Picture This: Make Your Own Valentine Selfie Today!
February 14, 2014
Happy Valentine's Day! And to celebrate we've set up a special photobooth in our Kogod Courtyard for that perfect Valentine's Day selfie. Get out of the cold and come on down. Not only do we have our photobooth set up, we've got everything you need to make that one-of-kind Valentine's Day card. We'll be here until the museum closes at 7 tonight. So, for your procrastinators, there's time to bring something home to your sweetheart!
Five Questions for the 21st Century Consort
February 12, 2014
Christopher Kendall, artistic director of the contemporary music ensemble in residence at American Art, the 21st Century Consort, talked with Jo Ann Gillula about the upcoming concert, Tango Amor, Saturday February 15, 2014 at 5 p.m. in American Art's McEvoy Auditorium. The concert offers a synchronized celebration of Valentine's Day and exhibition Our America: the Latino Presence in American Art with a performance of Frederic Rzewski's setting of an iconic Chilean protest song, Argentine composer Oswaldo Golijov, local composer David Froom, and favorite Paul Schoenfield. The concert is free and an informal talk with composers and Kendall begins at 4 p.m.
Eye Level: You have slated a concert called Tango Amor to coincide both with Valentine's Day as well as with American Art's exhibition, Our America: the Latino Presence in American Art. How did you select the various pieces which the consort will be performing? Do they all relate to the Latino theme or the "amor" theme or both?
Christopher Kendall: First, I have to say that this is a concert of works mostly looking lovingly at, rather than emanating from, Latino culture. Other than part of Oswaldo Golijov's lineage, none of the composers or performers for that matter are Latino. I hope this doesn't invalidate the program, but it does have something to say about the kind of utterances we'll hear.
Nevertheless, here was a Consort concert one day after Valentine's Day, and begging alignment with the museum's exhibition Our America: the Latino Presence in American Art. The problem was that this coincidence didn't comprise a limitation: there was so much repertoire it was difficult to choose. A self-imposed limit helped refine the choices: a small group of musicians, offering music that has to do with one theme or the other and in most cases both. I'm content to let the audience decide which or whether!
EL: The Frederic Rzewski's piano setting is a monumental challenge for any pianist. Having heard Lisa Emenheiser in past performances, I am confident she can do a splendid performance. What drew you to this piece?
CK: Lisa is such an incredible artist, one capable of learning the most difficult and complex music with astonishing speed, it has seemed to me one of my responsibilities over the years to try to slow her down by presenting enormous challenges. She thrives on them! I think the Rzewski was originally her idea, and we did include a selection of the variations on a concert last year. Partly because it was evident Lisa needed to play the whole thing, and partly because it powerfully referenced a Latin theme and great love—in this case for country—I was excited to challenge Lisa with an opportunity to play the whole thing. She agreed!
EL: Oswaldo Golijov has received so many honors, and is associated with the opera music he wrote for soprano Dawn Upshaw. Tell us about the piece you selected from him.
CK: This piece provided the essence of the program's co-mingled themes, the Latin love of place, in this case Buenos Aires. It's also a chance to feature the soloistic prowess of another of our wonderful artists, cellist Rachel Young.
EL: David Froom is our local hero composer. What about his music excites you to include it fairly often on repertoire?
CK: I was thrilled when Janice and Andrew Molchon decided to commission David Froom to set beautiful Yeats poems for their anniversary. And what could be more romantically perfect for this concert (David obligingly insinuated some tango-tinged music in his writing)? The Molchons have been loyal Consort audience members, supporters, board members and friends for more years than we can count (well, maybe we can count to almost 40; I believe Andy claims to have been present at our first public performance in 1975!). And David Froom has been one of the most consistently excellent composers the Consort has had the honor to work for decades. His setting of texts is uncannily apt, embodying not only the deep meaning of the poetry, but the sounds of the words and the inflection, rhythm and contour of the lines. His decision to choose the challenging medium of two essentially linear "instruments" is full of wonderful symbolism for these poems and this occasion.
EL: Finally, the witty Paul Schoenfield is always a favorite. What have you selected for fun? And there is a rumor there will be a tango. Can you comment?
CK: There may be some surprise tango music on the program (I've heard this rumor too), and there is in fact tango music hidden in Paul's work, which is an utterly ingenious synthesis of a very romantic Russian Folk Song, "Dark Eyes" (text follows) and the opera aria by Weigl incorporated by Beethoven in his own piano trio Op. 11, the first line of which translates as "Before I begin work, I must have something to eat," an unromantic but understandable sentiment.
Stumbled Upon: Alma Thomas
February 6, 2014
The snow was coming and I was racing around town before my weather sequester began. When I got to the store the parking lot was filled, and cars were backed out onto the street (obviously, everyone's storm timing was in sync). I made a sharp turn, went around the block, and parked in front of a house that was undergoing renovation. When I got out I noticed an historical marker on the building. Looking closer, I discovered the house once had belonged to Washington, D.C. painter Alma Thomas.
Okay, so maybe my day wasn't going south after all. I took out my phone, stepped back and took some photos. Born in 1891 in Columbus, Georgia, Thomas and her family moved into the Logan Circle neighborhood in 1906. Alma Thomas lived there until her death in 1978. In the 1960s her paintings took off as she became part of the rich world of the Washington Color School, along with Morris Louis, Gene Davis, and Leon Berkowitz. Looking at her house, I remembered she was strongly connected to nature and her garden (this little one in the front or something I couldn't see at back?). Her paintings, such as Autumn Leaves Fluttering in the Breeze, are rich in color and form, and display her signature "color pats." As I would later learn, Thomas often talked about "watching the leaves and flowers tossing in the wind as though they were singing and dancing."
Educator, as well as artist, she was clearly a remarkable woman. I look now at her paintings and imagine she's staring out the window of her house, and watching the light and the leaves and the world on the other side of the glass. As I stare deep into this painting I can almost imagine the artist peering out from the other side; Alma, is that you?
With more than 30 paintings in its holdings, American Art has one of the most important collections of Alma Thomas's works in the world.
Luce Unplugged: Five Questions with the Band Paint Branch
February 4, 2014
Kick off your weekend with us! We are hosting another Luce Unplugged Community Showcase with the Washington City Paper this Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. Local bands The Walking Sticks and Paint Branch will perform and local distillery Bloomery Plantation Distillery will offer free tastings to visitors twenty-one and older. Both bands were featured in the City Paper Best D.C. music so expect great music—something we hope you already look forward to with this series.
John Davis, of Paint Branch, performed during the first year of the Luce Unplugged series. We caught up with him and band member, Chris Richards, to hear about what's happened since then.
Eye Level:John did a solo show at the museum in December 2011 and Chris jumped in on a few songs. Was that your first show as Paint Branch and what's happened since then?
John Davis: Although we weren't called Paint Branch yet, that was the first time that Chris and I played those new songs in public. I think it was still several months before we settled on a name and made the project more official. Since that show, though, we've done plenty. We recorded our first album, which is called "I Wanna Live" and we released it ourselves digitally in January 2013. That said, an LP version of the album is due out very soon via the Cricket Cemetery record label from here in D.C. Once we finished recording the album in 2012, we set about putting a band together so we can play full band shows. That's been our main focus over the past year and it's been really great getting to play the songs with a full band. We have Elmer Sharp on drums, Andy Goldman on bass and vocals, and Nick Anderson on guitar and piano. Chris and I are just getting started on writing a new album, which we hope we'll get to work on later in 2014.
EL: What’s the most enjoyable aspect of this new collaboration?
Chris Richards: Honestly, it's completely rejuvenated my friendship with John. We never fell out after the break-up of Q and Not U per se, but we definitely got busy doing other things. It feels great to have reconnected through this collaboration. We've never been closer or more honest with each other as musicians or as friends.
EL: John, you currently work as an archivist and have your Master’s in Library and Information Science. Do you think this is reflected at all in your music? Do you see any connection between the two?
JD: I think there are definite connections between my work as an archivist, along with my background in library science, and the ways in which my love for music manifest themselves, but I don't know much it connects to my actual creative process or musical output. As a music lover, some of my habits, like record and fanzine collecting, are linked to the same urges that pointed me toward library science. When it comes to writing music, though, I'm not trying to do anything other than express something in a way that feels right to me at the moment. I don't have an agenda to preserve any sort of sound or ethos, even if some production or songwriting touches are clearly influenced by music of the past. As a creative person, though, I hope to not work in service of anything other than who I am right now. So, there is some overlap but I think that, generally, I prefer to keep those parts of my life somewhat separate, at least from a creative standpoint.
EL:In the spirit of local art and music, where do you get your own inspiration in D.C.?
JD: The name of our group comes from a local inspiration. Paint Branch is a body of water the flows past various spots that we frequent. When we were having trouble coming up with a name for our band, I saw a sign indicating that I was near the Paint Branch and I thought, aside from being an evocative name that I like it, it could be good for the band, too. The D.C. area, overall, is a very inspiring place to live. There is always great music happening and many places to see it and perform it. The variety of types of music that come from here always pushes you to try to think of something different to do creatively. We're also lucky to live in a place where there are so many resources for visual arts, too. We have so much to choose from and to be excited about.
EL: We normally ask musicians to pick out an artwork to accompany their performance. What would you pick to accompany this performance and why?
JD: I chose Joseph Dankowski's Untitled (water, curb) photograph. I am interested in the flexibility of water, both practically and metaphorically. Water is life, but it can also be death. Water can be clear or it can be polluted, but it is still water. This picture, with its shadows and grime and filmy surface, is ominous, but the ambient light reflecting off the foul water also makes me think of those times where water might be cleansing, too, even at its own peril.
EL: In the fall, I read that you were working on new songs. Are you going to perform anything new on Friday?
CR: We're always working on new songs, so hopefully. I actually enjoy the sheer terror of trying to play new songs that I haven't quite gotten the hang of yet.
In This Case: Visitor's Choice #1
January 29, 2014
Here, in the Luce Foundation Center, we are lucky enough to get to know some of our "regulars." We have many kinds: people who sit and do work at our tables, families who regularly do our scavenger hunt, and art enthusiasts who browse the cases, just to name a few. A foreign gentleman even did our audio tour on a regular basis to improve his English! It was fun to see a new use for our space and resources.
Getting to know some of these visitors was the inspiration for a new blog series, Visitor's Choice. In this series, we will ask our regulars about their favorite artworks and why they like them. Since everyone has a unique relationship with art, some of the posts will be more in-depth than others, some might reflect the artist's intent, and some might have more of a personal meaning.
Today we look at Jonah's favorite artwork. Jonah is five and comes every month to do our scavenger hunt with his family. Jonah has told me on multiple occasions that his favorite artwork in the Luce Center is the police car. When asked why, Jonah told me: "Because I like trucks and vehicles. And because it's a rescue vehicle." He's even asked us to put the artwork in our next scavenger hunt!
Nicholas Herrera's Protect and Serve is just one example of vehicles on view in our folk art section. While Jonah loves it because it's a police car, Herrera's piece is actually a critique of the justice system and what he perceives to be their persecution of minorities. You can read more about the piece on our website.
Thanks to Jonah for telling us more about his favorite piece! Do you visit the museum often and have a favorite artwork? Stop by the Luce Center information desk to tell us about it the next time you are here!