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Curator's Travel Journal: In Rufino Tamayo's Footsteps (3)
April 14, 2016


E. Carmen Ramos, curator of Latino Art at SAAM recently was in Mexico to research her upcoming exhibition on the acclaimed 20th-century Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo's lengthy residence and production in New York City, Tamayo: the New York Years. This is Carmen's third post from Mexico. Stay tuned for more updates from the road. Read all of Carmen's notes from her research trip.

The Tamayos dancing

Rufino Tamayo and his wife Olga. Photo: Archivo el Universal y Especial.

Today, we made our first visit to the Museo Tamayo, a contemporary art museum founded by Rufino Tamayo. We had the opportunity to look through the artist’s personal photographs that are housed in his archive at the museum. It was exciting to see pictures of Tamayo’s boat voyage to New York via Havana in the 1930s, and other images that documented his visit to Coney Island, both subjects that appear in his New York paintings. We also learned that he honeymooned with his wife, Olga Tamayo, on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, located on the Pacific Coast of his home state of Oaxaca. Tehuantepec would be an ongoing source of inspiration for the artist.

View works of art by Tamayo in SAAM's collection.

Next stop: Oaxaca

Posted by Howard on April 14, 2016 in American Art Elsewhere, American Art Here, Curator's Travel Journal
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Luce Artist Talk with Soomin Ham
April 12, 2016


The Luce Artist Talks series brings in local artists to discuss their current projects in relation to the objects on view in our Luce Foundation Center. Photographer and multi-media artist Soomin Ham will speak about her on-going project, "Sound of Butterfly" on April 17 at 1:30 p.m. This series is presented in collaboration with CulturalDC's Flashpoint Gallery.

Soomin Ham

Ham's "Sound of Butterfly" installation includes photographs of her mother's belongings frozen in ice. Image courtesy of the artist.

What happens to our bodies after we die? Are ghosts real? Throughout time, humans have striven to understand death and loss and express our grief in a meaningful way. We also look to remember those who have died and honor their memories in both very public and private ways. These themes are especially prevalent in art and many examples can be found in SAAM's collection. In the Luce Foundation Center alone, we have mourning miniatures from the late 18th to mid-19th century. These tiny portraits might be surrounded by pearls that represent tears or incorporate a lock of the deceased's hair, which served as keepsakes for a lost loved one. By the 19th century, the tradition of creating a death mask had become a popular way to preserve a loved one's likeness, like one sculptor Hiram Powers made of his son. We also have early 20th-century memory vessels, delightfully elaborate pieces that grew out of a grave-marking or commemorative tradition found in several cultures.

In the twenty-first century, DC-based artist Soomin Ham combines old home movies, family photographs, and audio recordings in an exploration of her mother's life and death in "Sound of Butterfly." Ham also includes photographs of everyday objects, which she washed and froze before photographing, that belonged to her mother. These photographs are intended to preserve objects that would have otherwise disintegrated over time. The installation not only helps Ham come to terms with her loss and preserves precious memories, kind of like a contemporary memory vessel. Ham's talk on April 17 will discuss how intensely personal experiences affect her work and relate her art to those on view in the Luce Foundation Center. Afterward, guests are invited to visit Flashpoint Gallery to experience "Sound of Butterfly" for themselves.

Posted by Bridget on April 12, 2016 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center, Lectures on American Art
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Curator's Travel Journal: In Rufino Tamayo's Footsteps (2)
April 7, 2016


E. Carmen Ramos, curator of Latino Art at SAAM is currently in Mexico to research her upcoming exhibition on the acclaimed 20th-century Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo's lengthy residence and production in New York City, Tamayo: the New York Years. This is Carmen's second post from Mexico. Stay tuned for more updates from the road. Read all of Carmen's notes from her research trip.

Tamayo's Woman in Grey

Rufino Tamayo's Mujer en Gries (Woman in Grey). Click on image for larger view.

Today, I visited the Museo Nacional de Arte near the main square, or Zócalo, in Mexico City. I went to see Rufino Tamayo's Mujer en Gris (Woman in Grey) from 1931, an early work where he is beginning to process the tenets of European modernism while looking at the proportions of pre-Colombian sculpture. Painted in grey, the faceless nude figure gives the appearance of stone. The orange-colored background also reminds me of pre-Columbian terra cotta pottery. After seeing the painting in reproduction for so long, it was great to see in person.

View works of art by Tamayo in SAAM's collection.

Next stop: the Museo Tamayo.

Posted by Howard on April 7, 2016 in American Art Elsewhere, American Art Here, Curator's Travel Journal
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When Pablo met SAAM: Picasso and Company on view in Crosscurrents through Sunday
April 5, 2016


Pablo Picasso, Buste de femme nue (tête de profil), 1963, oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 23 5/8 in., © 2015, Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

One of the most frequently asked questions at SAAM's Luce Foundation Center is, "Where are the Picassos?" Usually, our answer is, "We don't have Picassos at American Art. He wasn't an American artist, nor did he ever make art in America." However, for the past few months, we've been singing a slightly different tune, as the exhibition, Crosscurrents: Modern Art from the Sam Rose and Julie Walters Collection, contains eighteen paintings and ceramics by the Spanish-born master, considered a towering giant of twentieth century art. But you need to hurry: Crosscurrents closes on Sunday, April 10.

The exhibition illustrates the cross-cultural roots of modernism, as the movement took hold in both Europe and the United States and artistic influences flowed both ways. Virginia Mecklenburg, chief curator and curator of Crosscurrents refers to this exchange as "a river of intellectual and artistic commerce that flowed both ways between America and Europe."

And looming larger than life in this artistic conversation is Pablo Picasso, who broke with figurative traditions and whose invention of Cubism places him firmly at the center of this world. David Hockney, who is also included in the exhibition, once remarked that it all started with Picasso—the "it" being modernism. Picasso created a new visual vocabulary and influenced artists on both sides of the Atlantic.

Come for Picasso, but stay for the group of remarkable artists that also includes Georgia O'Keeffe, Richard Diebenkorn, David Smith, Wayne Thiebaud, and Niki Saint Phalle, to new a few.

Posted by Howard on April 5, 2016 in American Art Elsewhere, American Art Here
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Meet Dan Finn, SAAM's Media Conservator
March 31, 2016


As SAAM continues to add time-based media to its collection, conservation of these artforms is becoming an important aspect in our museum. In August 2015 Dan Finn was hired to retrofit an office space and acquire equipment for SAAM's Media Conservation Lab. Dan has a Master's Degree from the New York University's Moving Image and Archiving Program. And we got a chance to talk with him about his work here.

Media Conservator, Dan Finn

Media Conservator Dan Finn uses a test-signal generator to initially calibrate a waveform monitor and a vectorscope. These specialized devices are used to ensure the analog video signal originating from an artist’s master tape is at the highest possible quality prior to digitization.

Eye Level: Can you tell me what you do here at the Museum?

Dan Finn: I'm the Media Conservator in the Lunder Conservation Center of SAAM. I get to worry about all of the museum's time-based media art, which is a category for works of art where duration, or time, is a defining characteristic of the work. We have over 120 such works in our permanent collection, and many hundreds more in our archival collections. Our collection spans a diverse array of media including film, analog video, digital video, installation art, video games, and software-based art. I have to ensure that these kinds of works can still be exhibited in the future, despite the frequent obsolescence and continual disruption of the works' technological dependencies. Since I'm the first full time media conservator at the museum, my first major piece of business has been setting up our Media Conservation Lab.

EL: Wow. That doesn't sounds like a typical museum job. How is your role similar and different from more typical art conservation?

DF: It's similar in that you need to be very detail-oriented and have a need to document everything. Also, all conservators pair a deep technical expertise with more subjective, artistic sensibilities in order to make prudent judgments regarding the treatment of specific art works. Where media conservation differs significantly is largely philosophical, and has to do with comfort levels regarding change. Traditionally, conservation identifies an ideal state for a work of art, and views all change and difference from that state as loss or damage. With all time-based media art, though, change is unavoidable, and can even be a critical component of the piece itself. I'm less about eliminating change and more about managing it productively.

EL: Are there any overarching concerns you have with new media/variable media, not just in terms of actual treatment, but collections care in general?

DF: Media conservators in many ways take a more active role in how an art work evolves over time. It's necessary to keep that high level of influence grounded in something, and we anchor ourselves with documentation, loads of it. Schematics, diagrams, installation instructions, highly specialized condition and iteration reports, artist interviews, and curatorial research help guide one's hand through the various decisions treatment may require. I'm lucky to work with some outstanding people in our Registrar's Office, such as Lynn Putney and Emily Schlemmer, who really get it and did a ton of work for us to step up our documentation game for media collections.

EL: What was the most challenging or exciting part of building a media conservation lab from scratch?

DF: Finding and doing the necessary paperwork for all the equipment we needed from the last 50+ years of media technology. But we have the best conservation technician in the biz in Susan Edwards, and she did most of that hard stuff. All I have to do is the fun part.

EL: Do you have a favorite piece of media art in the SAAM collection?

DF: My favorite is either Leo Villareal's Volume ( Renwick) on display at the tremendous WONDER exhibit at the Renwick Gallery, or Nam June Paik's Megatron/Matrix at SAAM. Volume because it was the first piece to be installed after I arrived, and so I got to help with it, plus it's got some really cool custom software driving the lighting effects. Megatron/Matrix because it's such a massive and complicated piece, with a fascinating technical history, and will give me a lot to sink my teeth into. Choosing just one is super tough! Luckily we've got a lot to choose from, and the collection is only going to get larger from here on out.

Posted by Abigail on March 31, 2016
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