Pop Art Prints: A Closer Look at James Rosenquist
April 3, 2014


Pop Art Prints has just opened in American Art's graphic arts galleries. The installation showcases thirty-seven works from the museum's extensive holdings of works on paper from the 1960s and 1970s. The featured prints are bold, bright, and filled with references to popular culture. Four lively prints by James Rosenquist are showcased in the installation. Nina Williams, a curatorial assistant at American Art, writes about one of Rosenquist's pieces in the show.

James Rosenquist

Art © James Rosenquist/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY Expo 67 Mural Firepole 33 x 17'. 1967, color lithograph on paper, 33 1/8 x 17 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum

In Rosenquist's lithograph titled Expo 67 Mural Firepole 33 x 17'. two uniformed legs twist around a shiny fire pole. Exuberant white lines stream across a red and yellow background, suggesting commotion or celebration. This small print was inspired by a much larger but identical painting titled Fire Slide that Rosenquist exhibited at Expo 67, the 1967 world's fair in Montreal.

Rosenquist's painting Fire Slide was included in American Painting Now, a contemporary art exhibition held in the American pavilion of Expo 67. The exhibit featured large-scale works by the "who's who" in 1960s American art, among them: Robert Indiana, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and Robert Rauschenberg. Expo 67 promised to transport visitors through elaborate displays of art, technology, and material culture from sixty-two countries. Maverick architect R. Buckminster Fuller designed the American pavilion, a twenty story geodesic dome to house exhibitions of American creativity and ingenuity. Attracting more than eleven million visitors over six months, the American pavilion was the most popular of the entire exposition. Rosenquist's painting was thirty-three feet high by seventeen feet wide. It was so large that had to be made in twelve different pieces and then put together on site.

Because the pavilion was so intimidatingly large, the artworks on display for American Painting Now had to be chosen carefully. With its clean lines, solid colors, and recognizable forms, Pop art stood out beautifully against the flurry of activity in the pavilion. Pop art also illustrated the American zeitgeist through an accessible language that millions of visitors could understand. The artworks were suspended from the dome's ceiling alongside exhibits such as Destination Moon, a display of NASA's Apollo space program that included actual space capsules and a simulation of the lunar landscape.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Expo 67 Mural Firepole 33 x 17' is the meaning behind its fragmented yet straightforward image. Why would Rosenquist choose to depict the legs of a man sliding down a fire pole for the World's Fair? According to Rosenquist, the work represents the U.S. president acting as a fireman who puts out fires around the world. I find it fascinating that he made such a politically charged work for the expo. What's more, those who saw the painting at the time had no clue of the subversive meaning behind the colorful artwork. The image was clearly significant to Rosenquist, as he also made a smaller forty-eight by twenty-four inch painting of it that year. And by producing an edition of forty-one lithographic prints, he ensured that the image would be seen by an even wider audience.

Unfortunately, Fire Slide was recently destroyed in a fire at Rosenquist's studio. This makes me all the more grateful that the print version in the American Art's collection will forever preserve the history behind this significant work.

Pop Art Prints will be on display until August 31, 2014.

Posted by Jeff on April 3, 2014 in American Art Here
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Bill Viola's The Fall into Paradise
April 1, 2014


Bill Viola

Bill Viola's The Fall into Paradise

Most people, if they're going to fall anywhere in the vicinity of paradise, are likely to fall from it. Bill Viola's installation from 2005, The Fall into Paradise shows a couple who seem to have reversed the process and entered their own private Eden. Featured in its own magical, black box theater in Watch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image on the museum's third floor, Viola's work is a meditation on time, love, life, and all things that sustain us. It starts out as a small point of light in the distance, the image morphs into two people held in an embrace. At that instant, the surface shatters and they burst through the void in an explosion of sound and light.

In a 2012 interview with the Guardian, Viola talked about the origins of his work and said, "Falling into a lake aged six, when I was on holiday in the mountains. I went straight to the bottom and saw the most beautiful world I'd ever seen: fish, shafts of light, plants waving in the breeze. I thought I was in heaven. I'd have stayed there had my uncle not pulled me up. That's why my art has so much to do with water — because I dream about going back to that place."

"That place" appears frequently in the artist's work, which regularly uses water, in addition to super slow motion. Over the years, Viola has created transformative works that have redefined and reinterpreted the art of the moving image, as well as what it means to exist in the world today. When he spoke at the museum in 2008 as part of the Clarice Smith Distinguished Lectures in American Art, he told us, "Creativity exists in all human beings and transcends time and place."

Posted by Howard on April 1, 2014 in American Art Here
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In this Case: Visitor's Choice #2
March 27, 2014


Getting to know some of our visitors was the inspiration for a new blog series, Visitor's Choice. In this series, we ask our regulars about their favorite artworks and why they like them. Since everyone has a unique relationship with art, some of the posts will be more in-depth than others, some might reflect the artist's intent, and some might have more of a personal meaning.

Luce Visitor's Choice

Cory Oberndorfer

Today, for our second Visitor's Choice, we spoke with local artist Cory Oberndorfer. We often see Cory wandering the galleries and he has also participated a few times in our Luce Foundation Center programs. He's spoken about Wayne Thiebaud's work, and most recently, he led our Drawing at Dusk program where participants sketched cupcakes!

Cory loves sweets and food, if you haven't noticed the trend. When I asked Cory about his favorite piece, this is what he said:

I am a big fan of food, pop art, and everyday items. On my last visit, I found Claes Oldenburg's Tea Bag in the Pop Art Prints exhibit and was taken by his use of materials. I also spend a lot of time searching for surprises in the Luce Center. One of my recent favorites has been Betty Spindler's Hot Dog, an oversized ceramic dog on a bun, complete with mustard and relish. It always brings a smile to my face and an urge to visit the street vendor outside the museum.

Spindler apparently enjoys her hot dogs with mustard and relish, no ketchup. Like Cory, Spindler's work focuses on food and everyday objects. She hand builds her clay artworks and fires them before adding bright glazes.

Do you have a favorite piece in our collection? If you do, please stop by the Luce Center information desk. We'd love to hear about it!

Posted by Tierney on March 27, 2014 in American Art Here, In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Conservation: Paint, Tape, and Sardines
March 25, 2014


Jessica Ford is a graduate intern in paintings conservation at the Lunder Conservation Center. She is completing her graduate work at the Winterthur program at the University of Delaware and is currently working on a number of projects with our conservation staff.

Michael Goldberg

Michael Goldberg's Sardines

A challenging theme has developed in Jessica Ford's projects at the Lunder Conservation Center: tape! In painting conservation, adhesive tape is not usually encountered during examination or treatment. However, in contemporary art the use of unconventional materials is rarely surprising. At times, tape was applied by painters to frame the edges of paintings or to guide a straight line. Michael Goldberg's Sardines uses a different approach and prominently features adhesive tape as part of the painting's composition.

Goldberg's paintings often grow from a central, physical object. The artist begins with a realistic element and then redefines it with an energetic working process. Here, simple line drawings were covered in swaths of heavy paint, collaged elements of paper or tape were relocated or removed, and new lines were painted or carved to recall the original object. Although expressive and experimental, his work was also carefully crafted.

Sardines was brought into the Lunder Conservation Center primarily because both the paint's and the tape's adhesion to the canvas needed to be strengthened. Part of Jessica's work will be cleaning the surface, stabilizing the paint layer, and analyzing the paint's composition. Her other major focus will be addressing the two different types of adhesive tape used by Goldberg. As a material, tape can deteriorate quickly. Over time, it can darken, lose adhesion, and become brittle. A conservation treatment must be planned that does not compromise the artist's intent or the appearance of his materials. In the coming weeks, Jessica will research the art historical context of Sardines and draw on her technical knowledge of artistic media to develop a treatment approach.

Currently, Jessica is looking into the history, material components, and conservation of adhesive tape. Art conservationist often share their findings with others in the field. So, Jessica, along with Lunder conservators Tiarna Doherty and Amber Kerr, will be talking about their work at the American Institute for Conservation's annual meeting this coming May.

Posted by Chris on March 25, 2014 in American Art Here, Conservation at American Art
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In This Case: One More Snow Day
March 20, 2014


Winter paintings

Winter paintings in the Luce Foundation's Case 38a

Spring arrives today! And most people can't wait to shed their layers and bask in the sweet sunlight. But I happen to like gray skies, bundling up with a big coat, and maybe even a snow day late in the season (I got my wish this year, here in D.C.). The arrival of spring sadly indicates that summer, sunburn, and humidity are all right around the corner, at least in my mind! It marks the time of year when I try to slow down the end of winter, and cozy up with my sweaters and scarves as long as I can.

This explains why instead of daydreaming about spring, today I am wearing a sweater and admiring the winter-themed artworks in the museum. There's certainly a reason snowy winter landscapes inspire so many artists, photographers, and Instagrammers! Here in the Luce Foundation Center, American Art's open storage area, sculptors, glassworkers, folk artists and painters have all captured many different winter scenes, from the snowy woods of New England to the snow-capped mountains of northern New Mexico. And my absolute favorite winter depictions are up on the fourth floor in case 38a, filled with snowy American scenes from the 1930s.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "New Deal" programs of the 1930s included efforts to employ artists, with programs such as the Public Works of Art Project and, later, the Federal Art Project, notably the first national federally-funded programs to support the arts. Employed artists were challenged to paint "the American scene." I think 1934 winter artworks in case 38a achieve this, capturing the dire tone of the decade while also showcasing hard work and the American spirit.

At first glance, the human figures in these paintings are hard to make out and seem small and insignificant compared to the winter landscapes and elements that surround them. This may reflect how many Americans felt during the trying times of the Great Depression. But we also see smoke leaving the factories of Georgetown Waterfront by Rowland Lyon, and Waterfront—Brooklyn by Harry Shokler. On a smaller scale, Dacre F. Boulton's Winter shows a man simply shoveling snow near an alley. We see subways roll through the icy city bridges of Chicago in Nicola Victor Ziroli's Bridges in Winter, and cars bend around the white-covered streets of Lloyd Goff's Suburban Apartments. In these artworks, America on all fronts is still moving and it's conceivable that these paintings actually idealize the concept of "the American scene," expressing the hopeful, hardworking qualities of the American spirit. We also see the gorgeous snow-covered trees, streets, and buildings of American cities and neighborhoods, and any snowy landscape automatically makes me feel nostalgic.

Even though spring has officially arrived, come visit these wintry snowy scenes in case 38a of the Luce Center if you, like me, are a winter soul. And stay cool!

Posted by Erin on March 20, 2014 in American Art Here, In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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