In This Case: Luis Jiménez's Model for "Fiesta"
November 24, 2015

In redefining the myth we're really redefining ourselves...
                    Luis Jiménez,Texas Monthly, September 1998

The Luce Center is filled with all kinds of treasures and Model for "Fiesta" by Mexican-American artist Luis Jiménez is no exception. The General Services Administration (GSA) commissioned Jiménez to make a grand sculpture for the Otay Mesa border station near San Diego, California. Wanting to create a work that presented "real people in a real situation," Jiménez constructed an 8-foot statue of a man and woman dancing a traditional Mexican hat dance called Jarabe.


Luis Jiménez's Model for "Fiesta"

When it was finished some thought the sculpture was disrespectful to Mexican culture. Some believed that the woman's dress looked Spanish rather than Mexican, and that it fit too tightly. The man, critics said, was too dark and too fat.

However, the vast majority admired the larger than life sculpture. One journalist for the The Los Angeles Times said of the piece, "The work is a credit to the GSA art program," and the couple is "timeless." Others, like the Colorado Springs Independent claimed it a "masterpiece." The Texas Monthly also said that Fiesta was "showing us the true faces of the West."

"True faces" was exactly what Jiménez was trying to accomplish in his sculpture. He saw his artwork as a bridge connecting people from one side of the border to the other. He was never interested in labels, like Hispanic or Chicano, nor was he interested in depicting stereotypes. Instead Jiménez wanted to recreate real working-class people.

Currently the 8-foot statue lives on the University of New Mexico campus, but the model he used for the final sculpture can be found in the Luce Foundation Center here at SAAM. Regardless of its size, both statues have sparked dialogue about heritage and identity. In summarizing his artwork, Jiménez stated, "In redefining the myth we're really redefining ourselves...And I think it's important to keep redefining ourselves. That's something that artists have always done." Art has a special way of making people see the world differently and Fiesta is no exception. Jiménez countered stereotypes with his colorful and captivating sculpture that exemplifies the universality of culture, dance, and passion.

Posted by Ryan on November 24, 2015 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Luce Artist Talk with Britney Mongold
November 18, 2015

Merry Go Round Model by an unidentified artist.

How does a self-proclaimed country-girl come to work for some of D.C.'s most experimental theaters?

On Saturday, November 21, local theater prop designer Britney Mongold will visit the Luce Foundation Center to explain her career's trajectory in the latest installment of our Luce Artist Talk series. As a set and prop designer, Mongold works with several theaters across Washington, D.C., including Cultural D.C.'s Source Festival.

Mongold will use objects from Smithsonian American Art Museum's collection on display in the Luce Center to explain her artistic history and describe what inspires her. Objects, like the museum's Merry Go Round Model connect the D.C. artist to her rural origins.

Mongold grew up in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. After studying painting at Hollins University, she worked on a farm, creating functional decorations that taught visitors about agriculture, science, and Virginian history. Mongold's experience on the farm, which included restoring a 30 horse Allan Herschell Carousel, was the artist's introduction to working in 3-D.

Mongold decided to pursue a career in theater and moved to D.C. to study acting at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts. There, her decorative experience came in useful when she was recruited as a designer for Rorschach Theatre's Glassheart. Three years later, Mongold is now a prop designer and creates scenic paintings for several theaters in D.C. Mongold's current career is the culmination of years of varied experiences, and on Saturday, November 21, Mongold will be at the Luce Center to elaborate on her creative process.

Her talk will begin at 1:30 p.m. Beverages will be served until 3:30 p.m.

Posted by Adrienne on November 18, 2015 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Renwick Gallery: The United States of WONDER
November 13, 2015


Janet Echelman; 1.8; 2015; Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum; Courtesy of Janet Echelman, Inc. Photo by Ron Blunt. Looking up to ceiling of Grand Salon

After extensive renovations to the galleries and behind-the-scenes mechanicals, the Renwick Gallery of Art reopens to the public today with WONDER. The new exhibition features installations by nine contemporary artists who reimagine—and reinvigorate—the spaces.The artists have three things in common: they are sensitive to architectural space, are passionate about making and materials, and create a sense of wonder that provokes the visitor. The site-specific installations feature the works of contemporary artists Jennifer Angus, Chakaia Booker, Gabriel Dawe, Tara Donovan, Patrick Dougherty, Janet Echelman, John Grade, Maya Lin and Leo Villareal. Each artist worked intensively with unusual materials—including tires, thread, insects, branches, netting, glass marbles and LED light strips—to create larger-than-life installations that transform the museum into an immersive artwork.

Today's Renwick is really tomorrow's museum: a place for the 21st century visitor to experience art, and as Nicholas R. Bell, the Fleur and Charles Bresler curator in charge, reminded us the other day, it is also "a place to marvel...and to wonder." Bell also told us that when the Renwick was emptied of its artwork in preparation for renovations in 2013, he realized that the museum's greatest asset was the building itself. Designed by Renwick to house the art collection of William Wilson Corcoran, a 19th-century banker, philanthropist, and art collector, the building was hailed as "the American Louvre" upon its completion in 1874. The building has had many lives since that time, and was almost torn down in the 1960s to make room for modern office buildings, but First Lady Jackie Kennedy almost single-handedly put a stop to that. Over the main entrance, the inspiring words etched in stone, "Dedicated to Art" now resonate with the words "Dedicated to the Future of Art."

The Future is now. You really can get lost in the materiality and sense of changing environment, as you wander the galleries, perhaps no more so than in Janet Echelman's wondrous takeover of the Grand Salon. But before you get there, you have to ascend the stairs now draped with a flowing red carpet designed by Odile Decq. Look up, and you'll be under a lightscape by Leo Villareal, a sculpture made of LED lights in a never-repeating series of illuminations. Echelman's woven sculpture corresponds to a map of the energy released across the Pacific Ocean during 2011's devastating tsunami. One of art's powers is the ability to transform events in our daily lives, into powerful expressions of the human spirit. In addition to the suspended sculpture, Echelman's installation includes programmable lighting, wind movement, and printed textile flooring.

States of WONDER, indeed.

Posted by Howard on November 13, 2015 in American Art Here, American Craft
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SAAM's Symposium Charts American Art’s “Shifting Terrain”
November 12, 2015

SAAM Symposium

The final panel discussion of the symposium was "Directions in Art History and the Place of American Art"

On October 16th-17th, over two hundred international participants gathered at the Smithsonian American Art Museum for the symposium "Shifting Terrain: Mapping a Transnational American Art History," to reflect upon the increasing globalization of American art history during the past decade and how this affects research on art practice here. Others watched the live webcast, now archived and available to view.

Despite art historians' distinctive approaches, most speakers argued for a more inclusive and connected American art history. For curator Asma Naeem, that meant the field should acknowledge emigré artists and take into account geopolitical events outside U.S. borders. Jacqueline Francis urged viewers to pay greater attention to the ways in which all American art influences and reflects our notions of race and identity. Vanessa Schwartz suggested we should consider connections across all forms of visual culture. Paul Chaat Smith spoke of his efforts to send Native American artists to the Venice Biennale, thereby bringing an often underrepresented American perspective to a global audience. Fred Turner encouraged art historians to reach out to other disciplines, such as his field of communication studies. And Claudia Mattos-Avolese argued that art history can never become a truly global endeavor until methodologies from outside Euro-American "centers" are welcomed.

As expected, candid debates ensued. While curator Ethan Lasser applauded museums' recent efforts to display works by U.S. artists alongside those of their international counterparts, he also voiced concerns that the intended connections might be unclear to the novice visitor. Other speakers noted that an attention to the specifics of the local might offer an alternative to national models while recognizing the importance of place and culture to artistic production. For example, in her presentation on sculptor William Edmonson, Jennifer Jane Marshall revealed the ways in which Edmonson was both enmeshed in a global art network and rooted in a particular place--Nashville, Tennessee. In Marshall's view, Edmonson's community ties, his local context, and his "politics of staying" continue to matter.

The symposium revealed significant changes in the way we look at American art, while acknowledging the real challenges posed by this global framework. Although American art scholars do engage with new methods and views, for many, the traditional narratives still have a place.

Amelia Goerlitz, fellowship and academic program coordinator, and Rebecca Singerman, research intern, wrote this post.

Posted by Jeff on November 12, 2015 in Lectures on American Art
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Art Matters with Lawrence Weschler
November 10, 2015

Lawerence Weschler

As the final speaker in this year's Clarice Smith Lecture Series, noted scholar Lawrence Weschler presented a talk on race relations in the United States, using Ed Kienholz's Five Car Stud as the mirror in which this difficult history is reflected and refracted. A life-size installation, Five Car Stud, is a powerful, haunting tableau: once you see it, you can't unsee it; it's that troubling and that strong.

Lawrence Weschler met Kienholz years ago when he was contributing to an oral history of prominent artists working in Los Angeles in the 1960s and '70s. Weschler described Kienholz as "a frenemy...hilarious, generous, scary, mean-spirited and everything at once." Clearly, he knew how to push people's buttons, whether they were sitting across from him, or would one day come face-to-face with his artwork.

Born in Washington State in 1927 to a "difficult father and devout mother," Kienholz was raised on a wheat farm during the Depression. He became part of the art scene in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s, and opened the Ferus Gallery with Walter Hopps, who would become a renowned curator at museums on both coasts, including the forerunner to SAAM, the Smithsonian's National Collection of Fine Arts and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C. After a time, Kienholz left for Berlin, then divided his time between the German capital and Idaho.

According to Weschler, in 1968, Kienholz wanted to "do a take on race in a serious way." He created Five Car Stud using automobiles and life-size figures of men, one woman, and one child. As if this were a stage piece, the headlights give the work a feeling of theater: we've somehow become spectators who have come across this horrific scene. The work "impossible to show when it's finished," appeared in Documenta 5, the noted art fair held in Kassel, Germany in 1972. It was purchased by a foundation in Japan, and then something strange happened: the work disappeared for about forty years.

In 2011, it resurfaced and went on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This became the artwork's first public viewing in the United States. Two generations since its creation, the work is as powerful—and unfortunately as relevant—as ever. "Art matters," Weschler reminded us near the end of his provocative talk, "Art provides occasions for serious thought."

Vistors to SAAM can see Sollie 17, the work Ed Kienholz created with his wife Nancy Reddin Kienholz, on view on the third floor of the museum. This piece addresses the themes of isolation and the emptiness of aging alone.

If you missed Weschler's talk, watch the webcast.

Posted by Howard on November 10, 2015 in Lectures on American Art
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