SAAM's Summer Film Series About Artists
June 2, 2016
What do artists Johannes Vermeer, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Frida Kahlo all have in common? They are all featured in this summer's artist film program at SAAM.
Throughout the summer we will screen six films highlighting some of the best art and artists. Whether you're into contemporary graffiti art, or classical Impressionism, there is sure to be a film you will enjoy. These great films take us behind the artwork and into the minds and lives of some of the art world's masters to reveal unique insights into their way of working.
Kicking off the summer film program on June 4 is the documentary film Tim's Vermeer. Nominated for Best Documentary Film at the 2014 British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards, this film follows inventor Tim Jenison as he conducts experiments to discover how 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer achieved perspective in his paintings. This film is directed by magician Raymond Teller and produced by his partner in slight-of-hand, Pen Jillette.
Basquiat, which will be screened Saturday June 18, is a 1996 award-winning film directed by Julian Schnable and is the first major feature film about an African American artist. Based on the real life of Jean-Michel Basquiat (played by Jeffrey Wright), this film follows the street artist as he makes his way through his meteoric career in the New York art world alongside friend and mentor Andy Warhol (played by David Bowie). More than simply a biography, Basquiat dives deep into major issues of the contemporary art community, such as race and commercialization.
Known for her free spirit, vivid colors, and ability to capture her unconscious mind on canvas, Frida Kahlo was one of the most acclaimed artists in Mexican history. The film Frida, directed by Julie Taymor, will screen on July 16. This biopic shows the turbulent life of this fascinating artist (played by Salma Hayek), from her youthful and passionate adventures as a teenager to her turbulent marriage to muralist Diego Rivera (played by Alfred Molina). If you enjoy passion, drama, and vivid colors, then make a date to see this movie.
Through the magic of cinema, we can explore the passions of Frida Kahlo's life, ponder the paradoxes of contemporary art movements, and unearth the mechanical secrets of a 17th-century master painter. These films are not only informative, but they can be seen as works of art in and of themselves. Culturally significant in their ability to reflect our dreams, ideas, and society, movies are also a modern pallet for artist.
Be sure to mark your calendars for these three films or all six in our series. Seating at SAAM's McEvoy Auditorium is first come first served. Every show starts at 3 p.m.
Patrick Dougherty: Branching Out
June 1, 2016
"Everything you can do with a pencil you can do with a stick," artist Patrick Dougherty remarked the other evening at a talk in the Renwick's Grand Salon, as he likened his craft to the art of drawing. "Once these things come out of the woods with the overtones of nature, they become sticks with which to draw." Dougherty's installation, Shindig in the exhibition, WONDER, is a veritable forest of woven willow osier pods that perform the alchemical act of transforming the everyday into something magical. Part fairy-tale shelter, part naturescape, the installation invites the visitor to enter, explore, and wonder.
Dougherty began his inspiring talk describing the day he decided to chuck the suit-and-tie life and become the artist he felt was his calling. He relays the path to his becoming a working artist, and how he found his voice with natural materials such as sticks, saplings, and branches. A self-described woodsman, Dougherty makes use of the materials around him. Underbrush and woods near his home in North Carolina, are "plentiful and renewable," what he referred to as "a giant warehouse at your fingertips."
Throughout the nearly one-hour presentation, Dougherty showed images of his work and discussed the development of his personal aesthetic. He looked inward to his development as an artist and outward to the world around him. His environmental works—sculptures with the DNA of drawings—bring us in direct contact with nature. Many of his installation photos show how people of all ages enjoy interacting with his architecturally inspired creations. Dougherty builds it, and yes, people come.
When asked during the Q and A after the talk, about what inspired him to create Shindig, on view in the Renwick Gallery through July 10, Dougherty replied, "When I saw the space I loved it. It's such a enormously beautiful space. [I thought] what I need to do is make it look like nature is taking the building back."
In a case you missed Patrick Dougherty's talk, watch it in its entirety.
Martin Puryear: Multiple Dimensions
May 27, 2016
A master of printmaking and sculpture, Martin Puryear was born in Washington, DC, in 1941 where his childhood included frequent visits to the Smithsonian and an early exposure to art from around the world. Martin Puryear: Multiple Dimensions, opening today at SAAM, is a homecoming for the artist, and the opportunity for us to take a deeper look at Puryear's career. The more than seventy objects on view include early works from the artist's college days and time in Sierra Leone, while serving in the Peace Corps, as well as recent works, such as a maquette for Big Bling, his larger-than-life sculpture that debuted in New York's Madison Square Park earlier this month.
The exhibition is the first to show Puryear's works on paper on equal footing with the artist's sculptures. What emerges is a language of Puryear's own making, as he realizes these forms across time. Rather than a linear process, the word Puryear uses to describe his practice is "spiral." His visual vocabulary transcends time and media. Experimenting with scale, materials and varying levels of abstraction, his evocative forms often elude specific interpretations. At the recent dedication of Big Bling, Puryear remarked, "I tend not to tell people what they’re looking at when they’re in the presence of my work. I trust people’s eyes. I trust their imagination. I trust my work to declare itself to the world.”
Martin Puryear: Multiple Dimensions remains on view through September 5.
Seeing Things (16): Time and the Photographic Image
May 24, 2016
This is the sixteenth in a series of personal observations about how people experience and explore museums. Take a look at Howard's other blog posts about seeing things.
Photography has a way with time. Two works of art, both photographic series currently on view, speak to each other in a poignant dialogue without words. In the Lincoln Gallery, on SAAM's third floor, Nicholas Nixon's The Brown Sisters can be seen on the wall adjacent to Camilo José Vergara's series 10828 S. Avalon Blvd., LA, a work whose compression is echoed in the title's insistence on abbreviations.
Nixon photographed the four Brown sisters (his wife, Bebe, and her three siblings) once a year beginning in 1975. The forty black-and-white photos capture the women over four decades, while the Vergara series looks at the life of a single building in Los Angeles over a span of thirty-three years, 1980-2013. In a way, we know more about the various lives of the building than we do about the Brown sisters. At least the building comes with identifiers. In 1980, when Vergara first photographed 10828 S. Avalon, the building was a bleach-white storefront church, "The Greater Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church." Sixteen years later, it morphed into "Joe's Auto Parts." Fast forward to 2013 and the building is now a house for sale, complete with a yard and fence.
Vergara's Avalon series captures the physical and demographic changes in a Los Angeles neighborhood. Is his intent to show the renaissance of a neighborhood or reflect on its forgotten past? In Nixon's work, we look for hints in the shifting intimacies between each photo, the play of light, an expression on a face, what time does to us. The Brown sisters aren't even named. Still, we travel with them over forty years. We imagine their stories. We catch glimpses of our own lives. We know them and we don't.
In her 1977 seminal collection of essays, On Photography, Susan Sontag wrote, that “to take a photograph is to participate in another person's mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time's relentless melt.”
Buildings and people change, but of course, not in the same ways. Human beings tell the most important stories just by living each day. One glance, one new wrinkle, one new grip of the hand and the story of the photograph changes, and with it our empathy for its subject.
Camilo José Vergara's work will be featured in SAAM's exhibition, Down These Mean Streets, opening April 14, 2017.
May's Handi-Hour at the Renwick
May 17, 2016
For May's Handi-hour you'll start by making your own loom using scrap cardboard from all those Amazon boxes you have lying around. Then string it with yarn to create coasters, mats, or whatever else you can imagine. Fuel your creativity with beers from Churchkey and music by David Andrew Smith. And, if you can't make it, watch the video for instructions and inspiration. This month's Handi-hour is sold out, but keep an eye on the calendar for July's Handi-hour tickets which go on sale July 5th.