Every once in awhile we like to get off-island and see what’s happening in the art world. Our museums in Washington, DC are a national treasure that we often forget to take advantage of (all of the museums associated with the Smithsonian Institute are free admission to the public!). We saw two spectacular exhibitions this weekend.
“The Sacred Made Real” will remain at the National Gallery of Art through May. A tight exhibition of painted wooden religious sculptures–most from the 17th century–that usually reside in Spain’s cathedrals and religious paintings by great Spanish artists, especially Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Zurbarán, who were greatly influenced by the sculptures.
Unlike other European depictions of Christ and the various saints, the Spaniards’ life-size sculptures go for the gusto: bruising, blood, agony are all palpable and make the viewer–then and now–squirm in awe. The museum says the artists created these pieces “to shock the senses and stir the soul.” And they do, regardless of religious belief. Photos cannot do the show justice as the display itself in an all black walled high ceiling smallish-for-a-museum room heighten the dramatic effect. This award winning show was put together in London and shown their first. After DC, it will not travel anywhere else and the pieces will go back to their various locations throughout Spain.
The second must-see exhibition at the National Gallery is in the east tower. A rare look at Mark Rothko’s black paintings that were conceived for the Rothko Chapel at the Menil Collection in Houston. A recording of Morton Feldman’sRothko Chapel (1971) plays hauntingly in the vaulted space as one contemplates the void and beyond within the deep black planes of Rothko’s masterpieces.
The Rothko paintings provide a sombre counterpoint to the cherry blossoms on the mall. If one wants to see other more colorful Rothko work, there are many vivid color field paintings scattered throughout the DC art museums.
The show that interested me the most was the “Georgia O’Keefe: Abstraction” show on view through May 9th at the Phillips Collection. A private museum (it does not fall under the free admission category) with an amazing collection, the Phillips gives us a very unique look at O’Keefe’s early abstract work.
Music Pink and Blue No. 2
Most of the work in the exhibition was completed long before the artist relocated to her beloved Ghost Ranch in Santa Fe. O’Keefe explored unusual cropping of the images she painted that were closer to photography than painting and she influenced generations of young painters that followed with this and with the grand scale color field paintings she produced in the 1960’s.
One of the standout paintings from the extensive exhibition was a painting in muted greys and whites that incorporated a clam shell the artist found on a trip to Maine. This one shell inspired an entire series of paintings that explore not only the abstraction of form but the neutral color palette as well. It also reminded me that how Maine has inspired–and continues to inspire–so many artists past and present.
If you cannot get down to DC to see this show, order the hardcover book with full color illustrations of the exhibition and much more information about what this one woman contributed to the modern abstract art movement.