Prompted by the Smithsonian Institution’s removal of a controversial artwork from an exhibit about homosexual identity, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has mounted a photography exhibition that looks back to the so-called culture wars of the late 1970s through the 1990s, when social conservatives fought to prevent tax money from supporting art that dealt with homosexuality, feminism, racism or other contentious issues.
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.