There was no decree naming Alexander Calder (1898-1976) the capital’s official artist, but walking around the National Mall, you’d think there had been. His abstract sheet-metal sculptures are in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden and on the grounds of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn and American History museums, and a mammoth mobile dominates the atrium of the National Gallery’s East Building. An abundance of his works is on display in these museums as well as in the Phillips Collection. He also invented meatl-wire drawing in space. All told, he made a few hundred wire figures before abandoning the medium for abstraction in the 1930s. Among them were several dozen celebrities, athletes and art-world friends that are the main focus of “Calder’s Portraits: A New Language” at the National Portrait Gallery through August 14, 2011.
“Capital Portraits: Treasures from Washington Private Collections,” at the National Portrait Gallery is hardly an ingenious or groundbreaking curatorial conceit, but it’s a display of high-quality works by John Singleton Copley and Gilbert Stuart, Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Andy Warhol and others that otherwise would not be accessible to the public. Blogger Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes condemns me for not trashing the show. I respond to him here.
George Condo – on exhibition at the New Museum – says he paints like the Old Masters, but applies their technical finesse to subjects of his own invention. Don’t believe it. The paint handling is muddy and effects of light and shade, volume and texture inexpertly rendered. He says his works have to do with madness or dark visions, but they look puerile and silly.
“Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria” opens our eyes to the astonishingly realistic human figures cast in metal or terra cotta more than half a millennium ago in the ancient West African city-state of Ife (pronounced EE-fay). These elegant and captivating statues change the way we think of Africa and Africans, and for that reason this might be the most important African art exhibition anywhere right now.
“Waste Land,” a film about the Brooklyn-based, Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz, which recounts a celebrated artist using his work as an instrument to promote social justice.
The documentary accompanies Muniz to Brazil, where he plans to harvest garbage from one the world’s largest landfills and use it to assemble portraits of people who scavenge the dump for their livelihoods. Expecting to be met with hostility, he and an assistant visit the site and discover instead a community of amiable and well-mannered workers. Rather than proceed on his own, he decides to collaborate with the workers on their “garbage” portraits and to return proceeds from sale of the artworks to improve their lives.