Symposium: American Art in Dialogue with Africa and its Diaspora
November 7, 2013
Kathleen Joyce, intern in American Art's Research and Scholars Center, recaps our symposium American Art in Dialogue with Africa and its Diaspora made possible by the Terra Foundation for American Art. The symposium took place on October 4-5, 2013. If you missed it, view the webcast of the entire event.
Not even the government shutdown could stop our symposium American Art in Dialogue with Africa and its Diaspora from taking place on October 4th and 5th. Though the Smithsonian American Art Museum was closed, the National Museum for Women in the Arts saved the day by generously offering us the use of its auditorium. Museum directors Elizabeth Broun of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Johnnetta Cole of the National Museum of African Art welcomed an enthusiastic group of 175 scholars, artists, collectors, and students from across the United States, Europe, and Africa. Attendees filled the NMWA's auditorium to discuss Africa's influence on American art. The intimate venue encouraged attendees to mingle and actively engage with each other's work.
The speakers delivered papers on a wide variety of topics, from nineteenth-century portraiture to the influence of African textile design on contemporary art. While most speakers examined the contributions of one or two artists in context, Krista Thompson presented a new methodology she termed "critical fabulation"—postulating what might have happened to light artist Tom Lloyd in an alternate history of his career. Her unusual paper demonstrated an inventive mode of scholarship that could shed light on previously invisible artists.
There were resonances between many of the talks. University of Delaware professor Camara Dia Holloway spoke about photographer F. Holland Day's 1897 self-portrait posed next to an exoticized black male nude. She engaged both with the tonal and compositional details of this particular photograph as well as Day's oeuvre in its late nineteenth-century context, working on both micro- and macroscopic levels. James Smalls seemed to pick up where she left off, discussing the influence of Senegalese dancer and muse Feral Benga on the modernist imagining of the African male body. University of Maryland's David C. Driskell opened Saturday's talks by highlighting the role African artistic forms and practices have played in his own work, while Rebecca Keegan VanDiver turned her attention to former Howard University professor Loïs Mailou Jones' "routes to her roots."
The audience and the speakers made for a diverse group: scholars and students of American, African American, and African art from three continents were able to meet and compare notes. Amelia Goerlitz, the event's organizer, says that she could not have pulled it off without the aid of many museum interns, volunteers, fellows, and trust-funded staff members. The government shutdown, which coincided with the scheduled symposium, was quite a curveball, but in the end proved no match for the quick thinking and positive attitudes of the organizers and participants. Thanks to their hard work, everything went off without a hitch!
We had a great time at the Day of the Dead Family Day on November 2nd! Thanks to Bailes de Mi Tierra, for beautiful performances of traditional Mexican folk dances. Visitors got to enjoy lively music provided by El Zol from 107.9 FM, and craft activities including tissue paper flowers, papel picado, making memory books and FACE PAINTING! It was a fun day to remember friends and loved ones who have passed and celebrate with our families and community. Thanks to all who came to share it with us!
Our next Family Day will be our Holiday Festival, Saturday, December 14.
Five Questions with Handi-hour Coordinator Katie Crooks
November 1, 2013
Katie Crooks coordinates the quarterly craft program Handi-hour at the American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery. The Renwick Gallery will close for renovation in December, so we thought now was a good time to catch up with Katie about the popular program and find out what will happen to it while the Renwick is closed. Before the Renwick closes we have one more Handi-hour coming up this coming Wednesday, November 6.
Eye Level: So, what's Handi-hour all about?
Katie Crooks: Handi-hour is the combination of "handicraft" and a "happy hour". It is an event open to anyone 21 and older who enjoys sitting down to craft and socialize with a cold drink (beer or soda). Guests pay an entry fee for two drink tickets, snacks, live music, and all they can craft. Handi-hour is about getting your hands dirty, getting creative, making new friends, learning new skills, and having a great time.
EL: Where did you originally get the idea?
KC: We had been searching for a way to serve younger audiences through our programs and learned about a popular program then being offered by the Museum of Craft and Folk Art (now closed) in San Francisco, called "Craft Bar." We carefully looked at their program model and adjusted it, putting our own unique spin on the event. And that's how Handi-hour started.
EL: You do different crafts at each event. Which has been your favorite and why?
KC: That is a really tough question! I spend a lot of time searching for crafts that are just right for Handi-hour, and I spend hours practicing them so that I can generate the tutorials that visitors use during the event. Looking back, I think the Handi-hours featuring hoop-art ornaments and needle felting were two favorites. Especially seeing our holiday tree fully decorated by ornaments made by our Handi-hour attendees —that was awesome!
EL: Tell us about the Handi-hour that's coming up on November 6.
KC: Our next Handi-hour will feature basket-making. I've been looking forward to this Handi-hour since the museum announced that we'd be exhibiting A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets, the generous gift of 79 baskets to the museum by the noted collectors Steven R. Cole and Martha G. Ware. I've always loved baskets for their beauty and function, and this exhibition finally gave me a reason to learn how to craft them. We are going to try to have a variety of different types of basket forms to choose from (reed, paper, yarn, etc.), so I'm excited to see what our attendees will create!
EL: And finally, what is going to happen to Handi-hour when the Renwick closes for renovations at the end of this year?
KC: Luckily, the Renwick Gallery is part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and we're going to keep on crafting at the museum's main building at 8th and F Streets, N.W. The Luce Foundation Center for American Art on the third floor of the museum will become Handi-hour's home until the Renwick Gallery reopens. The first Handi-hour in our temporary location will be on March 6, 2014. I'm going to miss the Renwick's Grand Salon, but the Luce Center is an awesome and inspiring space to create in. We will also be offering "Pop-up Handi-hours" in various locations during the Renwick renovation. You'll find free crafting stations during this winter's Take 5! jazz concerts held in the Kogod Courtyard, so keep a look out for us!
In preparation for our next Handi-hour on November 6, watch videos of Katie demonstrating how to make paper and reed baskets!
Luce Foundation Center's Local Artist Talks: The Art of Movement
October 31, 2013
Next up in our Luce Local Artist Talk series, presented with CulturalDC, is choreographer and dancer Sarah Ewing. Ewing, who hails from Australia, is currently a Resident Artist at D.C.'s CityDance and performs regularly across Washington. She stopped by the Luce Foundation Center over the summer to answer a few questions from this dance enthusiast (who sadly has two left feet).
Eye Level: How do you go about creating your work—are you inspired by a specific concept or do you start with a feeling?
Sarah Ewing: For each work it's different. Something will spark an idea, it could be another production's stage design, a phrase someone utters, or research I am doing for school. I will then let the idea stew for awhile. I'll keep writing about it and researching, but it will be a few months before I am actually in the studio starting to apply movement to it. The different layers come in after that: the music, costumes, and the complete phrases of movement. All these layers are reflections of that first idea, and help to communicate it to the audience.
EL: People are sometimes intimidated by modern and contemporary art, do you think it's the same with dance?
SE: I think people think they will be intimidated, but once someone watches dance, they generally surprise themselves as to how much they pick up. A dance work is generally structured in much the same way as poetry, writing or music. There will be a core intent usually reflected by a movement motif (similar to the role of a chorus in song writing), and then variations of that motif expand to explore other ideas with in the work (like the verses of a song). Once an audience understands that every interpretation is valid, as is enjoying dance purely for its athleticism and beauty, the intimidation slowly fades away.
EL: When we first met, you told me your piece was inspired by Pop Art. What was it about that particular genre that made you want to choreograph a work?
SE: I loved that the personalities of [Andy] Warhol and [Jeff] Koons are almost as famous as the art they created. Pop Art was a real melding of culture, art, and the lifestyles of these men. I wanted to look at the people behind the work, and how in every art circle there is this constant exchange between the artists, the art, the business side, and culture itself.
SE: Creating my work, Australia Home Land, for the Kennedy Center was a true honor. They were able to provide so much for my production, and I am so thankful for that.
D.C.'s dance community is obviously smaller than cities like New York, but there are still lots of opportunities to make work. We have organizations like the Kennedy Center commissioning local artists, WPAS who present our work in beautiful theaters like Harman Hall through VelocityDC Festival, and then there is Source Festival and the Fringe Festival in the summer, and now CityDance's OnStage program. There really are many very strong organization's supporting the work of local choreographers. My goal is to make good art. I don't mind what city I am in. Here I have found access and support from so many high level presenters and organizations. I don't know if in a bigger city, with a more saturated dance scene, I would get those opportunities and support.
EL: What upcoming dance performances are you excited about and why?
SE: Up next I am making a new duet to take to New York for the 2013 Legros Cultural Arts Women in Dance Alum performance at the Ailey Citigroup Theater. They are a great organization who support female emerging artists, so I am excited to go back up to the City to present with them. In the new year I begin a new full length work, Trapped Happiness, which I will present on April 16 and 17 at the CityDance Studio Theater at Strathmore as part of their OnStage program. This work will be made and presented during my residency at CityDance, which is in partnership with CulturalDC's Mead Theater Lab program.
Ewing will perform a short solo as well as an excerpt from her Pop Art piece, entitled Jeff, Andy and the Business of Art, this Saturday, November 2 at 1:30 p.m. Hope to see you there!
A Closer Look at Our America: Jorge Soto Sánchez
October 29, 2013
Michelle Sullivan is second-year graduate fellow in Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation and spent this summer at the Lunder Conservation Center. She recently treated this untitled work by Jorge Soto Sánchez for the exhibition Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art, which will open on October 25, 2013.
Jorge Soto Sánchez (1947-1987) was an artist of Puerto Rican descent who lived and worked in New York City. He was a prominent member of the Nuyorican Movement—a movement initiated by Puerto Rican artists, musicians, poets, and writers in East Harlem and the South Bronx during the 1960s and 70s—that aimed to affirm the Puerto Rican experience in the United States. Soto Sánchez also served as an educator at El Museo del Barrio and was a member of the artists' collective Taller Boricua. The artist's Untitled seems to draw upon the artist involvement with these groups and demonstrates his unique blend of African and Pre-columbian iconography, speaking to the multicultural nature of Puerto Rican heritage.
When a curator selects a painting, sculpture, or drawing for exhibition, the artwork's first stop is always the conservation lab. Our job as conservators is to closely examine the work to determine if it will need treatment before going on view and if it will require any special conditions to ensure safe display. This investigation also gives us an opportunity to better understand an artist's technique, how an object was constructed, and the materials used. Examination of this drawing by Soto Sánchez began with a microscope. With the naked eye, we could see that the artist used acrylic paint, graphite, and some sort of felt-tipped pen to create this drawing, but with the aid of magnification, we could gain insight into the artist's practice. Soto Sánchez began by lightly sketching the composition in graphite and then using a black felt-tipped pen to strengthen some areas of the design. It can be a bit difficult to see, but he also used what appears to be light blue colored pencil to enhance the names that appear on the books held by the figures. Next, he applied red and black acrylic paint to create broad fields of color and, if you look closely, you can even see an impasto brushwork in areas of thickly applied paint. Finally, the artist added highlights to the eyes and book edges with a white material resembling correction fluid and reinforced some lines with heavily applied graphite. In the close-up image above, you can see how hard the artist must have pressed his pencil into the paper to create those final lines!
To prepare this drawing for exhibition, it received some TLC at the Lunder Conservation Center. First, the front and back of the drawing were lightly cleaned. We also strengthened a section at the top edge and the top-right corner with thin (but strong!) Japanese papers and wheat starch paste to make it safer to handle. The Japanese paper used was colored with acrylic paint to match the surrounding area of drawing. All materials applied to the drawing during conservation are reversible so that, if needed, they can be removed in the future.
Take a look a closer look at Jorge Soto Sánchez's work in our exhibition Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art, running through March 2, 2014.