Wiley portrait collage
Republished by The Berkshire Eagle, March 9, 2018

Originally published by The Diamondback, February 13, 2018

National Portrait Gallery images
Illustration by Evan Berkowitz/The Diamondback
Critics say Kehinde Wiley's new Obama portrait is without precedent. They're wrong.
A society may well be remembered by how it paints, sculpts and photographs its leaders. When the sands of time erase every last wit of civilization, the shattered visage of Ozymandias will still survey the rolling dunes.

Similarly, one supposes, when climate change brings the banks of the Potomac up Meridian Hill Park, Kehinde Wiley's newly unveiled portrait of former President Barack Obama will be toted out of the floodplain.
Bat Man triptych
October 6, 2017
Courtesy photo
Uneven 'Culture Shock' at Torpedo Factory
Kneel solemnly at the light-wood-and-red-fabric prie-dieu. Thumb through the illuminated literature on its shelves, the very objects of a canon and stare up at the saintly figure drawn in pencil onto the central panel of Brandon McDonald’s triptych.

Admire the scenes of life in mock stained glass surrounding his portrait, and try to emulate the two penitent devotees looking up at him from the left and right panels.

Then, ask of him: “Forgive me, Batman, for I have sinned.”
July 20, 2017
Sarah Nesbitt grasps truth of matter
If a concept or story is initially factual, but its facts are obscured, intentionally or not, by each retelling, is the new story any more or less true?

If we all agree on one angle or one fact or one story, does it really matter what that story might obscure or falsify or ignore? In other words, if a critical mass of people say an apple is an orange, doesn’t that become the reality?

These are the heady questions that artist and art historian Sarah Nesbitt explores, but does not answer in her first-ever solo show, a superb but difficult offering that opened at the Torpedo Factory’s Target Gallery July 13.

It’s all very night-is-day and black-is-white, and while Nesbitt may not have meant to go so “1984,” we’re lucky that she did.
July 13, 2017
Artist Sally Davies leaves a lasting impression
Sally Davies has an intriguing attitude toward light.

Nothing at all is absolute, and everything in a given scene becomes warm, gyrating between swirls of orange and hot white in the highlights and humming magenta or purple in the shadows.

“It’s sort of what I see,” she said. “The light was warm, so I just pushed it further.” It’s almost, one could begin to hazard, Impressionistic — but don’t let Davies catch you saying that.
May 30, 2017

'Inventing Utamaro' unveils dark truth behind Edo artist's work
Nostalgic views of a pre-industrial Japan were as false as Utamaro’s identity by the time collectors like Freer encountered them the exhibition points out. Depictions of women in the artworks were fabricated from the outset.

The women were very clear prototypes, Davis says, with few ever individualized. Beyond that, these depictions masked a far darker reality, one addressed in the exhibition’s final gallery.

“We wanted to have a kind of homage to those women who actually worked in those quarters,” Davis explains. The exhibition leaves visitors not with paintings of the women frolicking about the floating world but a photograph of them locked in a cage.
April 13, 2017

Double-byline with John Barrat
An unflinching gaze into the human face of battle at the National Portrait Gallery
Photographer Ashley Gilbertson first saw Cpl. Kirk Bosselmann as the archetypal U.S. Marine.

“In Fallujah, he was this tobacco-chewin’ hard-ass Marine, scout sniper, the whole thing,” says Gilbertson, whose photo of Bosselmann’s bedroom is on view as part of “The Face of Battle: Americans at War, 9/11 to Now,” which opened April 7 at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. “All the ideas you have about the hard-core Marine, he was it.”

But when Gilbertson entered Bosselmann’s bedroom after the Montgomery County, Md., resident was killed in combat in 2004 at age 21, he saw another side of the soldier.

“There are stuffed animals, like foxes, on his bed, because he loved fox hunting,” Gilbertson recalls, eyeing his photographs at a press preview April 6. “On his bookshelf, there were Shakespeare plays, and he would come into D.C. as often as he could to go and see productions of Shakespeare.”

“There’s no way I would have guessed that when I saw this dude chewing and spitting tobacco and shooting people out of a window,” Gilbertson says, “that I would have imagined that he loved Shakespeare, running through the house in his underpants to get a possum that he had shot from his bedroom window."
Watanabe Case
March 9, 2017
For one Smithsonian employee, Japanese incarceration exhibit has deep family ties
It has weathered corner guards at its edges and “WATANABE 17703” written across its top in the sort of white ink people once used to caption photographs. Its luggage tag sits beside, same name and same five-digit number written out on its aging paper.

“It wasn’t until 10 years ago,” Watanabe says, “when I went to the basement of the house, helping to clean things out after my dad died [that] I realized, ‘Look at the number and the tag on it: That’s the camp. … This was grandma’s suitcase that she took to the camp.’”
February 27, 2017
New children's space brings play to portraiture
In a pleasant purple room just past a portrait of Pocahontas, some of the National Portrait Gallery’s youngest visitors are conducting what Albert Einstein once called “the highest form of research.”
Infinity Mirrors
February 21, 2017
Photo courtesy of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden/Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore; Victoria Miro, London; David Zwirner, New York/(c) Yayoi Kusama
Hirshhorn's ecstatic 'Infinity Mirrors' cannot be contained
Beyond the jarring, dichotomous themes that whiplash attentive viewers between male and female, light and dark or earthly and heavenly, the show's immersion deserves a total separation no building can give to it.
Woman in E
February 15, 2017
I was a glittering artwork, on display in Washington, D.C.
Artist Ragnar Kjartansson calls the “Woman in E” performers “collaborators,” Levy says, a term she found “very gracious and generous.”

Martha Hamilton, a nurse informaticist by day, has worked as a sculptor’s assistant and says she felt “really comfortable helping someone else bring their vision to reality.”

“It was very liberating, because it’s not about me at all,” she says. “And even when they talked about my age, it didn’t really bum me out a ton. It was just like, ‘OK, well you notice that.’”

“Because it’s not Martha…up there,” Hamilton says. “I’m not Martha. I’m ‘Woman in E.’”
Greek Slave
January 23, 2017
Courtesy photo
'Greek Slave,' the Washington, D.C., legacy of Hiram Powers' 1840s masterpiece
The sculpture has left an indelible mark on the nation’s capital, personifying in stone Corcoran’s legacy of American culture and providing a fleeting look at that legacy’s collapse and renewal.

Through her we can begin to see Corcoran’s genius, and through her travels we are afforded a unique view on the inner politics of Washington curators, from the mid-19th century to the present.
Visions and Revisions
October 28, 2016
Curiosity, exploration key to 'aha' appreciation of 'Global Cities' glasswork at Renwick Gallery
Hanging from wires, the downward pointing glass spires of “Global Cities” do indeed reveal their meaning slowly. Their different lengths gradually betray their function as chronologues, devices that measure the founding of each highlighted city back in time according to how far they dangle from the present day. Milan, Bejing, Paris, Prague, Kiev, London, New York, Havana and Montreal are a few of the cities represented by these peculiar spires in Viviano’s work.

Varying diameters of the blown-glass forms signify fluctuating populations over time, their opacities indicate the relative quality of that data and their colors signify a general ranges of age.

A few key hints guide museumgoers down the path to understanding, but as far as Viviano is concerned, it doesn’t really matter if they ‘get it’ or not.

“I honestly think that most people walk into the gallery and have no idea what that project is,” Viviano says. “That’s fine.”
September 13, 2016
Photo courtesy of the Renwick Gallery/Collection of Norwood Viviano, courtesy of Heller Gallery, New York/Photo by Tim Thayer/Robert Hensleigh, courtesy of Heller Gallery
In latest Renwick Gallery show 'Visions and Revisions,' a look past the apocalypse
"All four of these [artists] put in perspective that you're talking about this grand timeline in which things ebb and flow," Curator Nora Atkinson said. "These are all coming back fresh and looking at the world in a different way."
July 6, 2016
Image courtesy of the National Building Museum
'ICEBERGS' at Building Museum is Washington's worst exhibition
If you're an adult with a hankering for shaved ice and a willingness to drop $16 for the privilege of eating it in an ugly blue "undersea" world, perhaps "ICEBERGS" is for you. If not, you're better off just going to Rita's and burning the change.
Hubert Robert
June 29, 2016
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art/Musee d'Art Moderne Andre Malraux, Le Havre
Reveling in the ruins: Hubert Robert shines at National Gallery
Among peasants cooking on an open flame and three boys goading one another to loot, an artist sits desperately trying to recreate the Apollo Belvedere on an as-yet empty tablet.

Perhaps this is an allegory to the lost, classical past. Perhaps this is a story of the Revolution, which took so many cultural treasures as collateral. Perhaps, even, it is an optimistic view that even should the Louvre's walls fall, artists will still create things.

Whatever it is, it is Robert's startling, stunning reminder, to himself more than anyone, that tempus fugit, and even in Arcadia, death persists.
May 8, 2016
'Die Zauberflöte' at the Clarice was entirely perfect
The opera plays on simple themes of love and enlightenment, with clearly defined morals clearly and regularly stated. Why not, then, be similarly reductive with orchestration? Strip it to the wind orchestra, a clear nod to the titular flute.

Strip away the incidental characters who crowd out that moral, leaving only the music and their messages to inform rather than distract us.

Strip away the costumes, leaving all in black — if allowing for a ruffled dress and that Maryland flag bowtie.

Clear away the clutter of tertiary characters, to the purest of music.

After all, it's Mozart, and it works spectacularly.
May 8, 2016
Marine Band, UMD Symphony WWI program at The Clarice was no less than performance art
Not the dull, inscrutable schlock that feeds an artist's narcissism and leaves watchers faking understanding, but the kind of deliberate, calculated narrative that educates, inspires and presses listeners to think on a higher plane.

The deepest pity is that it was only performed once.
Jersey Boys
April 10, 2016
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Daniel
Valli with a Why: What is up with the 'Jersey Boys' backdrop?
The music was a delight. Onstage instruments gave an immediacy to the show's obviously intentionally dated score of two-bit rock-'n'-roll interspersed with a few absolute diamonds.

But if you want something a little more erudite and functionally useless, here you are:

What the hell is up with the background lighting?!
Andy Warhol's 1967 Marilyn
March 30, 2016
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art/© 2016 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society, New York
Massive print show at National Gallery chronicles uniquely American rage
With this generation, the rage of American nationalism was usurped with a new rage — or, more appropriately, passion — that was entirely less altruistic and decidedly more Freudian. After the doldrums of depression, the horrors of war and the uptight conservatism of the pastel '50s, America roared again as the nation's youth collectively remembered they had sex organs.
Turquoise Mountain
March 9, 2016
Photo courtesy of Turquoise Mountain/Freer|Sackler Gallery
'Turquoise Mountain' at the Freer|Sackler is beautiful but tone-deaf
When we say — however rightly — that the United States' mighty hand helped save Afghanistan's cultural heritage from decimation in a war-torn land, let us not forget that our same mighty hand did a great deal of the tearing.
March 2, 2016
Around Town: Student art at OAS
In front of a latticed backdrop, two hands clasp feathers of blue, white and red as tendrils of copihue, Chile's rare national flower, swirl in the midground. The colors, taken from Chile's flag, symbolize the blue of Pacific waters, the white of the snow-capped Andes and the red blood shed defending the patria, museum intern Jimena Villaseca said.


It's an extraordinarily nuanced and capable negotiation for an artwork by a high school student, and the painting quality is not bad either. So it is with much of the works, all produced by high school students in Kansas City, Mo.
February 5, 2016
Around Town: Black history at Zenith
Every corner of the great Margery Goldberg's Shepherd Park home, which doubles as the current iteration of her decades-old Zenith Gallery, is decorated with art.

From the veritable sculpture garden that beckons visitors in from her treelined residential street to the cleverly self-conscious food-themed works in the kitchen, each surface is covered, each wall occupied and each artwork — with few notable exceptions — is remarkable. The house is chock-full of eclectica, most of it beautiful and much of it extremely prescient.

And, of course, it's all for sale.
February 5, 2016
Around Town: Seeing Nature at Phillips
Seeing Nature just barely skirts the usual problems with single private collection shows. All too often, they can present not a curator's careful picks but a donor's personal favorites.
Irving Penn
October 25, 2015
Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
'Beyond Beauty' is beyond words
“We want you to see the full [Irving] Penn,” SAAM Director Elizabeth Broun said. “He was more interesting, more complicated, more curious, more experimental, more surrealist — and he had so many arrows in his quiver.

“This whole thing is pretty dynamite. And we want you to see it all.”
New American Garden
October 21, 2015
Photo courtesy of the National Building Museum
The architect as curator in Building Museum's 'Garden' show
Give a curator an architect’s job and you’ll get a beautiful building unlikely to stand the test of its own weight.

But give an architect a curator’s job and — as evidenced by a superbly executed new show at the National Building Museum — you get something truly noteworthy.

In the heart of this utterly geometric Washington landmark, “The New American Garden,” which opened Saturday, presents a welcome respite of the undulating Romantic.
Gauguin, When Will You Marry?
October 14, 2015
Image courtesy of the Phillips Collection
Exploring partnerships with Phillips's 'Gauguin to Picasso'
The University of Maryland and Washington’s Phillips Collection stand on the precipice of a grand new partnership.

How fitting, then, that the first Phillips exhibition to open since the announcement chronicles partnerships as well.
Mad Potter of Biloxi
October 8, 2015
Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American History
Looking back at Arts and Crafts through pottery
There’s El Greco and there’s Gego. And then there’s the Mad Potter of Biloxi.

As far as nicknames go, I think I’d take George E. Ohr’s any day.
Serial Impulse

Award Watch

This article was selected as a finalist in the 2016 DC Student Arts Journalism Challenge, an annual competition designed to identify and support talented young arts writers, held by Day Eight and Burgeon Online magazine.

October 4, 2015
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art/Photo by Sidney B. Felsen
Archiving art history at Gemini G.E.L.
Sidney B. Felsen referred to the pivotal figures of modern art history as he would old friends, recalling crucial moments in those annals as if they’d happened yesterday.

“That’s Richard Serra stomping on it, while he’s developing a piece,” Felsen said, gesturing to a photograph of the famed sculptor tramping on a paintstick print at the Los Angeles studios of Gemini Graphic Editions Limited, which Felsen co-founded almost fifty years ago. “Actually, he’s dancing to it, is what it is. There’s music playing, and he’s jumping on it so he can get some texture.”

Speaking in a tired but assured monotone at a National Gallery of Art press preview last week, Felsen looked exactly how one expects such a consummate patron of the arts to look. He wore a pinstriped seersucker suit, Panama hat, salt-and-pepper beard, bowtie and scarf with the panache few people can pull off nowadays.

He seemed like somebody forged in a hugely interesting past but intent on unabashedly existing in the present. So it is with much of the modern art on view in this 17-artist show, which opened Sunday. The works interplay with the artists of old, but manage to look exciting and new at the same time.

And so it is with Gemini G.E.L. itself, which since 1966 has managed to evolve and innovate rather than drift into stagnation. This progress was shown by the new generation of Gemini leaders present at the preview, as well as the fact that, though this is the National Gallery’s fourth Gemini-centric show, it still manages to craft new angles on beloved artworks.
Artist Books and Africa
September 29, 2015
Photo courtesy of the National Museum of African Art
Going through hell to tell a story: New exhibition of artists’ books at National Museum of African Art
To get to the new exhibition “Artists’ Books and Africa,” Smithsonian librarian Janet Stanley says with a grin, “You have to go through ‘Hell.’”

Stanley is casually referring to the “Hell” section of “The Divine Comedy,” a fantastic exhibition also currently on view at the National Museum of African Art. The entrance to “Artists’ Books,” which Stanley curated, is just inside the “Hell” section.

With thought, though, her words carry a little more weight and echo in the mind as Stanley describes the intricacies of each of the 25 artists’ books on view. To create the amazingly innovative and beautiful works, the artists in some cases had to endure or portray unbridled pain and hardship, either personally or ethnically. In a way, to create the stunning works in this exhibition, they had to go through hell.
Art All Night
September 28, 2015
Photo by Julia Lerner/For The Diamondback
A travelogue through D.C.'s Art All Night
Art All Night: Nuit Blanche D.C. infuses six Washington, D.C., locations with contemporary art: Dupont Circle, North Capitol, Congress Heights, H Street, Shaw and Mount Vernon Square. It’s a mix of fantastic haute-bourgeoisie chic, underwhelming aloof performance pieces, welcome windows into other cultures and insights into the dynamics of Washington neighborhoods.
September 17, 2015
Print only
'What man has done to man': Alexander Gardner at the National Portrait Gallery
Will this house divided ever truly stand? We don't know, but hopefully someone's there to take a picture.
September 15, 2015
Questioning Esther Bubley and her place at history's forefront
Looking at a new Bubley exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and speaking with the show’s organizer, Curatorial Assistant Stephanie Midon, one wonders whether Bubley truly wanted to be at that forefront.
Turquoise Mountain
September 9, 2015
Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum/Corbin-Henderson Collection/Gift of Alice H. Rossin
Smithsonian American Art Museum embraces Awa Tsireh
Tsireh, who worked in the early- to mid-20th century, presents a key difference from the common conception of Native American art in that his work is visibly connected with other worldwide movements. From ancient Egyptian murals to early Renaissance naturalism, one can see the influence of history in design, medium and color.
Le Onde
September 7, 2015
Image courtesy of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
"Le Onde" at the Hirshhorn reconsiders art history
When one encounters Giovanni Anselmo’s “Invisible” in a new exhibition at Washington, D.C.’s Hirshhorn Museum, it looks like little more than an old slide projector, whirring lightly and sending a beam of unimportant light nowhere in particular.

Hold up a hand about four feet in front of it, though, and the piece (along with its wordplay title) comes into view. The projector is shining the word “visibile” (“visible” in Italian) in block letters of light. The artwork remains invisible until museumgoers actively try to see it.
The Writer's Bloc

May 27, 2015

Silver and gold art comes to the National Gallery
A new exhibition of metalpoint artwork at the National Gallery is subtitled “Leonardo [Da Vinci] to Jasper Johns.” Admittedly, two out of three Da Vinci paintings on view are lackluster and the sole Johns offering leaves much to be desired.

These big names are most likely there to draw visitors in but once museumgoers get a look at what’s inside, the need for flashiness dissolves. If you did still need it, there are satisfying works by Raphael, Sandro Botticelli and Rembrandt Van Rijn among others.
25 Years of Photography
The Writer's Bloc

May 26, 2015
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

NGA presents 25 years of photography
The nature of photography – as a science, a mode of communication, as an artistic medium – is at the center of many discussions about the history of art.

It’s relatively replicable nature along with its technological implications raises questions about how we constitute artmaking and what we consider art, from early daguerreotypes, an early type of photograph, to Instagram posts.
Elaine de Kooning
The Writer's Bloc

April 18, 2015
Image courtesy of the Smithsonian

Elaine de Kooning comes to the National Portrait Gallery
To American abstract portraitist Elaine de Kooning, John F. Kennedy sometimes radiated warmth and tones of deep, genial orange. At other times, he radiated fleeting emerald and yellow in a mass of movements that bespeak an energetic, restless man.

Working from sketches drawn during sessions with Kennedy before his death, de Kooning told LIFE magazine she “produced hundreds of sketches and 23 finished paintings” of the president.

Nine of those Kennedy paintings and drawings are on view, along with 57 other de Kooning works, in a new exhibition, which opened March 13, at the National Portrait Gallery.
The Writer's Bloc

April 15, 2015
Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Kuniyoshi exhibit shows the '20s and '50s through the eyes of a Japanese-American
From the Roaring ’20s art schools to the doldrums of the Great Depression to the horrors of World War II to the unabashed colors of the ’50s, Yasuo Kuniyoshi charted American culture in rapidly changing art with myriad influences.

A new exhibition on the 20th century Japanese-American modernist’s work opened April 3 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Curated by Tom Wolf, an art history professor at Bard College and museum deputy chief curator Joann Moser, the exhibit chronicles Kuniyoshi’s changing work from 1918 to 1953, the first such U.S. retrospective in more than 65 years, according to a museum press release.
The Writer's Bloc

May 27, 2015

With Kennedy Center exhibition, Picasso takes the Potomac
A short video of Pablo Picasso molding clay comes at the end of a new exhibition, featuring the artist’s ceramic work.

The video, part of an exhibit at The Kennedy Center, starts with an elegant, nondescript urn. Picasso bends the clay a few times at the neck, mouth and bottom. He scores it quickly without hesitation using a wooden tool, gives it a few dabs of black paint and reveals a dove etched in clay.

It is the purest of art, and the speed Picasso executes his craft reinforces the mastery.

Here was a man who had an impeccable eye and who knew how to make the clay do exactly as he wanted.