunday afternoons to Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. We appreciate our devoted attendees who, for three years and change, turned down brunch plans, procrastinated doing their laundry, and, most importantly, got dressed and left the house to come to our Sunday shows. Whether or not that describes you, you can look forward to our Thursday shows because they will be easy to get to after work and have a bar (and it's a universal truth that a free show in a museum plus beer is better than your average happy hour).
Beloved punk rockers Baby Bry Bry & The Apologists (BBB) will kick off our first Thursday Luce Unplugged on March 26th. The Apologists split the difference between cutesy boy band and serious punk outfit and are known for putting on a great show. For a taste of what we can expect, we talked to their charismatic front man Baby Bry Bry, who seems as excited as we are for the show. Catch Baby Bry Bry & The Apologists perform in the Luce Center at 5:30 p.m. on March 26th. See our online calendar for more info.
Eye Level: You grew up in California. What do you miss about it, and is there anything from the West Coast you'd like to bring to D.C.? Anything from D.C. you'd like to transport to Cali?
Bry Bry: I grew up in Long Beach, the last stop in Los Angeles County before you get to the Orange Curtain [Orange County], and I spent a few years in The East Bay before moving to D.C. I miss the people, the weather, the way time seems to stand still, the avocados, seeing snow-topped mountains through palm trees, the Pacific Ocean, In-N-Out, and the stereotypically chill vibes. I'd bring any and all of that to D.C. if I could. As for the other way around, I think California could do with some go-go.
EL: Does the venue in which you play affect how you put on a show?
BB: Definitely, and we always work to adapt to the space, but I think the crowd carries more weight than the stage itself. A show at the 9:30 Club is obviously going to allow for more movement and better sound than one in someone's living room, but the beauty of a house show is that the line between audience and performer is almost entirely obscured. The energy of the crowd and the energy of the band become one big, beautiful energy blob, and that makes it better for everyone.
EL: Do you perform differently if you're headlining versus opening?
BB: I think of The Apologists as performance artists as much as a collection of musicians. We treat every set as a unique "thing," the same way you would an individual song or album. Though the tunes overlap, we try to present them in a unique way at every show. It's a concert, sure, but we like to play with intros, themes, interludes, and an emotional arch to make it feel like a show.
EL: Music aside, I was impressed that there's a whiskey-infused espresso named after you. What's the story there?
BB: I moved around the corner from Qualia Coffee in Petworth around the same time that I was getting BBB off the ground, and so, whether they know it or not, it became the Official BBB Office. Have done more band-related writing, planning, emailing, meeting, and daydreaming there than just about anywhere else. The Qualia family has been super supportive from day one, and so between the employees' BBB tees and the fliers littering his establishment on a regular basis, I think Joel (the man, myth, and legend behind Qualia) just saw it as an inside jokey pun, not realizing he was actually bestowing me with the greatest honor of my life to date. I doubt I'll ever have a building named after me, so I'll gladly settle for a bag of beans.
EL: For your Luce Unplugged show, you selected Nam June Paik's archive because his art challenges expectations. How do you see yourself and the Apolgists doing the same?
BB: With a piece like Nam June Paik's Bust of Elvis, for example, Paik is subverting the expectations we carry about what qualifies as capital-A Art. He does so humorously, but with a respect for the source that extends beyond parody or spoofing. It's not so much that he's lampooning the reverence we have for the classical "masters" like Beethoven or Bach, but elevating popular culture to a point where we reexamine how it should be situated in the world of high art, simultaneously making us question why high art is so "high" in the first place.
With Baby Bry Bry, we're always working to couple seemingly-opposed styles to subvert expectations. I mean, from the top, a group called Baby Bry Bry & The Apologists that describes itself as "lounge punk" doesn't really produce an immediate, coherent image of what the band will be. I sing sad songs that sound like happy songs; we wear near-militaristic uniforms, but put hearts all over them; we have an all-black aesthetic, but are a pretty upbeat bunch of guys, onstage and off; we couple loud, fast, intense songs with cutesy, croony, pop numbers; we couple melodramatic theatrics with pretty straightforward skate-punk style tunes; I'll scream in your face and then pout my lips and blow a kiss.
March 24, 2015
Join us on Wednesday, March 25, in the Luce Foundation Center from 5:30 to 9 p.m. in the Smithsonian American Art Museum as we celebrate craft and innovation with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Special one-time discounted admission of $10, at the door. You must be 21 or older to enter. See our calendar for more information.
Some crafts are created using time-honored traditions and time-tested methods, and some crafts utilize the brand new and experimental technologies of today (and tomorrow). With our upcoming Innovation Handi-hour, we have partnered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to showcase two young artists in American Art's collection who are working with cutting technologies to craft amazing things.
Joshua DeMonte and his graduate students from Towson University have embraced 3D printing and designed hundreds of beads and charms for attendees to use as they craft their own jewelry. Christy Oates uses laser cutters to create amazing display pieces and furniture. She is providing a beginner's kit to each Handi-hour participant. Check out her how-to video above.
Computers and Art
March 23, 2015
This blog post is adapted from an essay written by Michael Mansfield, curator of film and media arts, to accompany the exhibition, Watch This! Revelations in Media Art, opening April 24 and running through September 7.
In 1964, Marshall McLuhan wrote that artists were the only people able to "encounter technology with impunity," suggesting that they would be fearless in their approach, unafraid of the consequences, and could light the way for the rest of us. The stunning range of artistic engagements with technology in the last 70 years certainly supports this theory. The twentieth century introduced hi-fidelity stereo, broadcast television, videotape, orbital satellites and computer systems, each one touched by artists in one fashion or another and providing a pretty fantastic index to the changes in our cultural perceptions.
Perhaps one of the more dramatic introductions has been in computing. Today, we encounter computers on a daily basis without giving it much thought. For many of us it is on a minute-to-minute basis. But not so long ago, coming upon a computer was a rare event. They were novel machines. And for the average person, they were pretty foreign. Computers were primarily linked to the government and the military, making them even more mysterious. The ENIAC machine, the first electronic computer system, was created in the mid-1940s to calculate firing tables for artillery. Mainframe computers and the languages articulated for them were the invention of research centers largely funded by the United States Army and the Pentagon. Before long, the Department of Defense began developing ARPANET as a means to decentralize authority and safeguard information in response to geopolitical tensions with the Soviet Union during the cold war. But the computer's practical and creative potentials were immediately fragmented, co-opted by both play and politics. Computer code was written for videogames such as Alan Turing's computer chess programs in the late 1940s and 1950s, and employed to predict democratic elections, like Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1952 presidential victory. Commercial companies soon began funding research labs that paired engineers with artists to encourage experimentation and stretch these new inventions. So, even while military computers envisioned triggering a nuclear apocalypse, artists were envisioning an alternative, or in the least, a more human application.
Nam June Paik arrived to New York as an immigrant in 1964. He had recently completed his studies in music and had become an enthusiastic champion of technology and electronics for use in performances and art making. New York offered rich territory in the communications industries, ground ripe with new technologies. At the time, an experimental venture in New Jersey between the Western Electric Company and the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) founded Bell Telephone Laboratories, Incorporated. More commonly referred to as "Bell Labs," the venture was pioneering research into human computer uses in art and devoting valuable time on their mammoth GE600 computer for artists to explore sound, animation and stereoscopic vision. Bell Labs had seated several artists like Michael Noll, Laurie Spiegel, Lillian Schwartz and Stan VanDerBeek, working both independently and collaboratively. It was a hotbed of experimental art.
Paik had previously studied western music in both Japan and Western Europe before moving to the United States. He had been formally trained in the arrangement of orchestral scores, actions in a script, and instrumentation. They were programs. The practical and conceptual relationships between compositions for music and code for computer programs are sound, so to speak. In 1966, Paik was invited to Bell Labs and introduced to FORTRAN computer programming by James Tenney and Michael Noll. He was well prepared and by 1967 Paik was a "Resident Visitor".
In his research at Bell Labs, Paik produced videos, graphics, computer punch cards, negatives and continuous feed printouts, all compiled from the FORTRAN programming language. Three distinct programs leading to computer-generated media reveal his work with both moving and static images. Digital Experiment at Bell Labs is a starkly minimal video recording of the computer screen, marking a gesture toward the origins of computer imaging. A second piece is Confused Rain (1967), a computer generated print that results from randomly placed letters spelling out C O N F U S E, suggesting a "mix of real rain and simulated rain in the computer." The third complete work is ETUDE, a previously unknown computer composition from 1968. In ETUDE, Paik wrote a computer program to create four concentric, intersecting circles displaying the somewhat irreverent text LOVE HATE GOD DOG, each repeating word composing its own diameter. These are sophisticated programs by Paik, and such prominent use of type, text and lettering in his explorations is significant. It relates not only to Paik's experience scripting Fluxus performances or the work of his contemporaries John Cage, Yoko Ono and Ray Johnson, it corresponds with his want of a poetic alternative to the ordered structure of the programming language itself. Such emotional binaries as "love" and "hate," or disparate phonetic games like "god" and "dog," while certainly Fluxus absurdities, also input a human-ness to the machine. It whimsically described Paik's relationship to the world around him in 1968 —in human readable terms— and invoked the symbolic codes invested in these novel, man made machines.
While in residence at Bell Labs, Paik wrote in a letter, "it is my ambition to create the first computer-opera in music history." Though Paik would abandon his work in FORTRAN shortly after these works were realized, that ambition remains an eloquent reminder of his interests in the human nature of technology that he strived so hard to reveal. And elements of this inspiration —the coexistence of humankind with the ingenious things humans make— would remain key threads throughout his artistic practice.