A Photographer and a Writer Walk into a Museum
June 22, 2017


Frederic Remington's Fired On

The other day, in my quest to look at works of art with fresh eyes, I asked a colleague to join me (that's one way to get new eyes) in a walk through the museum, and let me know what spoke to him. I was interested in what Jeff, a photographer, would choose. After walking through a few galleries on the second floor, we turned a corner and he fixed on a painting of an evening scene that glowed uncannily green. "That looks like a photograph taken with a night vision lens," Jeff said, referring to a lens that intensifies the light and is often used by the military during night missions. We both stepped up to take a closer look at the painting, Fired On, an oil by Frederic Remington, from 1907.

The painting features a foreground scene of two horses and riders under attack, though the enemy remains out of the frame. And, like a photograph, Jeff noted, "some of the figures at the rear of the scene are out of focus." The painting, lit by a full moon you cannot see, captures a moment of fear, perhaps most evident in the startled white horse. It is also the coat of the white horse, shining in the moonlight, that has made them an easy target. Is there such a thing as too much light?

Back at my desk, I started reading about Remington, who began his career as an illustrator before becoming a painter. As an illustrator, his colors were black, white and grey. As a painter, it took him a while to perfect his palette. In 1905 he expressed his frustration to a friend: “I’ve been trying to get color in my things and still I don’t get it. Why why why can’t I get it. The only reason I can find is that I’ve worked too long in black and white. I know fine color when I see it but I just don’t get it and it’s maddening. I’m going to if I only live long enough.” It was not until June 1908 that he was able to write in his diary that he had finally discovered “how to do the silver sheen of moonlight.”

That moon-lit sheen is certainly evident in Fired On. But something else was happening in the early years of the twentieth century: electricity was lighting up homes and cities and creating an artificial illumination that influenced artists, including Remington. This period also coincides with the advent of flash photography, which would brighten a night scene with a burst of sulphur. His treatment of light in the painting, clearly influenced by new technologies, is part of what Jeff responded to in the painting.

It was during this time, the last decade of his life, that Remington completed more than seventy nocturnes. An artist with one foot in each century, Remington's late paintings capture the meeting points between the natural and the modern worlds.

Posted by Howard on June 22, 2017 in American Art Here, Seeing Things
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Movies at SAAM: Summer 2017
June 20, 2017

Still from Shirley Visions of Reality

Still from Gustav Deutch's film, Shirley: Visions of Reality

Are you looking for something cool and entertaining to do this summer? Look no further! "Movies at SAAM" has got you covered. We're excited to bring you a wonderful lineup of movies and guest speakers that will provide a refreshing look into American art.

Beginning this Saturday, June 24, "Movies at SAAM" will be showing two short films by legendary movie title designer Saul Bass. These films, Notes on the Popular Arts and Why Man Creates, are animated stories that delve into the philosophy of art and humanity. After the films, editors of the design website The Art of the Title, Lola Landekic and Will Perkins, will be around to discuss these films and talk about the life and influential work of Saul Bass.

On Saturday, July 8, we will be showing Shirley: Visions of Reality. Edward Hopper's colorful paintings come to life in Gustav Deutch's feature film. The film explores a woman's thoughts and emotions from the 1930s to the early 1960s. Afterward, take some time to explore SAAM's collection of Edward Hopper paintings.

Finally, Saturday, July 22, we will be showing David Lynch's Eraserhead. Based on the director's own paintings of his industrial and gloomy hometown, Eraserhead is a surrealist film that captures Lynch's unique and brilliant mind. Incorporating elements of dark humor, gore, and erotic imagery, Eraserhead stands out as one of the most memorable films of the 20th century. If you enjoy this film, explore SAAM's new exhibit Donald Sultan: The Disaster Paintings, located on the third floor.

Movies can add a new way of looking at art. These three screenings provide an interesting exploration into some of American Art's wonderful collection of modern and contemporary art, as well as provide a different perspective on what it means to be creative.

All showings are at 3 p.m. in SAAM's McEvoy Auditorium. Admission is free.

Posted by Ryan on June 20, 2017 in Post It
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The Threads That Connect the Stars: Poet Martín Espada on His Father's Life and Work
June 16, 2017

Martin Espada's Lecture

Poet Martín Espada showing a photograph of him with his father, photographer Frank Espada. Frank Espada's work is included in SAAM's exhibition, Down These Mean Streets: Community and Place in Urban Photography.

Martín Espada's incantatory poetry reading at SAAM in honor of Down These Mean Streets: Community and Place in Urban Photography paid lasting tribute to his father, the documentary photographer Frank Espada (1930-2014), whose work is featured in the exhibition. The elder Espada was also a community organizer, civil rights activist, and a leader of the Puerto Rican community in New York in the 1960s and early 1970s. Martín Espada's reading captured formative moments in his father's life that would become enigmatic in his own. In addition to being a renowned poet, Martín Espada is an essayist and attorney who has dedicated much of his career to the pursuit of social justice and Latino rights. De tal talo tal astilla—Like father, like son.

"I am, especially tonight, very proudly my father's son," Martín announced, then projected a photograph of the two of them, taken by his mother when he was seven years old. It was about this time, he told us, that he became aware of his father as an activist, someone who might unexpectedly disappear for a few days at a time. During these absences, Martín was sure his father was dead—he would soon learn that "sometimes Puerto Ricans die in jail"—until he walked through the door a few days later. "That day, my father returned from the netherworld," Martin recited, "...I searched my father's hands for a sign of the miracle." The theme of disappearance and reappearance was a thread that made its way throughout the reading. When he was nine, Martín started attending protests, marches, and candlelight vigils with his father, including one for a man named Agripino Bonillo, a Puerto Rican kitchen worker and father of nine who was murdered in East New York, Brooklyn. "This was part and parcel of my education...It's not something you forget. And I didn't," he told us, before reading the poem he wrote about the events titled "The Moon Shatters Over Alabama Avenue."

In the summer of 1981, Martín was twenty-three and working with his father who was documenting burned-out buildings in Manhattan Valley, a thirty-square block area on the West Side of New York City, where arson for profit was rampant. In Frank Espada's portrait of José Acuña, director of the Manhattan Valley Development Corporation, a tenant advocacy group, you see him in a fire-gutted apartment, his white shirt in sharp contrast to the soot black of the setting. Martín told us that he was there, just outside the frame, carrying the camera bags and tape recorder. Moved by the situation, he wrote a poem soon after, about one of the tenants who couldn't afford to leave the desolate building, "Mrs. Báez Serves Coffee on the Third Floor." The poem concludes: Someone poured gasoline/ on the steps outside her door,/ but Mrs. Báez/ still serves coffee/ in porcelain cups/ to strangers,/ coffee the color/ of a young girl's skin/ in Santo Domingo."

The theme of fathers and sons continued through the generations with the birth of Martín's son, Klemente (now twenty-five). The poem he read, "Of the Threads That Connect the Stars," celebrates the three Espada men, their different ways of seeing and interacting with the world, and "the changes that happen without our even realizing it." For Frank, seeing stars had the rough-and-tumble meaning of getting walloped in the face until you saw stars or flashes of light. Martín recalled his childhood and writes, "I never saw stars. The sky in Brooklyn was a tide of smoke rolling over us from the factory over the avenue..." Klemente, however, can look through a telescope at the infinite universe and "name the galaxies." One generation makes way for the next...

Martín concluded the evening with an elegy. He wrote "El Morir Vivir," for his father's memorial service three years ago. "I found the metaphor to capture the many lives, births, and deaths of Frank Espada," he told us. El morir vivir is a pan-tropical weed whose name literally means, "I died, I lived." If you touch the leaves they curl up; after a while, they will uncurl. I died, I lived. Absence and presence. A man dedicated to his causes, his friends and his family, Frank Espada lives on not only in his family, but in his son's poetry and his own passionate photographs.

If you were unable to attend the poetry reading, you can watch the webcast here.

In addition, watch Martín Espada and Jeffrey Brown, chief correspondent for arts, culture, and society at the PBS NewsHour, in conversation at SAAM, discussing Frank Espada's life and work.

Bring your family to SAAM this Father’s Day to see selections from our extensive collection of Latino art in the exhibition Down These Mean Streets: Community and Place in Urban Photography. It's on view through August 6, 2017.

Posted by Howard on June 16, 2017 in American Art Here, Lectures on American Art
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Luce Unplugged: Five Questions with Stephanie Williams and Matt Cohen
June 14, 2017

It's no secret that the District's music scene buzzes with diverse talent. Yet, how do we harness this creativity in the Luce Foundation Center? With help from DC Music Download's Stephanie Williams for our Thursday shows, and insight from Matt Cohen, arts editor for the Washington City Paper, for our Friday showcases! From rock 'n roll and experimental to pop-punk and disco, audiences have gotten a taste of what continues to keep DC's music scene interesting. We spoke with Stephanie and Matt to hear where they find up-and-incoming bands, what they love about DC, their own musical heroes, and where you can find these artists when they aren't jamming at Luce Unplugged.

Cohen and Williams photos

Left: Matt Cohen, Washington City Paper arts editor. Photo by Justin Gellerson. Right: Stephanie Williams, DC Music Download founder. Photo by Trevor Friedman.

Eye Level: What do you think makes the arts scene in DC unique?

Stephanie Williams: What's great about making art here, specifically music, is how accepting and open the creative community is. No matter what your background or focus may be, there's a place here for everyone to thrive. People are also willing to help you and collaborate rather than it being a super competitive and cut-throat environment.

Matt Cohen: I'm from DC, I grew up in the Montgomery County suburbs. I've essentially lived here my whole life, so it's hard for me to compare it to anything else, but I think what makes it so unique is that DC is this melting pot of social, political, and cultural communities. The arts scene has a fascinating relationship with its own past, too. Like, all the big arts movements DC is known for—punk and hardcore, jazz, go-go, Washington Color School, etc.—artists are informed and influenced by all that, but they're not intent on repeating it. It's all about developing their own style, whether it's in the music world or art world.

EL: Matt Cohen, as a native to DC, how have you seen the arts scene evolve?

MC: It's become more inclusive and cohesive, for sure. The arts scene has always been very progressive, but in recent years, I've noticed different corners of it have merged and worked together. There are a lot more artists collaborating with musicians. It's so heartening to see a local theater company work with a local band to do musical accompaniment for a production, or having punk shows in the DC Public Library. The various collaborations I see nowadays are something you wouldn't have seen five or ten years ago. Or maybe they were happening and I just wasn't aware of it.

EL: Can you both describe a little bit of your process for discovering new, up-and-coming bands?

SW: I actually still do a fair amount of manual digging. I try to make an effort every week to scour Bandcamp and SoundCloud for any new releases that might have slipped under my radar. That's how I've come across most of the musicians I've profiled on DC Music Download. I also try to go to as many shows as possible to specifically see bands I haven't seen before. I've never solely relied on the submissions I receive via email. If that were the case, I would have missed a lot of awesome people.

MC: I wish I had an exciting answer for this, but I don't. I nerd out on discovering new music, so I'm constantly scouring Bandcamp, or other corners of the internet for new tunes. For local music, I get sent a lot of stuff, all of which I listen to. But honestly, the best way to discover new local bands/artists is just going to shows. I'd say 80% of the shows I go to are local bands. So I'll go and see a new band that just formed, or a band I've seen on a flier a few times. That's the best way, and always has been, to discover new music: go to shows.

EL: Stephanie, what do you love most about local music?

SW: I appreciate the DC music community's resilience. There are some limitations in DC that make it difficult for musicians to create here (high cost of rent, lack of affordable practice/work spaces, few outlets that cover local music and musicians, etc.), but it doesn't stop the scene from thriving. There's a strong DIY ethos here that's both inspiring and admirable.

EL: What are some of your favorite bands in DC? Is there a particular venue in DC you love?

MC: Tough question! I grew up on the '00s Dischord stuff, so Q And Not U, Black Eyes, Dismemberment Plan (though they were never on Dischord) were my musical heroes growing up and kind of made me think about music differently. I've been a longtime fan of Pygmy Lush from Sterling, Virginia. John Fahey was from DC—he's long dead and hadn't lived in DC since the late '60s, but he's a musical hero of mine. In the past few years, I've been really inspired by experimentation. Artists who make me think about music differently are some of my favorite bands. I think Hand Grenade Job, who played at a past Washington City Paper community showcase, is, hands down, the best band to see live. Every performance of theirs is like a seance and their music—I've just never heard a group that thinks about musical composition the way they do. Very stripped down and minimal, but at the same time their songs are huge and powerful. As for venues, Black Cat has been my second home for the better part of a decade. Some of the best people I've ever known in this city work there and it's always felt like the center of everything for DC's music scene.

SW: I hate to choose favorites, but there are bands that I've been a longtime fan of that I still love to see whenever possible. Heavy Breathing is one of those bands for sure. Their live shows are really unlike anything else I've seen here. I'm also a big fan of Nag Champa and what Jamal Gray is doing. He's one of those key people in DC that's keeping the music scene interesting. Venues, well, SAAM is one! It's such a beautiful space to see live music, and there's nothing that really tops it in DC. Songbyrd is also a wonderful spot to see an intimate show, as is Otherfeels.

Luce Unplugged is a free, monthly local concert series held in the Luce Foundation Center for American Art. This series is organized in partnership with DC Music Download, and The Washington City Paper. Be sure to check out upcoming performances and don't miss Flasher next Thursday, June 22.

Posted by Madeline on June 14, 2017 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Photography Encouraged: Imagination and Association
June 8, 2017

instagram from sarahseikorashid

Karen LaMonte's sculpture Reclining Dress Impression with Drapery as captured by @sarahseikorashid.

One of the best parts of my day is the time I set aside to search through the comments and photos people share with us on social media. New angles, small details, and clever captions draw our attention to artworks and spaces as seen by you. Over time, some artworks become crowd favorites. It's easy to see why Karen LaMonte's Reclining Dress Impression with Drapery has captured the attention of so many visitors. Many marvel at the detailed folds in the cast glass; others note how the form of the piece perfectly mimics the shape of a woman. A few see the proximity of this sculpture to another, the 3D printed version of Hiram Powers' Greek Slave. Many cannot resist posing as the missing female form, adding an unintended interactive element.


instagram from tomorrowsan

Glass made to look like folds of fabric, detail captured by @tomorrowsan.


instagram from fotosaurus

Best caption award goes to @fotosaurus, framing a relationship between the 3D printed Greek Slave and LaMonte's dress: "She had no idea how her dress got all the way over there. To make matters worse, it seemed to be reclining there comfortably, taunting her."


instagram from nwalshcpt

As @nwalshcpt notes, people pose with Reclining Dress because there's simply something irresistible about art that allows you to insert yourself—figuratively or literally.

Posted by Amy on June 8, 2017 in American Art Here, American Art Sculpture, American Craft
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