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Five Questions: DC Jazz Composers Collective
June 11, 2015


The American Art Museum's monthly concert series, Take 5!, brings one of America's original art forms—jazz—to the stage every third Thursday. On June 18th, the DC Jazz Composers Collective, will play new works they composed for this performance taking inspiration from our collection. Katy Corella, Public Programs Coordinator, spoke with Kevin Pace, one of the founders of the DC Jazz Collective, to learn more about his work in the local jazz community and what inspires him.

Marvin Beerbohm

Marvin Beerbohm's Automotive History (mural, Detroit Public Library), one of the inspirations for the music of the DC Jazz Composers Collective.

Eye Level: The DC Jazz Composers Collective is a non-profit organization seeking to increase the performance of original jazz compositions. How did you get started doing this?

Kevin Pace: A few years ago, a band led by Collective member Bobby Muncy played every Wednesday night at Utopia on U Street. We played only original music and anyone was welcome to bring their tunes to play with the band. In that spirit we formed a non-profit organization as a way to keep original jazz music in DC alive.

EL: It seems like we have such a rich jazz landscape here in the city. Is the need for original jazz compositions a large concern in the greater DC jazz community?

KP: I think it depends on who you talk to. Some musicians only play standards, others run repertoire bands. That preservation of history is just as vital to the growth of jazz as are the ensembles that play new tunes or incorporate songs outside of the genre. So while some players might not agree that it's necessary to play new music on gigs, I'm pretty sure we all agree that a larger variety of jazz concerts and their availability to the public will only enrich our musical community.

EL: What is your composing process like?

KP: Honestly, that depends on the day. Some days I'll be practicing and a tune will just pop in my head. I'll write it down as fast as possible then move on to something else. If I remember it a day or two later then it's a keeper. Other days I'm only able to write a bar or two and the music can take weeks to complete.

Luckily, for this concert I was able to spend a good many hours in the gallery. Researching the art, artists and the stories behind some of their works provided a ton of inspiration.

EL: We're really excited about your show because it's unlike most other Take 5! concerts—you have used our collection to inspire your jazz compositions! Can you tell me about artworks you found in the collection that inspired you?

KP: Three that inspired me were: Automotive Industry (mural, Detroit Public Library) by Marvin Beerbohm, Its Another Spring by Man Ray, and Split by Kenneth Noland.

I have no idea why these stood out to me more than others. I'm sure other members of the collective Gene D'Andrea's, Bobby Muncy's, and guest trombonist Reginald Cyntje's inspiration for their compositions for the concert were completely different. It makes you wonder what speaks to different people.

EL: If you could have any artist create a visual representation of your music, who would it be and why?

KP: I would love for Banksy to interpret my music because I'm sure it would be the opposite of whatever I would expect it to be —as long as he doesn't spray paint my bass during the show. What I'd love to see happen is the Collective and an artist create a work together live and completely improvised. That would be incredibly hip!

The DC Jazz Composers Collective will be performing as a part of the Take 5! Jazz concert series on June 18th, 2015 from 5-8 p.m. in the Kogod Courtyard. No reservations required.

Posted by Jeff on June 11, 2015 in American Art Here, Five Question Interviews
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Yasuo Kuniyoshi as Teacher
June 9, 2015


This is the second in a series of guest blog posts by the Archives of American Art's Mary Savig and Jason Stieber focused on the life of the artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi. The exhibition Artist Teacher Organizer: Yasuo Kuniyoshi in the Archives of American Art is on view in the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery, and is organized in conjunction with The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

I always tell students: when you play golf you don't just go out and hit the ball. You have to face the program, you have an attitude, you have a stance, and that's the only way you can hit the ball.

      —Yasuo Kuniyoshi, lecture at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture

Kuniyoshi teaching

Yasuo Kuniyoshi teaching at the Art Students League, 1950. Alfred Puhn, photographer. Alfred Puhn photographs, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

When Yasuo Kuniyoshi began studying in New York City at the Art Students League in 1916 he tried and failed to get into George Bellows' popular painting class. Instead, he studied with Kenneth Hayes Miller, who proved to be a valuable influence on Kuniyoshi's artistic trajectory. Soon after assuming the role of teacher himself in 1933, also at the Art Students League, Kuniyoshi's own classes became difficult to get into. He was immensely popular with his charges. In the classroom, he engaged students with questions about process and subject matter, not just technique, encouraging them to develop a curiosity about how to represent their unique experiences of the world. This method mirrored his own approach to painting.

Kuniyoshi also traveled the country at the invitation of university art departments. In the 1940s, for example, he taught in San Francisco, California; Oberlin, Ohio; and Duluth, Minnesota; among other locations. In a lecture presented at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, Kuniyoshi outlined his teaching process, "When a new student comes, I always ask how old, where did you study, who did you study with. I get the history. I say please bring things that you painted... Try to find out where he is himself so that I can try to destroy other parts and nourish this thing. Encourage it. Sometimes they do something wrong but I say it is wonderful you see. Sometimes they do good things and I just step on it. So with that psychological reacting slowly slowly you push this down and lift it up, maybe lift it up a long way, but in the long run he is encouraged."

To see more photographs of Kuniyoshi with his students and explore his writings on teaching, visit Artist Teacher Organizer: Yasuo Kuniyoshi in the Archives of American Art. You can explore his artworks in the online gallery, The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi.

Related Post: Yasuo Kuniyoshi as Artist

Posted by Jeff on June 9, 2015 in American Art Here
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Luce Unplugged: Five Questions with Tomás Pagán Motta
June 4, 2015


Local singer/songwriter Tomás Pagán Motta, who released his debut solo album earlier this year, will at our Luce Unplugged on June 11th. His cozy, mellow vocals are certainly a perfect fit for the acoustics in our space. Tomás is busy preparing for a tour this fall, but took some time to answer a few questions for us.

Tomas Motta

Tomás Pagán Motta debut album. Album art by Deanna Deley

Eye Level: What's coming up for you?

Tomás Pagán Motta: I'm working on my September tour. I'll be passing through cities where stations are playing my album, covering a lot of ground in the South, Midwest, and West. Trying to get everything together in time is an intense process. Somewhat inadvertently, I've also been writing a lot of new material, honing it for the next record. I'll play some of it on the tour in addition to the latest record. I've got some summer dates happening as well: I may do a small Mid-Atlantic bunch of dates to stay warm.

EL: Describe your songwriting process for us?

TPM: It's varied and unpredictable —sometimes, pieces come in batches and other times, entire songs appear. The lyrics always come along with the music for me, sometimes in pieces and sometimes whole. The feeling comes, and then it's a matter of keeping the physical discipline to receive it and figure out the melodies and notes.

EL: What's your favorite D.C. venue?

TPM: The 9:30 Club, hands down. It is staffed with the most professional and competent people in the business. The sound is incredible, onstage and off. The folks there treat you with such respect. It's a special venue and a special community. There are some other really solid smaller clubs which I frequent, like The Rock and Roll Hotel and DC9. There are some interesting house venues popping up, but I haven't experienced them as a performer yet. That could change this summer.

EL: What can we expect from your Luce Unplugged show?

TPM: Weaving acoustic guitars, vocal harmonies, space, atmosphere —lots of sound. We're going to vibe out the place.

EL: You have a pretty unique sound. What goes into that mix? Do you find genres more useful or limiting in describing your sound? What's the most ridiculous way you've heard it described?

TPM: With this last album, it was a lot of really good microphones, really good musicians, recording live and to tape, capturing performances rather than perfect takes. I worked with a trusted engineer at Wright Way Studios in Baltimore. I don't really pay attention to labels. I'm not sure people really care about them at this point, with music streaming services just shuffling through stuff that loosely sounds like another genre. Maybe people are more open. I call it neo-folk for lack of a better word. I wouldn't say it's ridiculous, but someone did say my voice sounded like a trumpet.

Music begins at 6 p.m. Prior to the set at 5:30 p.m., a Luce Center staff member will give an art talk on Howard Finster's VISION OF A GREAT GULF ON PLANET HELL, a piece selected by Tomás. Beverages and snacks will be available for purchase from a cash bar.

Posted by Amelia on June 4, 2015 in Five Question Interviews, In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Luce Design Series: First Up is Stitch and Rivet's Katie Stack
June 2, 2015


In today's design-focused and hand-crafted world, we are always excited to learn more about the people who make the items we use. The Luce Foundation Center's summer series, Luce Design, does just that by bringing in local designers who share about their work and the creativity behind it.

Katie Stack

Katie Stack, owner of Stitch and Rivet, will be our first speaker for our Luce Design series Photo by Leda Black.

When I give tours of the Luce Foundation Center, I always end in the craft section. I end there because I love to see the reactions of visitors as I explain the purpose behind craft—that it is meant to be both functional and beautiful. The works in the craft cases can be used to hold your tea, store your kitchen items, or adorn your body in a unique way. For many of the objects we use every day, from our handbags to our coasters to the notecards we send, an unseen design process helped get them into our hands. This summer the Luce Center brings back Luce Design, which features three D.C.-area designers who will share their expertise.

We will learn from Katie Stack about leather and canvas handbags and accessories, all of which she designs and makes in her studio, Stitch and Rivet. Chad Omweg, the Guy Furniture Guy, will tell us about his furniture and woodworking shop. Capping the series, we'll hear about letterpress from Melanie Karlins, owner and printer of Grey Moogie Press.

Each of these artisans brings something unique to the series. Each will discuss their approach to design, as well as the challenges they face with their specific medium. Join us for a unique perspective on making for the modern world throughout the summer. The series begins on Sunday, June 7th with Katie Stack, continues on Saturday, July 19th with Chad Omweg, and ends Sunday, August 23rd with Melanie Karlins. All talks begin at 1:30 p.m. in the Luce Foundation Center.

Posted by Gloria on June 2, 2015 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center, Lectures on American Art
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Preserving Media Art: A Collaborative Conservation Process
May 28, 2015


Conservation Media Arts

Conservator Hugh Shockey works on Cloud Music. Photo by Caitlin Richeson.

Media-based artworks, like those presented in our Watch This! Revelations in Media Art exhibition (on view until September 7, 2015), are a relatively new aspect of museum collections. Like all of our artworks, they are cared for and preserved by our team of conservators. Even though these artworks use a range of technologies and display an active series of sounds and moving images, the task of the conservator remains the same as with more traditional art forms: maintain the artist's original intent in the artwork.

This difficult task can often be facilitated by collaborating with exhibition curators and even with the artists themselves. For Watch This!, our objects conservator, L.H. (Hugh) Shockey, Jr., worked extensively with our curator of film and media, Michael Mansfield, on a number of artworks on display. For one of the exhibition's highlights, Cloud Music, Shockey also collaborated with the remaining living artists to ensure the artwork was being correctly experienced.

Cloud Music, plays a series of sounds through a group of speakers. The "music" is based on information captured by a camera, which is pointed at the sky and registers passing clouds. In previous iterations of the installation, the sounds projected from the speakers were lacking a bass tonality that was previously incorporated in historical manifestations of the artwork. Working with our conservator, our curator, and the artists, the museum was able to reconstruct the original mixing and output of sounds as they were initially heard in Cloud Music's original iteration.

Like all conservation treatments, this process is carefully documented for our collection files. Rather than listing the solvents, adhesives, or other more traditional aspects of restorative processes, this report details the different technological components that were incorporated, altered, or replaced. Also, the documentation describes the processes and discussions that were needed to return the artwork to its appropriate experience and restore the artists' original intent to its display.

To hear more about the collaboration between curator and conservator and the various treatments conducted in anticipation of Watch This! Revelations in Media Art, be sure to join us on June 3 at 6:00 p.m. in the museum's McEvoy Auditorium when Michael Mansfield and Hugh Shockey present a discussion on their media conservation experiences.

Posted by Chris on May 28, 2015 in American Art Here, Conservation at American Art
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