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Painting with LED Light at the Renwick
January 27, 2016


"Years ago when we started looking at LEDs they just weren't ready for use in museums," says Scott Rosenfeld, lighting director at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery. In 2010, Rosenfeld set out to see what he could learn about LED lighting and apply it to the museum. All lighting within the galleries and public spaces in the recently renovated Renwick was converted to LED after extensive research, testing, and prototype development. In fact, Rosenfeld's work is changing the way museums within the Smithsonian and elsewhere light their galleries and works of art. Incandescent lighting is so last century; LED technology is the wave of the future.

Lighting the Maya Lin

Lighting Maya Lin's Folding the Chesapeake. Top: Traditional modern art lighting. Bottom: Lighting with LEDs and plastic lenses.

Rosenfeld and a team of scientists from the Department of Energy (a lighting scientist), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (a vision scientist), and the Getty Conservation Institute (a conservation scientist) were able to develop LED lighting that hit all the right notes for museums, both aesthetically and technically. They set up two test galleries in the Renwick and SAAM to try out LEDS by different manufacturers.

One thing they learned is that a new kind of fixture needed to be created. The old incandescent light fixtures were sealed to prevent light leak. However, since "electronics hate heat" a fixture had to be created that eliminated high temperatures. "We went from wanting completely sealed lights to canisters with holes for ventilation. The air can pass through but not the light," says Rosenfeld.

The LEDs have brought an array of benefits to the museum. "There are such compelling reasons to use them," Rosenfeld tells me as we walk through the Renwick, "They last at least three times longer than incandescent bulbs and they use a quarter of the electricity. "If this were an all-incandescent museum, we'd use five watts per square foot. We're now down to one watt, a savings of about 80 percent of the energy. It looks beautiful and its better."

LEDs use less energy and help stabilize the climate for the museum. "A museum with all incandescent lighting takes three hours for climate controls to catch up," Rosenfeld says, "We don't have a massive heat load, so the museum has a more stable temperature and humidity environment."

The LEDs also allow Rosenfeld to call on his background in theater lighting and really pinpoint the light. What's most important for Rosenfeld is the artwork and the visitor experience. The question he always asks himself is, "What can I do with light to help create a dynamic experience that conveys the artist's ideas?" The original idea for lighting Maya Lin's WONDER installation, Folding the Chesapeake, was to floodlight it like modern art. When Lin came in and saw it she thought, "Oh no, not flat lighting." Rosenfeld and Lin spent the next five hours redoing the light. "I started tracing the rivers with light. This type of lighting would not have been possible with conventional halogen spotlights. LEDS are directional by nature, so we noodged the industry to create a 4-degree LED spotlight for us. With the addition of special plastic lenses, LEDS allow me to paint with light. I can stretch the light, and in effect, make rivers of light. The secret of lighting design, I was once told, is to put the light where you want it and take it away where you don't."

"LED is not the story, the art is the story," Rosenfeld says, then quickly adds, "Unless of course the artwork, like the Leo Villareal installation (Volume (Renwick), is composed of LED lights."

Posted by Howard on January 27, 2016 in Museums & Technology
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Luce Artist Talk with Jesse Shipley
January 20, 2016


Parmly Sisters

Thomas P. Rossiter's The Parmly Sisters

Very rarely does an artist get the opportunity to see their artworks come alive, but Jesse Shipley's designs do on theater stages throughout D.C.

On Saturday, January 30th the local costume designer will visit the Luce Foundation Center to discuss what it's like to see your art as a part of a live performance. This discussion will be the first in in our Luce Artist Talk series for 2016.

Since receiving her Bachelor's degree in theater from George Mason University, Shipley has been a costume designer and wardrobe specialist for some of D.C.'s most exciting theater productions. And she has had the opportunity to channel her creativity into creating costumes for several, including Cultural DC's Source Festival.

While at the Luce Center, Shipley will discuss the connection between fine art and performance-based art. And she will use as examples artworks now on display in Luce's open storage area, such as Thomas P. Rossiter's The Parmly Sisters. She will also bring in costumes from her own career to illustrate and highlight the connection between painting and costume design. At the conclusion of her talk, there will be a question and answer period.

Luce Artist Talks begin at 1:30 p.m. Beverages will be served until 3:30 p.m.

Posted by Adrienne on January 20, 2016 in American Art Here, In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Throwback Thursday: Our America: The Legacy of a King
January 14, 2016


It's Throwback Thursday! And we at Eye Level have decided it's a great opportunity to bring back some of our interesting posts from the past. This Monday we will celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Curator E. Carmen Ramos discusses the legacy of Martin Luther King on contemporary Latino artists in our traveling exhibition Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art. The show is now up at the Arkansas Art Center in Little Rock, Arkansas until this Sunday, January 17. It then moves to the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, Delaware, opening March 5, 2016 until May 29, 2016.

Dimas' Pariah

Marcos Dimas' Pariah

On Monday I reminded my kids that Martin Luther King Jr. Day is one of the most meaningful national holidays that we observe in the United States. Dr. King led a movement that urged our country to live up to one of its most fundamental ideals—that all people are created equal. Often referred to as a day of service, MLK Day should also be a time of reflection on the impact of the civil rights movement for all Americans.

The civil rights era is resonant in many works featured in Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art. Several artists in the exhibition came of age during the 1960s and 1970s when the movement thrived and had ripple effects in communities across the United States. Not only did activists and organizers like César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, and Antonia Pantoja build on Dr. King's legacy and demand Latino equal rights in the arenas of labor and education, some Latino artists created works and organizations that challenged traditional racial hierarchies that undergirded American society.

Many artists found ways to marry their art and activism. Artists Ester Hernandez, Xavier Viramontes, Amado Peña, and members of the Royal Chicano Art Force, created posters used in marches and beyond that supported the activities of the United Farmworkers (UFW). A young Emanuel Martinez built the altar where César Chávez broke the twenty-five-day fast he undertook to protest unfair employment practices and unsuitable work conditions for migrant laborers.

Rupert Garcia and Malaquias Montoya also created posters in support of the UFW during their student years. Garcia and Montoya continued their activism through the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF), a student group that demanded ethnic studies across college campuses in California. Their works on view in Our America come from a later period in their careers, but still convey their on-going commitment to international human rights and domestic immigration reform. Montoya, in fact, created the screen-print Me Hechan de Monjado in 1983 as debates around the U.S. Immigration Reform and Control Act intensified.

For Latino artists of Caribbean descent, the demand for racial equality and later Black pride was especially relevant to aspects of Latino history and culture. Artists Marcos Dimas and Jorge Soto Sánchez became cultural leaders of a Puerto Rican civil rights movement that pioneered in the exploration of African diasporic dimensions of Puerto Rican culture. Their works suggest that Afro-Puerto Rican subjects were both worthy of representation and investigation. Dimas' Pariah recasts a dejected member of society in his respectful portrait of a black person. Soto Sánchez created many works informed by his respect for Santeria, an Afro-Caribbean faith. His hand-colored screen-print includes figures that sprout heads from joints and other parts of the body and evoke ritualized spirit possession central to the practice of Santeria in which a deity "mounts" or "rides" a devotee.

These are just a handful works that reveal the links between the civil rights movement and Latino artists working since the 1960s. Visit Our America or buy the catalogue to see more connections in works by Juan Sánchez, Oscar Castillo, Frank Romero, Freddy Rodriguez and Franco Mondini-Ruiz and others.

Posted by Jeff on January 14, 2016 in American Art Elsewhere, Exhibition: Our America, Throwback Thursday
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Video Games: SAAM's Indie Arcade
January 12, 2016


Chris Totten, a professor at American University's Game Lab, coordinator for January 16th's Indie Coast to Coast Competition as part of SAAM's Indie Arcade, and head of the Independent Game Developer's Association (IGDA's) D.C. chapter, recently wrote about the intersection of video games and art.

Indie Arcade

From our first Indie Arcade in December 2014. Photo by Darren Milligan.

"Are games art?" That's an interesting question, one that both makers and consumers of games have been wrestling with for a while. For many, video games are a fact of life: you save your allowance for them and put them on your list to Santa. Growing up, I drew Mario, Mega Man, and and other heroes, then created my own. They have always been creatively important. However, even with these audiences, games were battling for their own legitimacy the way comics and film had done decades before.

In the summer of 2005, I attended a concert of Nobuo Uematsu's score for the Final Fantasy game series. Afterward, I spoke with two elderly concert season ticket holders in the seats next to me. They were impressed by the music and began asking about the series and about games in general. At the end of the night, they commented that hearing Uematsu's score changed how they viewed the medium they had previously only thought of as toys.

Seeing this reaction to just a slice of a game has greatly influenced my own work, from finding intersections between architecture and game level design to making games with fine arts materials. The arts have also been influenced by games. Concerts are now commonplace and game exhibitions are appearing in museums, such as The Art of Video Games at SAAM in 2012. Game making is also much more accessible today than it was when I was young. No difficult coding is required. Now you can select from many pre-made game-making engines and release your work to a variety of app stores and online markets.

SAAM's Indie Arcade is the great combination of two worlds uniting around games. In 2014, the museum was trying to find the next game-related event to match the success of The Art of Video Games. Likewise, I was the leader of a local game development scene trying to find opportunities for our developers to engage a big audience. Thanks to many, we were able to unite and put on the first public indie game arcade in a cultural institution.

Now in its second year, we will have games from 17 states and 6 countries! While you will see some popular commercial indie games, you will also see a variety of unusual and niche games that are both entertaining and interesting works of media art. Our goal is to go beyond rating games by their graphics, sound, "fun factor" and other technical aspects and start asking the questions of them that we would of other artistic mediums. We hope this marriage of art and games brings new opportunities for developers to find success and motivates new and diverse creators to join in the fun!

Posted by Kaylin on January 12, 2016 in Museums & Technology
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Irving Penn: The Painter's Eye
January 7, 2016


Irving Penn

Irving Penn, Beauty Shop, New York, 1939, printed 2001, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Promised gift of The Irving Penn Foundation. Copyright © The Irving Penn Foundation

Photographer Irving Penn, who died in 2009, and whose work is featured in the current exhibition, Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty, combined fashion, art, and photography to create a style uniquely his own. He not only walked the line between the artistic and the commercial worlds, he led the way. The show, however, not only illuminates the art of photography in the 20th and 21st centuries, but it also shows the influence—and importance—of painting in Penn's work.

Penn's early training was in painting, drawing, and graphic design. His black-and-white works from his Philadelphia days often evoke surrealism. Look around the exhibit and you'll see portraits of the granddaddies of surrealism, including Joan Miró, Savador Dali, and Giorgio de Chirico. Penn's own Beauty Shop from 1939 was born perhaps because of Dali's use of mannequins in the 1938 International Exposition of Surrealism in Paris. In a later photograph, Irving Penn in a Cracked Mirror from 1986 (printed in 1990) the self-portrait shows Penn slightly off kilter, the left side of his face, distorted. It's a Cubist homage.

In another image in the exhibition, a woman's mouth with red lipstick has a bee at her lips. Though the photograph, simply titled Bee, is glossy enough for Madison Avenue, it also seems to recall one of the traditional elements of a classical still life: the bug or insect is depicted on cut fruit or flowers. Tempus fugit...life, like beauty, is fleeting. A painter would know that and would make reference to it, here, as well in his New York Still Life from 1947.

And perhaps it works the other way around, too. Penn's W La Libertà from 1945 seems oddly prescient of Robert Motherwell's Viva from the following year. It's fascinating to think about the bounce between painting and photography in Penn's work.

Penn's eye was amazing and his scope was vast. He managed to synthesize the world around him, creating beautiful, often painterly, works of art.

Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty is up now through March 20, 2016.

Posted by Howard on January 7, 2016 in American Art Here
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