Luce Artist Talks: Up Next, Tai Hwa Goh
January 13, 2015

American Art's Luce Foundation Center hosts local artists who discuss their work and process in the context of artworks on view in the Luce Center. The Luce Local Art Series is presented in collaboration with CulturalDC. All talks begin at 1:30 p.m. Our next artist talk is by Tai Hwa Goh this Saturday, January 17.

Tai Hwa

Tai Hwa Goh, Lull 1, 2010, Mixed media print on hand-waxed paper, Size variable

Tai Hwa Goh wants to lull you into an immersive experience with her installations. In her second solo exhibition at Washington, D.C.'s Flashpoint Gallery, Lulled Land, she creates an enveloping environment by combining traditional printmaking techniques with hand-waxing. Goh cuts, folds, flips, and overlaps her printed works together in ways that cease to be traditional prints and become sculptural. Filling the room, they become an extension of nature. In her multi-space installations, works look like landscapes and clouds at first glance, but closer study reveals more. By creating a work that surrounds and incorporates the viewer, Goh's pieces "evolve from biological forms to landscape..."

Goh's work can be found in the collections of DC City Hall, Lower East Side Print Shop (NY), and the University of Maryland. She earned an MFA in printmaking at Seoul National University in Korea before coming to the United States and earning a second MFA at the University of Maryland. There, she focused on printmaking and sculpture. As her art moves away from identifiable objects, it poses questions about our accepted definitions of art printmaking. She currently teaches art at Fairleigh Dickinson University and Art Center of Northern New Jersey.

She will discuss these ideas and how her work relates to works from American Art on display in the Luce Foundation Center in her Luce Artist talk on Saturday, January 17th at 1:30 p.m. Lulled Land will run at Cultural DC's Flashpoint Gallery from January 16 to February 21, 2015.

Posted by Gloria on January 13, 2015 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Bird Sighting: A Gallery Talk
January 9, 2015

On Tuesday, January 13 American Art will present a gallery talk about the overlap between art and nature as part of our exhibition The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art. Former public programs assistant, Laurel Fehrenbach, had a chance to speak with participants Joanna Marsh, American Art's James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art and the curator of our show and Pete Marra, head of the Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoological Park.


Walton Ford, Falling Bough, 2002, watercolor, gouache, pencil and ink on paper, private collection. Image courtesy of the artist and Paul Kasmin Gallery

Eye Level: Pete, can you first tell us a little bit about the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) and the type of work you and the researchers there do?

Pete Marra: The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center is dedicated to understanding, conserving and championing the grand phenomenon of bird migration. Founded in 1991, we are located at the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. We seek to clarify why migratory bird populations are declining before the situation becomes desperate. Our programs help raise awareness about migratory birds and the need to protect diverse habitats across the Western Hemisphere. Our team uses state of the art tools to track, study and protect migratory and resident birds.

EL: Joanna, it isn't often that a curator of American art gets to work with a colleague at the Zoo! How did working with the SMBC help you in the process of curating The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art?

Joanna Marsh: One of the things that I love about working at the Smithsonian is the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from other units who work in very different disciplines. The Singing and the Silence was actually born out of conversations with colleagues at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. As I began to conduct research for the show, I realized this project presented the perfect occasion to connect with Pete. I was particularly inspired by his work on the 2014 State of the Birds Report, which is referenced in the exhibition wall text. Pete's passion for both art and science made him an ideal collaborator.

EL: Pete, is there a work in the exhibition that particularly speaks to your ornithological interests? How so?

PM: This is really tough and I can't choose one because I love them all. But if I were to choose three or four: James Prosek's mural, What once was is no more: Passing like a thought, flight into memory because of its size, message, and black and white imagery reminiscent of the Peterson field guide I grew up with, Walton Ford's Falling Bough because of the flock size of the passenger pigeons, the extinction they represent, and also the "Audubon" style with which they are painted. All of Fred Tomaselli's work I find mesmerizing because of the way he mixed materials to construct the pieces and how they come together to flawlessly illustrate such bird diversity. And finally, I can't resist but stare at Tom Uttech's Enassamishhinjijweian and imagine myself in the boreal forests of northern Canada identifying all of the gorgeous birds he's painted.

EL: Since 2014 is marking the 100th anniversary of the passenger pigeon's extinction, what lessons are scientists and artists taking from this environmental milestone?

PM: The passenger pigeon is symbolic of extinction and the fact that we can't let this happen again and unfortunately we are. Species are declining at horribly rapid rates right before our very eyes. We could see another species go extinct like passenger pigeon in our lifetimes.

JM: The artists in this exhibition are not only concerned with the passenger pigeon's extinction but the disappearance of many of bird species and the loss of biodiversity more generally. The 100th anniversary was an excellent opportunity to raise awareness about those issues, but it can't be the only occasion we talk about species extinction. This is an ongoing preoccupation for many of the artists in The Singing and the Silence, and their goal is to make it a priority for museum-goers too.

EL: How do you hope the exhibition and the work of the Migratory Bird Center will inspire visitors to react to their own environment?

PM: I am constantly challenging myself to come up with ways to get people excited about birds and the environment. Integrating art and science allows us to try and grab people's interest in multiple ways. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. And by presenting birds through artistic impression, people may see birds through a different lens and learn to appreciate them more than they previously did. My hope is that this will inspire citizens to not only listen and observe birds more than before, but also to think about how they can make the world a better place for birds and other wildlife.

JM: While Pete's job is to help get people excited about birds, my job is to help people connect with contemporary art: to show how art can be a tool for addressing and understanding issues of our time. This is the second exhibition I've curated for the American Art Museum that confronts environmental concerns (Alex Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow was the first). It may sound idealistic, but I believe that art has the power to effect change, if only on a very small scale. I hope this exhibition encourages art-lovers to take greater notice and care of the natural world, and I hope it inspires bird-watchers to look beyond the end of their binoculars to discover the artistic, cultural and environmental significance of birds.

Posted by Jeff on January 9, 2015 in American Art Here, Lectures on American Art
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Remembering Mel Casas (1929-2014)
January 7, 2015

San Antonio-based artist Mel Casas died on November 30, 2014 after a two-year battle with cancer. The Smithsonian American Art Museum is proud to own paintings by artist, including Humanscape 62, which was featured in our exhibition Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art. In this blog post, Curator for Latino Art E. Carmen Ramos reflects on the importance of Casas' art.

Mel Casas

Mel Casas' Humanscape 62

I never had the good fortune of meeting Mel Casas in person. I did read about his art and spent a fair amount of time thinking about his well-known Humanscape 62. Some might wonder: what makes this painting so iconic? I believe Humanscape 62 crystallized many recurring concerns in Casas' art and early Chicano art of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

At the time he created this painting, Casas was deeply immersed in his Humanscape series. Casas started out as an abstract expressionist and in the mid-1960s returned to figurative imagery. This shift coincided with his interest in the psychology and popular media culture, especially film. The large central image in each Humanscape painting—which Casas numbered consecutively—in fact evokes a TV or movie screen populated with everyday life imagery. Initially, the series explored how the media shapes our standards of beauty and sexual desires. The prevalence of the white female figure, or what the Casas called the "Barbie Doll Ideal," indicates how he was already honing in on a race as a dominant element in American popular culture.

By the late 1960s, Casas turned his attention to the Chicano civil rights movement and the tumultuous political tenor of the times. Chicanos were active on many fronts, including protesting against racial stereotypes in the media. The National Mexican-American Anti-Defamation Committee led a campaign to eradicate the Frito Bandito, the sombrero-totting stereotypic mascot for Frito-Lay corn chips. Casas created Humanscape 62 amidst this debate to both document the Frito Bandito's existence and embody the public outrage around it. Ultimately, community efforts were successful. In 1971, Frito-Lay retired the Frito Bandito.

The power of this painting rests on how it boldly challenged authority. Casas defused the Frito Bandito, seen in green on the lower register, by surrounding it with other references that share a connection to brownness, a term that increasingly signified Chicanos and their indigenous ancestry. Casas conjured mundane references, like a junior Girl Scout, or Brownie, along with meaningful quotes of ancient sculptures of Aztec deities like Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent. The huge brownies that command the top center of the painting are at once banal and historical. They refer to product-packaging for the popular cake-like treat, as much as chocolate, brownies' main ingredient, whose origin is Mesoamerican. By including the subtitle "Brownies of the Southwest" directly on the painting, Casas satirically invited viewers to ponder what and for whom these brown people and things mean.

I recently re-read Casas' Archives of American Art oral history and was struck by how often he categorized his interests under the banner "Americana." He didn't outright define the term, but for him it seemed to mean all of the cultural experiences that take place in the United States, rather than what traditionally passes as American. Looking at Casas' art, we witness an artist who prodded our awareness of multiple American realities. Perhaps this is why Casas called himself a "cultural adjuster." I treasure Casas' perspective, and others of his generation, who questioned what counts as American culture during a turning point in our national history.

If you missed seeing Casas's Humanscape 62 while on view in Our America in Washington D.C. or Miami, your can see the painting and the exhibition at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento through January 11, 2015, or at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City starting on February 6, 2015.

Posted by Jeff on January 7, 2015 in American Art Here
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Throwback Thursday: The Marchbanks Calendar—December by Harry Cimino
January 1, 2015

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. Since the holidays signal the start of winter we thought you'd enjoy Howard's post from 2008 on Harry Cimino's The Marchbanks Calendar—December. We here at the Smithsonian American Art Museum wish all of our readers the best for 2015.

We've just turned the last page on this year's calendar and it's time to count down the days remaining in 2008. To take a good look at the last month of the year, I've chosen December from Harry Cimino's Marchbanks Calendar. The artist was born in Indiana in 1898 and died in New York in 1969. Not the longest life on record but certainly one that saw its share of changes, beginning while Queen Victoria was still in power, and ending when men were putting their footprints on the moon. Somewhere in between (as this woodcut is undated), Cimino crafted this image. From what I can gather, the work was likely done in the 1920s.

For me, it has that Currier and Ives feel of Americana deepened by the artist's choice of color. The red is vital to the sky and the church windows, while the gray-blue of the horse and riders carries most of the action (though the horse's hind legs seem to be lacking a certain rhythm). I like the woosh of the woman's scarf and the almost opposite effect of the man's blanket, which seems to be melting into the snow.

Cimino produced a calendar for the Marchbanks Company, and many of the illustrations are in American Art's collection. I hope we can look at more because they create miniature worlds that capture a time and place. Cimino also created woodcuts for book illustrations that also endear . . . and endure.

Posted by Jeff on January 1, 2015 in American Art Here, Throwback Thursday
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Art Bird Watching: Fun For the Whole Flock in Any Weather!
December 23, 2014

Sara Snyder manages the Media & Technology Office at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She helped organize the #ArtBirds Social Media Scavenger hunt to encourage awareness of how artists use bird imagery as part of our exhibition The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art. She fills us in on the bird watching activities, both outdoors and in, as part of our show. The Singing and the Silence is on view now through February 22, 2015.


Barbara Bosworth's Indigo Bunting, part of American Art's The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art

Fall is one of the best seasons for bird watching, and this year has been no exception. In fact, it has been an extraordinary bird watching season at the Smithsonian American Art Museum—we have been spotting fine-feathered friends indoors, as well as out!

Back in September, we began encouraging "art bird watchers" from around the world to join us for the #ArtBirds Social Media Scavenger Hunt. For eight weeks, fans of birds and art alike discovered and discussed depictions of birds in works of art according to a weekly theme. They shared their findings on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #ArtBirds. At the end of each week, museum staff posted a roundup of favorite "sightings" on American Art's Tumblr. The game was inspired by the exhibition The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art. Even though the #ArtBirds challenge is finished now, you can still browse a round-up of many of the submissions on Storify.

So now that winter is upon us, does it mean that the bird watching fun has to stop? No! When it comes to outdoor birding, the coldest months are enjoyable in a whole different way than those of autumn, as anyone with a backyard birdfeeder can attest. In fact, one of the most famous citizen science surveys around, the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count, takes advantage of the season's bare trees, which enable volunteers to more easily spot local species.

However, if the thought of shivering in the snow with your binoculars is just too much, we recommend checking out the carefully climate-controlled environment of The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art. If you live near Washington, D.C., you are invited to join a series of free public programs related to the exhibition happening throughout January and February, including a gallery talk with curator Joanna Marsh and Pete Marra, head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, on January 15. If you cannot visit in person, we hope you'll explore the exhibition artworks online. Exotic bird sightings guaranteed!

Posted by Jeff on December 23, 2014 in American Art Here
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