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Oral history interview with Juan Sánchez, 2018 October 1-2

Archives of American Art
Audio: 9 sound files (7 hr., 59 min.) digital, wav

Transcript: 90 pages.

An interview with Juan Sánchez conducted 2018 October 1-2, by Josh T. Franco, for the Archives of American Art, at Sánchez studio, in Brooklyn, New York.

Sanchez speaks of his childhood in Puerto Rican enclaves of Brooklyn; formative experiences with Nuyorican poets; early memories of Puerto Rico; his earliest interest in drawing from comic books; early art-making and art education experiences, including the Pratt Saturday program; encountering Taller Boricua during the time he studied at Cooper Union; drawing formative inspiration from En Foco's photography; flourishing after initial difficulties at Cooper Union; his graduate studies at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University; his early exhibition experiences; his negative experience of participating in Group Material's exhibition Americana; reflections on political art; his friendship with Ana Mendieta; his collaborations with MoCHA , INTAR gallery, and Exit Art; the development of his painting, photography, and collage aesthetics through graduate school; the personal and emotional dimension of his art-making process; his use of circles and photographs of heroic historical figures in his paintings; the development and execution of his public art commissions; the development of his teaching career; his experiences working at the Queens Museum education department and Cooper Union admissions department; specific controversies over the content of his work being shown at Princeton University and SUNY Stony Brook; the development and execution of his printmaking practice; and his reflections on the experience and importance of participating in an oral history interview. Sanchez also recalls Amiri Baraka, Sandra María Esteves, Louis Reyes Rivera, Pedro Pietri, Gilbert Hernandez, Jorge Soto, Hans Haacke, Reuben Kadish, Eugene Tulchin, Charles Biasiny, Leon Golub, Larry Fink, Robert Blackburn, Mel Edwards, Doug Ashford, Jimmie Durham, Nancy Spero, Lucy Lippard, Geno Rodriguez, Papo Colo, Jayne Cortez, Carl Andre, Ana Mendieta, Raquelín Mendieta, Noah Jemison, Inverna Lockpez, Nilda Peraza, James Luna, Julia Hirschberg, Susana Leval, Miguel Algarín, Jeanetter Ingberman, Jolie Guy, Susan Bloodworth, Zachary Fabri, Gilbert Cardenas, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Michael Brathwaite, Alfredo Jaar, Tomie Arai, Lorenzo Clayton, Joan Hall, Pepe Coronado, Maryanne Simmons, and Melquiades Rosario Sastre.

Oral history interview with Richard Tuttle, 2016 November 14-17

Archives of American Art
3 sound files (4 hrs., 4 min.) digital, wav

Transcript: 59 pages.

An interview with Richard Tuttle conducted 2016 November 14 and 17, by James McElhinney, for the Archives of American Art, at Tuttle's home in New York, New York.

Tuttle recalls early memories at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; his mother's influence; family background from Pennsylvania, and Celtic ancestry; discussion of Calvinism; philosophies of art schools; discussion of Japanese language, literature and philosophy; designing book covers for Graham Greene; joining the air force and being honorably discharged; friendship with Agnes Martin; observations about the landscapes and geology of New Mexico and the Lascaux caves; thoughts on Humboldt and other German philosophers, Husserl, Philipp Otto Runge, and others; Travel in Peru, and his recent exhibitions in Lima, Peru; discussion of religion, art, senses; discussion of philosophy: Epicurus, Lucretius. Tuttle speaks of his childhood; he describes his siblings and his brother serving in the Vietnam War; discussion of creativity, education and difficulty with teachers, and being a creative child; influence of his grandparents; influence of religion and German background; teachers and relationship to his childhood schools; discussion of the 2016 elections and comparison to Republican Rome and Julius Caesar; engagement in theater, and writing at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut; influence of Sam Wagstaff; Interest in Allan Kaprow; comparing Picasso and Matisse; discussion of the cultural history of Hartford; visiting New York City in high school and college and the encouragement of his high school teacher; early artworks and creation of Paper Cubes; briefly attending Cooper Union; working in the library at the Cooper Hewitt Museum; discussion of Beat poetry and Abstract Expressionism; discussion of Betty Parsons and speaking about the "invisible" in art; thoughts about color and eidos in respect to Gaugin; working at Parsons; the importance of Ad Reinhardt's work; discussion of Romanticism. Tuttle also recalls Betty Parsons, Agnes Martin, Mark Rothko, Sam Wagstaff, A. Everett Austin, Herbert Vogel, Allen Ginsberg and others.

Oral history interview with Charles Henry Alston, 1965 September 28

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 39 pages

An interview of Charles Alston conducted 1965 September 28, by Harlan Phillips, for the Archives of American Art's New Deal and the Arts Oral History Project.

Alston speaks of his work as an art director of a community camp and as director of a boys' club in Harlem; the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) and his involvement; the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and his involvement in it; his membership in the Harlem Artists Guild; his contribution to WPA Federal Art Project murals at Harlem Hospital; mural versus easel painting; problems with the Artists Union; and camaraderie among FAP artists. He recalls Lou Block, Stuart Davis, Burgoyne Diller, Edith Halpert, Jacob Lawrence, Ernest Pachano, Aaron Ben Schmoo, and others, and describes his associations with musicians including Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington and Chick Webb.

Oral history interview with Thomas Adrian Fransioli, 1981 April 21

Archives of American Art
Sound recording: 2 sound files : digital, wav file

Transcript: 37 pages

Interview of Thomas Adrian Fransioli, conducted April 21, 1981, by Robert F. Brown for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, in Wenham, Massachusetts.

Fransioli speaks of his upbringing in Seattle, Washington; training and friendships at architectural school at the University of Pennsylvania; working in North Carolina, Virginia, Philadelphia, and Cleveland as an architect, interior designer, and draftsman; his commission for a grand country house in Virginia, 1932-1934; his work for John Russell Pope on the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; work in photographic reconnaissance for the U.S. Army during World War II; visiting Hiroshima after the atomic bomb; his training at the Art Students League; his paintings of cityscapes and houses; the promotion of his career by Margaret Brown of Boston; and influences upon him. Fransioli also recalls Charles Klauder, Margaret Brown, Carl Feiss, Otto Eggers, John Walker, David Finley; and others.

Oral history interview with Max Spivak, circa 1965

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 58 pages.

An interview of Max Spivak conducted circa 1963, by Harlan Phillips, for the Archives of American Art.

Spivak speaks of how he went from being an accountant to doing art; moving to Paris for three years, and how this experience changed his life; the difference between painting in Europe and painting in America; moving back to New York; why he decided to leave Paris and move back to New York; the importance of intuitive feeling; his involvement with the Gibson Committee; how he and some members of the Gibson Committee thought of the WPA; his experiences with the PWAP at the Whitney Museum; picketing outside the Mirror; his and the other artists experiences with the Project; the development of the Artist Congress; the nature of art; his work on mosaic murals; how art started losing support from the government by the late thirties; doing murals for big companies; the waning moments of the Project. He recalls Arshile Gorky, Holger Cahill, Audrey McMahon, Lee Krasner, Harold Rosenberg, Harry Knight, Lou Block, and others.

Lee Simonson Self-Portrait

National Portrait Gallery
Lee Simonson, a major force in American scenic design, discovered in his youth what “painters’ and designers’ vision could do to revivify the theater.” After graduating from Harvard in 1909, he sought to become a muralist and went to Paris. There, over the course of three years, he honed his skills while attending some of the most experimental European theatrical productions. He also formed friendships with other American expatriates, notably the writer Gertrude Stein and the painter Stanton MacDonald-Wright. When he created this self-portrait, he may still have been living in Paris. The painting shows his mastery of pattern and composition, and the areas of pure, vibrant color reveal his interest in Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and the French contempo- rary painters known as the Fauves. Upon returning to New York City, in 1912, Simonson felt determined to launch his career as a set designer.

Lee Simonson, figura de gran influencia en el diseño escenográfico, descubrió en su juventud lo que “los pintores y escenógrafos, con su visión, podían hacer para revitalizar el teatro”. Luego de graduarse de la Universidad de Harvard en 1909, quiso hacerse muralista y se fue a París. En su estadía de tres años, perfeccionó sus destrezas y presenció algunas de las producciones de teatro más experimentales de Europa. También hizo amistad con otros expatriados estadounidenses, entre ellos Gertrude Stein y el pintor Stanton MacDonald-Wright. Cuando Simonson hizo este autorretrato es posible que estuviera viviendo aún en París. La pintura evidencia su dominio de los patrones y la composición, mientras las áreas de color puro y vibrante revelan su interés en Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin y los pintores contemporáneos franceses conocidos como fauvistas. Cuando regresó a Nueva York en 1912, estaba decidido a lanzar su carrera como escenógrafo.

Oral history interview with Frank Romero, 1997 January 17-March 2

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 99 pages.

An interview of Frank Romero conducted 1997 January 17-March 2, by Jeffrey Rangel, for the Archives of American Art, in Romero's studio, in Los Angeles, Calif.

Romero discusses his growing up in East Los Angeles and his large extended family; his earliest art studies in the public schools; attending the Otis Art Institute where he studied with Joe Mugnaini and had contact with Millard Sheets and Peter Voulkos; the "very polyglut culture" of East Los Angeles; the influences of television, western movies, rock-and-roll, and rhythm and blues on his early musical/artistic taste; time spent in New York; returning to Los Angeles in 1969; and his marriage and family.

He describes his move into Carlos Almaraz's house which became the informal meeting place of the artist group Los Four (Almaraz, Romero, Gilbert Sanchez Lujan, and Roberto "Beto" de la Rocha); the Los Four show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1974; and the stylistic aesthetics of Los Four.

Romero describes the "boys club" nature of Chicano art centers; his contributions to the Chicano art movement; his relationship to the Chicano/Mexican culture and mainstream U.S. culture; murals done by members of Los Four for the Inner City Mural Program; his work for the Metropolitan Transit Authority; the Murals of Aztlan exhibit in 1981 at the Craft and Folk Art Museum; and his shows at the ARCO Center for the Visual Arts. He concludes with his assessment of the Chicano arts movement, the relationship between economic and art cycles, and the role of the more established artists to those of a younger generation.

5 examples of rebellious women's workwear throughout history, inspired by objects from our collection

National Museum of American History

Go to college, get a job, lose your style. Is that how this works? I am grateful for my college education and internship at the National Museum of American History, but the world of professional wear in Washington, D.C., poses some unprecedented challenges for me, a 23-year-old with holes in her stockings and a closet full of short skirts and pink.

I turn to history to navigate this dilemma. In the American Enterprise exhibition located in the Mars Hall of American Business, I came across a section featuring The Woman's Dress for Success Book written by a man named John T. Molloy in 1977. Molloy, whose previous work Dress for Success was tailored to white masculine notions of "successful" appearances, researched businesswomen's clothing and respective levels of "success" in their fields. Throughout the guide, he advises women to dress as simply, modestly, and sophisticatedly as possible, and encourages women to "adopt a business uniform" with "a skirted suit and blouse," much like the one above.

Photo of gray woman's suit. Consists of a skirt, a jacket, and a blouse. Skirt has a slight flare.

Molloy harks that in the workplace women must avoid low necklines, midi-length dresses and skirts, bright colors and patterns, boots, handbags, and long hair.

And he insists that African American women must dress most conservatively (blandly) of all.

Black and white portrait of an African American woman looking at camera, sitting at desk with pen and papers in front of her. Her expression is somewhat serious but friendly. She wears a ring, bracelet, and necklace. Probably an office setting.

Oh, okay.

Interestingly, Molloy emphasizes that his study is rooted in scientific data. In his mind, Molloy is only the messenger, claiming that he hopes to help women elevate themselves in the workplace. ("Women, pick yourselves up by your bra straps!" I imagine him barking into a megaphone.)

To be fair, Molloy's book was successful. Published during a time of recession, it hit the market as more women went to work. At the same time, mainstream second-wave feminism was focusing on equal rights at work. So many women must have willingly traded their favorite polka-dot sweaters for professional gains that would propel their careers.

Nevertheless, Molloy's book highlights very real expectations of women to appear and behave simultaneously professional, sexually attractive, and submissive in male-dominated workplaces. His guidelines also bring up questions of popular imaginings of what a "successful woman" looks like.

It seems that not all female-identifying people who excelled at their jobs adhered to these codes, however, as some of our museum objects appear to indicate. Of course, we don't know how these outfits were worn, whether in workplaces or other spaces, and we can't get inside the wearers' heads to understand what messages they intended to send with their attire. But I love exploring clothing of the past and its possible messages.

1. Men's suits

Gray suit with tie

Molloy cautions women away from what he calls the "imitation man look." Women throughout history from actress Sarah Bernhardt to artist Frida Kahlo have worn menswear, thus unsettling mainstream ideas of femininity, masculinity, and acceptable appearance.

2. Creative colors

Orange dress with many white and orange ruffles on sleeves and at lower skirt.

Molloy outlines in excruciating detail the dangers of bright colors and bold patterns in the ensemble of a woman striving for success. While he's not talking about performers here, he might think differently after meeting people working in creative fields, such as Celia Cruz in her Cuban rumba dress.

3. Announcing a protest

Black and white photo of two women looking at camera. Large hats. They wear sashes/signs that says "Picket ladies tailors strikes." Street scene.

Under the umbrella of "working women" exist the women who work in factories, often withstanding (and protesting) countless violations of their rights, to produce clothes for middle and upper-class women. The garment worker women pictured below dared to wrap themselves in materials announcing to the world their opposition to inhumane working conditions.

4. Identity expression

Photo of woman's headwrap on a mannequin. Headwrap has green flowers and neutral background.

Dominant notions of professional appearances assume all workers not only have equal access to certain types of clothing, but also have similar body types and ways of expressing themselves and their intersecting identities. This object is only an example of the infinite ways people have expressed their complicated identities through the clothes they wear to work. Workplaces that acknowledge various modes of expression make work a safer and more comfortable space for all.

Photo of four buttons supporting Harvey Milk, three of which include a portrait of him.

5. Choosing comfort

Photo of white overalls splattered with paint

Stiff suits and pantyhose can constrict bodies and stifle comfort, focus, and creativity at work. Renowned painter and muralist Judith Baca chose comfort and flexibility over conformity.

Kathryn Anastasi is a graduate of Macalester College and a Hagan Broadening Access intern for the National Museum of American History. She is focusing on improving the accessibility of diverse and intersectional women's history resources to the public.

Intern Kathryn Anastasi
Posted Date: 
Thursday, March 10, 2016 - 10:00


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14 Fun Facts About Giant Pandas

Smithsonian Magazine

The 21-year-old Mei Xiang, the National Zoo’s female panda, is taking a breather from entertaining visitors because Zoo keepers saw she was exhibiting potential signs of a pregnancy. The Zoo has announced that the Giant Panda House is now closed, but reminds visitors that they can still see the other pandas, Tian Tian and Bei Bei, playing in their outdoor yards.

Mei Xiang’s ambiguous maternal behaviors (is she, or isn’t she pregnant?) delivers heightened anticipation this time of year around Washington D.C., where cub births are welcomed with universal joy.

But just because Mei is spending most of her time sleeping, and is sensitive to noise, and is showing an increase in her hormone levels, that also could mean that she is experiencing a pseudopregnancy. The question of pregnancy will remain unanswered until either the keepers detect something in an ultrasound, or she gives birth.

Meanwhile, here for reader edification, we present our list of 14 Fun Facts About the Zoo’s Giant Pandas.

1. What other behaviors do female pandas show when they are experiencing hormonal changes?

In her den, Mei Xiang also began building a small nest of shredded bamboo. Keepers expect her to start showing less interest in food in the coming weeks. She might also cradle her toys and exhibit body-licking.

2. How many giant pandas are there in the world today?

There are only 1,864 giant pandas living in their native habitat in central China's provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu. Another 500 pandas live in zoos and breeding centers around the globe. For more about at-risk panda populations, check out our story “Panda Habitat is Severely Fragmented, Placing Pandas at Risk.” The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is one of the top leaders in conservation. Working closely with experts in China, researchers at the Zoo are leading efforts to better understand giant panda ecology, biology, breeding, reproduction, disease and proper animal care.

Mei Xiang, born on July 22, 1998, has oval eye patches and a faint black band across the bridge of her nose. (National Zoo)

3. What do the names of the three pandas at the National Zoo mean?

Mei Xiang, who was born on July 22, 1998 at the China Research and Conservation Center, is an adult female with a pale black band across the bridge of her nose and oval eye patches. Her name means “beautiful fragrance.” The male Tian Tian, who was also born at the China Conservation Center on August 27, 1997, has eye patches shaped like kidney beans and two black dots across his nose. His name means “more and more.” Bei Bei is the male cub of Mei Xiang and was born at the Zoo on August 22, 2015. His name means “precious treasure.”

4. How many times has Mei Xiang given birth?

Six times. On July 9, 2005, she delivered Tai Shan, who stayed four years at the Zoo and then, by agreement, left for China on February 4, 2010. Another cub was born September 16, 2012, but died a week later from liver damage. Bao Bao was born August 23, 2013 and left for China on February 21, 2017. A stillborn cub was delivered a day after Bao Bao’s birth. Two years later Mei Xiang again delivered two cubs on August 22, one was Bei Bei, the other cub died.

5. Why must the panda cubs leave Washington, D.C. for China?

Giant pandas are on loan to the Zoo and by agreement, when the cub reaches the age of four, the animals are sent to China to become part of the breeding population. To learn more about the breeding center, check out our story “The Science Behind the Unbearably Cute IMAX Movie Panda.” The four-year-old Bei Bei is soon to leave for China, as well. Bao Bao’s departure in 2017 was delightfully reported in this piece “How to FedEx a Giant Panda.” The adult pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian will continue to live in Washington, D.C. through 2020.

Bao Bao was born at the National Zoo on August 23, 2013 and left for China on February 21, 2017. (National Zoo)

6. How long is a panda pregnancy?

It takes 90 to 180 days, with the average gestation lasting 135 days. Ovulation for a female panda occurs only once a year in the spring and it lasts just two to three days. Panda breeding is a specialized science, for much on that, see our story “How Does Science Help Pandas Make More Panda Babies?”

7. How are the pandas cared for at the Zoo?

They are fed bamboo, sweet potatoes, pears, carrots and apples and biscuits, all carefully monitored for proper nutrition requirements. The bamboo is grown by the Zoo’s nutritionists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia. Keeping the panda’s busy with fun activities is also a key to their proper care. This video shows the way keepers keep the animals entertained. Keepers are especially attuned to the animals’ needs, but are always mindful that the creatures are dangerous and are much stronger than humans. So, they never enter into the animals’ spaces.

8. Do the pandas like living in Washington, D.C.?

Because pandas are adapted to the high-altitude forests in the mountainous central regions of China, snow is their happy place. Take a look at the Zoo’s “Panda’s Play in the Snow” videos to see how much the animals love the city’s winter weather. But for hot, humid summer days, the Zoo keeps air-conditioned spaces with misting sprays where the animals can go to remain comfortable.

One of the giant panda cubs born on Aug. 22, 2015 at the Smithsonian's National Zoo is examined by veterinarians. (National Zoo, Pamela Baker-Masson)

9. What does a giant panda sound like?

The Zoo’s popular Giant Panda Cam is one of the best ways to listen in for the chirps, honks, bleats, barks and squeals. According to the Zoo, the vocalizations can indicate distress (chirps and honks), pain (squeals), a friendly gesture (bleats), a defensive threat (chomp—a teeth clattering rapid opening and closing of the mouth), or a bark to scare off an enemy.

10. Why are the animals black and white?

There is really not a certain science for this question. The Zoo tells visitors that when a giant panda is sitting quietly without moving in a patch of dense bamboo, they are nearly invisible. On snow-covered rocky outcrops in their mountainous habitat, they are also quite hard to find. So likely their characteristic black and white patches are a very effective form of camouflage. The black and white patterns might also be a way for giant pandas to see and identify each other. They are solitary creatures. So a panda might use the patterns to identify other pandas in order to keep their distance. The black and white markings could also help with temperature regulation—black absorbs heat and white reflects it.

11. Do pandas have thumbs?

They have a “pseudo thumb” that helps them hold onto bamboo stems. It is formed from an elongated and large wrist bone that is covered by a fleshy pad of skin.

At the Smithsonian American Art Museum, muralist Kelsey Montague (above) created a cheeky panda bearing posies. (SAAM, courtesy of the artist)

12. How long do pandas live?

The National Zoo’s Hsing-Hsing lived until the age of 28. Pandas in the wild likely have shorter lifespans than zoo animals, but some pandas have reportedly lived to the age of 38.

13. Whats’ the best time to visit the pandas?

Mornings are best, if only to avoid long lines. The panda house is currently closed for Mei Xiang’s comfort, but the outdoor yards are open all day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., during the summer. One cautionary item is that the pandas get to make the decision about when they want to see you. All of the animals at the Zoo have spaces where they can go to get away from the crowds. In the summer, the giant pandas prefer the cool air conditioning indoors.

14. Where else are pandas represented at the Smithsonian?

There’s a large taxidermy specimen at the entrance to the mammal hall at the National Museum of Natural History on the National Mall. Near the Luce Foundation Center on the third floor of the Smithsonian American Art Museum at 7th and F Streets, muralist Kelsey Montague created a cheeky panda bearing posies and perfectly poised for Instagram poseurs.

Could This Work Be Leonardo da Vinci's Only Known Sculpture?

Smithsonian Magazine

Leonardo da Vinci was the master of several mediums: he was a painter, a draftsman, engineer, sketch artist and a muralist. Now, one art historian wants to add accomplished sculptor to that bevvy of accomplishments. Italian academic Francesco Caglioti of University Federico II in Naples believes a 20-inch-tall, red-clay sculpture Virgin with the Laughing Child held by London’s Victoria & Albert Museum since 1858 should be attributed to the master, Jonathan Jones at The Guardian reports.

Caglioti, a well-respected expert on 15th-century, believes Leonardo created the terracotta sculpture when he was a young man working with his mentor, Florentine Renaissance artist Andrea del Verrocchio.

He points out similarities to da Vinci’s paintings as evidence. The smile of the Virgin in the sculpture, for instance, is reminiscent of the smile of St. Anne in da Vinci’s painting The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne. The way the robes drape over the figure’s knees in the sculpture have the same type of movement.

The realistic look of the infant in the sculpture, a laughing Christ child, also shows the same attention to detail da Vinci pays to the faces of children in his other works. In fact, laughter itself may be a clue, Jones reports. Portraying the baby Jesus as a happy, giggling child would have been borderline blasphemous at the time the sculpture was created, and in his notebooks Leonardo records getting in trouble when he was younger for the way he portrayed the baby Jesus.

The V&A is more hesitant about attributing the statue to the master. Currently, the museum considers the statue to be the work of Antonio Rossellino. But Caglioti says that attribution has little evidence to support it and comes from one source, the late British Museum director John Pope-Hennessy who was a Rossellino promoter.

Other art experts also want more evidence. “We do not have any sculptures made by Leonardo, so there is no comparison,” Leipzig University art historian Frank Zollner tells Harris, pointing out that the smile, as the late art historian Ernst Gombrich established, was something that Leonardo himself got from Verrocchio, who in addition to being Leonardo’s mentor, is another of the artists along with Desiderio da Settignano who have been suggested as the sculptor’s creator.

But it’s not unreasonable to think there may be da Vinci sculptures hiding out there. It’s well known that da Vinci worked as a sculptor throughout his life, creating some works in Verrocchio’s studio, though none of his three-dimensional works are known to still exist. In fact, there are many sketches of his greatest unrealized sculptural works. He could never overcome the engineering obstacles to produce his designs for a massive bronze horse he envisioned for Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan. Similar problems plagued his designs for a massive bronze horse and rider that would sit atop the tomb of Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, who conquered Milan for the French and served as its governor.

This isn’t the only “new” Leonardo to hit the scene recently. Last week, experts cautiously suggested it’s possible that a nude charcoal drawing called “Monna Vanna” may be attributable to the artist. And then there’s “Salvator Mundi” the world’s most expensive painting which fetched $450 million at auction in 2017. Though some art historians have attributed the majority of the work to Leonardo, others argue he only contributed five to 20 percent of the painting.

While the V&A remains cautious on Caglioti’s study, Virgin with the Laughing Child just went on display at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence as part of an exhibition called “Verrochio, Master of Leonardo.” The exhibit will travel to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. later this year, but the purported da Vinci sculpture will not make the trip. But the V&A isn’t closing the door on the scholarship.

“A potential attribution to Leonardo da Vinci was first proposed in 1899, so Professor Caglioti’s study opens up the discussion of its authorship afresh,” a museum spokesperson tells Gareth Harris at The Art Newspaper. “The V&A welcomes ongoing discussion with colleagues worldwide: research into our collections is continuous.”

Stuck at the Airport? Why Not Take In an Art Exhibit

Smithsonian Magazine

Airports, by nature, are a hectic, chaotic space, with planes jockeying for runway space as passengers file, seemingly endlessly, through lines and terminals. In a world of perpetual motion, it's easy to move with greater focus on the destination than the airport itself, but as more and more airports integrate art into their terminals, it's increasingly possible to stop and enjoy the airport itself before hopping on a jet.

"Art can make a space feel more human," says Laura Greene of Heathrow Airport's award-winning T5 Gallery. "It can evoke emotions and provide something that is often overlooked in large spaces such as airports."

Some airports dedicate permanent space to exhibits within their walls, integrating art as part of the airport's design. Passengers traveling through the Denver International Airport might not consider checking out some of the most lauded public art in the country the first thing on their to-do list, but it's easy to see why Denver has been touted as one of the best examples of art in airports. The airport is so well-known for its public art that it even offers a walking tour for non-ticketed passengers, featuring a rundown of the airport's permanent and temporary art exhibits. Famous pieces permanently on display include Blue Mustang, a 9,000-pound, 32-foot-tall blue horse sculpted by Luis Jiménez, and paintings by muralist Leo Tanguma. (Incidentally, both have been subject to some pretty crazy conspiracy theories over the years.)

For passengers looking to pick up a piece of art while they wait for their plane, London's Heathrow airport offers a full-fledged commercial art gallery, T5, with an emphasis on exhibiting work from both well-established artists and area up-and-comers. Throughout the year, the gallery exhibits group shows—the most recent show, on display through the end of the month, includes a wood sculpture of a sting ray crafted by Andy Baerselman, and a silver crocodile lounging lazily on a crate labeled "Danger: Handle With Care," by artist Michael Turner.

Some artists, like sculptor Ralph Helmick, seem to find special inspiration in the airport space. Helmick's work can be seen at the Philadelphia International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Midway Airport in Chicago. Each installation is a mobile, made up of hundreds of delicate structures. At SeaTac, metal casts depicting local wildlife—like salmon and waterfowl—come together to create the silhouette of a snow goose landing in the rain. At Midway, a mobile of over 1,800 tiny aircrafts creates a bright red cardinal, suspended above the terminal. 

Rara Avis</I> by Ralph Helmick on display at Midway Airport in Chicago. (Wikimedia)

For some airports, creating an art program is as important to their customer service as any other amenity. "The art program does help to provide meaningful things for passengers to do when they have layovers and when they get to the airport early," says David Vogt, airport art program manager at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. But art programs also offer airline travelers—who might just be passing through on a quick layover—a chance to explore a city while remaining inside the airport's terminals. "This may be some passengers' only experience of Atlanta," Vogt says. "[The art] helps to tell the story of who we are." One way Hartsfield-Jackson tries to bring Atlanta inside the airport is through its permanent exhibit "A Walk Through Atlanta's History," which depicts the history of Atlanta from thousands of years ago—when it was first settled by native people—up to the present day.

In Philadelphia, artists have also worked to bring a taste of the city into the airport itself. Established in 1998, the Philadelphia International Airport's art program has the same goal as similar projects throughout the world—to humanize the airport experience. Featuring a mix of permanent and rotating exhibits, the airport hopes to introduce the millions of travelers that pass through its halls each year to a taste of Philadelphia's art. Currently on exhibit is Sarah Zwerling's installation "Hamilton Street, Philadelphia," which recreates, inside the terminal, the Philadelphia street where the artist lives. Using digital photography, Zwerling captured the facades of homes that line her street, placing them alongside images of trees on either side of the glass concourse to create the feeling of walking down her block. Zwerling's installation is far from the only piece on exhibit at the airport right now—the airport keeps a running tab on all art on display on their website.

Across the Atlantic, Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport offers travelers the chance to explore the work of Dutch masters such as Jan Steen and Jacob van Ruisdael, in a special offshoot of the city's famous Rijksmuseum. Schiphol is the first airport in the world to bring a world-class museum inside its terminals and beyond passport control. Since opening in 2002, the Rijksmuseum Schiphol has allowed travelers to catch a glimpse of the area's rich art history—and experience a major tourist highlight of Amsterdam—without ever leaving the airport.

Whether it's a delicately-suspended mobile or a world-class museum, remember to keep your eyes open when traveling this holiday season—a long layover or missed flight might be the perfect excuse to take in an art show.

Tate Modern’s Modigliani Exhibition Ventures Into Virtual Reality

Smithsonian Magazine

This November, Tate Modern is unveiling the U.K.’s most comprehensive Amedeo Modigliani retrospective. But the show, simply titled Modigliani,” is more than a survey of the artist’s work: It’s also an immersive experience complemented by the museum's first foray into virtual reality.

The retrospective, which runs from November 23 to April 2, 2018, includes almost 100 works by the modernist artist. According to Maev Kennedy of The Guardian, the Tate exhibition reflects Modigliani's lasting influence through a selection of the artist's creations, including 10 of the nudes displayed at his 1917 show, portraits of friends, like Mexican muralist Diego Rivera as well as some lesser-known sculptures. While much of the VR aspect of the exhibit remains under wraps for now, Jonathan Vanian of Fortune reports that the museum has partnered with VR company HTC Vive to create a digital world reminiscent of early 20th-century Paris.

A native Italian, in his early 20s, Modigliani moved to Paris in 1906 and soon ingrained himself in the city’s thriving art world. Working alongside such figures as Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris and Constantin Brancusi, he developed a distinctive style: Subjects portrayed with a semblance of realism, but with elongated faces and necks, as well as piercing, almond-shaped eyes.

"His art managed to bridge the stylistic chasm between classical Italian painting and avant-garde Modernism," wrote Doug Stewart for Smithsonian magazine in 2005.

Commercially unsuccessful during his lifetimehe had one solo show in 1917, but police shut it down after seeing the artist’s frank depictions of nude, unshaven women—Modigliani struggled financially to pay the bills and would often exchange a sketch for a meal or a drink. Plagued by alcoholism, ill health and self-destructive behavior, he died at the age of 35 of tubercular meningitis. At the time, his lover and frequent muse, Jeanne Hébuterne, was pregnant with the couple’s second child. The day after his death, she threw herself out of a fifth-floor window.

According to a press release, the exhibition will pay special attention to Hébuterne and the other women who proved influential to Modigliani, especially the English poet Beatrice Hastings.

As for the VR experience, the press release states that it will be integrated in "right in the heart of the exhibition" and "will bring visitors closer into the artist’s world, enriching their understanding of his life and art."

A Prominent Street Artist Just Destroyed All of His Works

Smithsonian Magazine

Street art is a medium that can be as frustrating as it is intriguing—just look at the scientific campaign to confirm the identity of Banksy or Joe “Graffiti Guerilla” Connolly’s attempts to keep Los Angeles free of tags and murals. But for some creators, one of the most upsetting acts against street art is having their work put in a museum. That’s what happened to Blu, a muralist who’s been transforming the streets of Bologna, Italy, for more than 20 years. When he learned that his murals would be removed from the streets and featured in a museum exhibition, he grabbed a chisel and a bucket of gray paint and destroyed them all.

As artnet’s Sarah Cascone reports, Blu spent all weekend destroying his artwork. The symbolic act was in protest of a Bologna exhibition which features more than 250 pieces of street art plucked from their urban settings and placed inside a museum. Blu objected to both the exhibit’s backers—prominent bankers—and its tactics of removing street art from the streets themselves.

“This exhibition will embellish and legitimise the hoarding of art taken off the street, which is only going to please unscrupled collectors and merchants,” said the artist in a statement. “This “street art” exhibition is representative of a model of urban space that we must fight, a model based on private accumulation which commodifies life and creativity for the profits of the usual few people.” Blu’s actions seem to be related not just to the affront of having his work appear in a museum, but also to the rising street art market that is causing works from artists like Banksy to command huge prices.

Image by Mario (Tonsoffun) Rimati/Demotix/Corbis colorful. Blu's murals had become landmarks in Bologna over the past 20 years. (original image)

Image by Massimiliano Donati/XianPix/Corbis cats. Blu's murals had become landmarks in Bologna over the past 20 years. (original image)

Image by Massimiliano Donati/XianPix/Corbis cats. Blu's murals had become landmarks in Bologna over the past 20 years. (original image)

This isn’t the first time street art has been removed to make a point—or even the first time Blue's own art has gone away to protest the concept of public murals as a private commodity. In 2014, Blu and his co-creator Lutz Henke buffed over several of their iconic murals in Berlin to protest the city's gentrification and the use of street art imagery to promote tourism.

Blu’s act may be one of protest, but the absence of his murals changes cities as much as their presence. “I understand the protest, but at the same time it is sad that now even regular people like us who live in this neighborhood are losing it forever,” a Bologna resident told the Telegraph’s Andrea Vogt.

Who really owns street art, anyway? It’s often created illegally and ephemerally, but debates still rage over whether graffiti artists even retain copyright to their own work. You could argue that once street art makes its way to a wall, it becomes the property of the people—or that, since it could be painted over at any time, it doesn’t belong to anyone. When it comes to street art, seemingly nothing is simple—and that can be the most frustrating (or wonderful) thing of all.

Oral history interview with Harold Lehman, 1997 Mar. 28

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 144 p.

An interview of Harold Lehman conducted 1997 Mar. 28, by Stephen Polcari, for the Archives of American Art. Lehman speaks of his early educational and artistic experiences in New York; taking sculpture classes; moving to California; going to school at Manual Arts; going to Ojai and learning the religious philosophy of Krishnamurti; participating in literary discussion groups and the books he read; his years at Otis Art Institute; working with Sisqueiros, and how the frescoes they created were destroyed by the Red Squad; when he became interested in painting; working with Lorser Feitelson; working with the Public Works of Art Project; moving back to New York and working with the Federal Arts Project; his experiences with Sisqueiros and the artist workshop they set up; his thoughts on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Stalin and Trotsky; his thoughts on social realism; the project he did on Rikers Island; doing mural art; breaking both his arms two months before the attack on Pearl Harbor and how he managed to stay out of the army; working on his mural in Woodstock; working on war bond painting for the government; his art work during the war years; recollections of Jackson Pollack and his interest in Indian Art; going to see the Picasso show; his artistic influences; his thoughts on America's involvement in World War II; his life after the war and what inspired him; his memories of Phil Guston; thoughts on Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg; his life after the war, and other recollections about his life and friends. He recalls Max Maikowski, Jean de Laffiere, Rutolo, Frederick J. Schwankovsky, Phil Guston, Jackson Pollack, Manuel Tolegian, Rueben Kadish, George Stanley, Roger Noble Vernon, D.A. Siqueiros, Luis Arenal, Lorser Feitelson, Helen Lundberg, Leo Katz, Merle Armiduke, Stanley McCoy, Axel Horr (Horn), Carla Mahl (Clara Moore), Louie Serstadt, Diego Rivera, Jose Orozco, Arnold Blanch, Harold Rosenberg, Clement Greenberg, Arnold Blanch, and many others.

Oral history interview with Val Laigo, 1989 July 12

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 42 p.

An interview of Val Laigo conducted 1989 July 12, by Alan Lau and Kazuko Nakane, for the Archives of American Art Northwest Asian American Project, in Laigo's home, Seattle, Wash.

Laigo speaks of learning how to paint at age eleven with watercolors; growing up with a heart condition known as Eisenmenger's Complex; teaching at Highline High School and creating a wolverine as the school's mascot; the inclusion of his life story in a Filipino oral history project; singing for an orchestra called the Gentlemen of Rhythm, at the Filipino Catholic Youth Activities events and other venues; Doug Bennett as an influence in composition and design; being a student at Seattle University and joining Art Equity in approximately 1951; remembering his painting, "Madonna" being shown at the Seattle Art Museum; his first show at the People's Furniture Store and later with Fay Chong at the Hathaway House; Zoe Dusanne became his agent; his introduction to the MacPaint software program and his first piece of computer art; his desire to study Mexican muralists, Diego Rivera, Jose Orozco, David Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo and becoming at student at Mexico City College; his life in Mexico with the woman who would become his wife; the strong influence of Nick Damascus on his painting; how his palette changed to brighter colors after living in Mexico; his health crisis there that lead him to abandon his work towards a master's degree and return to Seattle in 1959; having to start over from the beginning at the University of Washington; Tommy Kwazume hiring him at Boing as an artist in 1960; Lee Nordness and the RCA Victor album cover; his negative experience with Margaret Reed while showing at the Panaca Gallery; his exhibit at the Frye Art Museum in 1969 and criticism by Clark Voorhees; his Mexican experience having influenced his vigor and scale; the Lost Generation series; his comment about Picasso not being able to paint; encouragement from his family to pursue art training; the murder of his father in 1936; his mother's success as a new painter; and his work, "Dilemma of the Atom" featured on the cover of an RCA Victor record album. Laigo also recalls Perry Acker, Foster White Gallery, David Mendoza, Fred Mendoza, Tom Tooley, Ray Sadirius, Quincy Jones, Oscar Holden's Orchestra, Fred Cordova, Mits Katayama, Rudy Bundis, Kal Chin, Paul Horiuchi, James Washington, Dick Kirsten, Frank Okada, John Matsudaira, Walter Froelich, Bill Ritchie, John Counts, Don Fenton, Kenneth Callahan, Fred Run, Barry Ferrell, Ken Harms, Andrew Chin, Ben Dar, Ruth Mora, and others.

Explore Frida Kahlo's Mexico City

Smithsonian Magazine

It was a single moment that changed everything: On September 17, 1925, a young high school student was traveling in a bus in her native Mexico City when it collided with a trolley. Thrown from her feet, she sustained multiple injuries and broken bones. She was bedridden for months; the doctors didn’t think she would survive. To help pass the time, her mother had a custom easel made for her to use in bed, and her father lent her his set of oil paints and brushes. “I paint myself because I am so often alone, and because I am the subject I know best,” she once said. Little did she know that the moment of her injury would indelibly impact the art world, too.

Now, more than a half-century since her death, few modern Mexican artists are as recognizable as Frida Kahlo. Her likeness, complete with raven-colored hair and halo-like flowered crown, can be found on everything from key chains and magnets to T-shirts and posters. But there’s only one place where you can truly immerse yourself in all things Kahlo: her hometown. Here are four points of interest in Mexico City with a Kahlo connection—there's no better place to celebrate Kahlo's birthday on July 6.

Museo Frida Kahlo

Museo Frida Kahlo (aka La Casa Azul) (Courtesy Mexico City Tourism Trust)

Also known as La Casa Azul, Museo Frida Kahlo is the cobalt blue home where Kahlo was born and raised. (She later moved back with her husband, artist Diego Rivera.) To ensure that Kahlo’s legacy would live on, Rivera donated the home and its contents posthumously so that it could be turned into a museum. Today the estate and gardens, which are located in the city’s Colonia del Carmen area, are open to the public, and they look much as they did when Kahlo was alive.

Several of her most celebrated works are on display throughout the home, including Viva la Vida (1954), Frida and Cesarean Operation (1931) and Portrait of My Father Wilhelm Kahlo (1952). The four-poster bed where Kahlo began painting is also on display, as well as some of her photos, postcards and letters. Personal effects like her wheelchair and the plaster corset she wore after her multiple spinal surgeries are also on view. After strolling through the home’s multiple floors and four-walled courtyard, it’s easy to see where Kahlo found her inspiration.

Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo (Flickr <ahref="flickr url"="">Pavel Kirillov - Flickr/Creative Commons)

Rather than live together under the same roof, Kahlo and Rivera opted to reside in separate homes adjoined by a skywalk. Today, those homes and studios serve as Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo in Mexico City’s San Ángel neighborhood. Juan O'Gorman, an architect and friend of Rivera’s, designed the homes (Kahlo’s is painted in a similar shade of blue as her childhood home). The buildings were considered avant-garde at the time, as they veered from the traditional Mexican architecture popular back then.

The compound is predominately dedicated to the works of Rivera and includes a sampling of the hundreds of paintings he created while living there along with the original glass bottles of paint pigments, brushes and easels that he used. But there are traces of Kahlo there, too, and guests can explore the very rooms where she once lived and worked.

Museo Dolores Olmedo

Museo Dolores Olmedo (Courtesy Mexico City Tourism Trust)

The world’s largest collection of works by Kahlo—more than two dozen in total—can be found at Museo Dolores Olmedo, located in the city’s Xochimilco neighborhood. Some of the museum’s most important holdings include, The Broken Column (1944), Henry Ford Hospital (1932) and Self Portrait with Small Monkey (1945). Much of the collection belonged to Dolores Olmedo, a Mexican businesswoman and philanthropist who donated her collection and home to the people of Mexico. In 1994, her home opened as a museum, and in addition to Kahlo’s paintings and drawings, it contains nearly 6,000 pre-Hispanic figurines and sculptures, plus more than 100 paintings by Rivera.  

San Ildefonso College

San Ildefonso College (Miranda Zackowski)

One of the most memorable scenes in the movie Frida was when Kahlo, then just a student attending the National Preparatory School, met Rivera while he was painting La Creación (1922), his first ever mural, at her school. Today the historic building, which was built in the 16th century and served as a Jesuit convent before becoming a prep school, is home to San Ildefonso College, a museum dedicated to the works of some of Mexico’s most important artists.

The historic building is often considered the birthplace of the Mexican muralist movement, and includes murals by Ramón Alva de la Canal, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, in addition to Rivera. Although there are no works by Kahlo on display, the expansive building and its grounds offer a glimpse into a turning point in Kahlo’s lifetime, and marks the moment when she met her future husband.

Painting Peru: Cultural Identity in Murals

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
A mural in El Carmen features the lyrics from the popular Afro-Peruvian song “Zamba Malató.” Photo by Alexia Fawcett
A mural in El Carmen features the lyrics from the popular Afro-Peruvian song “Zamba Malató.” Photo by Alexia Fawcett

In developing the Perú: Pachamama program, the curatorial team crisscrossed the country, from the urban scenes of Lima and Iquitos to the beach town of Huanchaco. Our travels helped us better understand Peruvian folklife, and by the end I was absolutely sure of at least one thing: Peru must be the world’s No. 1 consumer of paint.

There were political campaign slogans and icons painted on homes, advertisements for bottled water or cell phone services painted on the sides of restaurants, declarations of “this property is not for sale” painted on private entrances, registration numbers painted on taxis, and signage painted on all kinds of stores. The most impactful use of paint, however, was in the ubiquitous murals.

Murals bring art into the public sphere, which has the mutual benefit of providing artists a wide audience who in turn has a chance to appreciate art outside a gallery or museum. They can function as a means of communication for the socially marginalized and can be an effective tool in creating dialogue. Although we saw murals in almost every large city we visited, it seemed that Lima was especially chock-full of them. Each work has its own appeal and message, which breaks up the monotony of the urban landscape and illuminates topics that resonate with the people of the city.

Muralists across the world face certain challenges in their work. In addition to economic barriers, they must surmount the negative connotations associated with street art and the laws that forbid it—even when murals are commissioned by property owners or the government. However, like many other artists, they often find inspiration in their constraints, whether they be physical, cultural, religious, or ideological.

This painting in the main plaza of Moche depicts daily life in the small coastal city. Photo by Cristina Diaz-Carrera
This painting in the main plaza of Moche depicts daily life in the small coastal city. Photo by Cristina Diaz-Carrera
A political ad covered in chicha posters outside of Arequipa. Photo by Alexia Fawcett
A political ad covered in chicha posters outside of Arequipa. Photo by Alexia Fawcett

Chicha music and the associated graphic art form definitely fall into this category. This genre developed as individuals from rural areas moved into urban environments and expressed their feelings of marginalization as migrant communities. The chicha-style murals we saw in Lima were much more than graffiti: they painted a picture (no pun intended) of a shared experience of migration and adaptation to a contemporary urban environment. Representing a growing aspect of modern Peruvian culture, there will be multiple music and visual artists representing the chicha tradition at the 2015 Folklife Festival.

As meaningful, beautiful, and important as we found this art form to be, not everyone shares our admiration. On March 13, municipal workers began painting over murals throughout Lima’s historic district. Officials expressed concern that the city would lose its UNESCO declaration as a World Cultural Heritage Site and, after citing an ordinance from 1994 requiring the maintenance of the city’s historic architecture, announced the plan to eliminate all murals from the center of Lima. Critics say that the decision was political—rejecting public art programs and murals commissioned by previous administrations. Whatever the reasons, over that single weekend, dozens of murals were erased.

One of my personal favorites, which I posted to our Instagram in October, was among those painted over, and one of future Festival participant Elliot Túpac’s emblematic murals, with the phrase “Antes Soñaba” or “I used to dream,” was also erased. Gone too are many of the murals created in the 2013 LatidoAmericano festival, organized by Peruvian street artists.

Street art in the beach town of Huanchaco. Photo by Alexia Fawcett

Street art in the beach town of Huanchaco. Photo by Alexia Fawcett
There was significant backlash from the people of Lima, who posted on social media using the hashtags #SalvemosLosMurales (save the murals) and #BorraronUnoPintaremosMil (they erased one, we’ll paint a thousand), as well as staged protests in front of murals so they would not be painted over. Where murals once were, you can now find graffitied phrases and images of protest. One group has tagged the city with QR codes, which activate an augmented reality smartphone app showing the murals that once adorned those now blank walls.

The question at the heart of this conflict is how and by whom culture is defined. The disappearance of murals in Lima is a significant loss, as they reflected the shared experience and culture of many city residents. However, just as many of these erased murals rose in deference to the marginalization of the artists and their work, it seems as though new works will rise from their ashes in the face of further criticism. Even though their physical form is no longer visible in the streets, these murals will continue to live in the memory of the public as integral to the vibrant culture of Lima.

Alexia Fawcett is the community engagement manager for the Perú: Pachamama program.

Creating a Citified Community on the National Mall

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

In reflecting on our experiences at the 2012 Folklife Festival, the team of interns from the Citified: Arts and Creativity East of the Anacostia River program kept coming back to the concept of community. For us, the notion of community includes working together towards a common goal, bonding over shared experiences, forming ideas through different perspectives, and creating a comfortable environment. Throughout our two weeks spent on the National Mall, we experienced firsthand all of these aspects of community as they developed within the Citified program.

Before the festival began, participating artists were already excited to bring east-of-the-river experiences, history, and culture to the National Mall and to increase the visibility of and appreciation for this often-misrepresented and overlooked hub of creativity. We were especially moved by the encouraging atmosphere the participating artists created at their pre-festival orientation. Although many participants were meeting for the first time, they already exhibited a sense of support and connection.

Master griot and storyteller Baba-C includes children from the audience in his stories on the Good Hope and Naylor Corner stage.
Photo by Jennie Terman

We noticed that many of the participating artists shared the experience of growing up in an area where overcoming obstacles related to racial and economic inequities was a part of daily life, and they are drawn to art and creativity as means for engaging and empowering their communities.

The Taratibu Youth Association, for example, prides itself on engendering self-respect among their members through dance and song. One of our favorite songs was “Black Girls,” a piece that responds to misconceptions about African American names and encourages women to embrace their names and heritage.

Although the participating artists had myriad talents and passions, they all hold similar values when it comes to art, education, and community engagement. For example, master storyteller Baba-C uses the art of storytelling to share messages about self-esteem and heritage; Melvin Deal, the founding director of African Heritage Dancers and Drummers, uses drumming and movement to express similar messages about self-respect and cultural background. Tattoo artist Charles “Coco” Bayron discussed the importance of tattoos to personal identity construction by telling a story of an individual’s life and heritage.

Melvin Deal and the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers perform on the Good Hope and Naylor Corner stage.
Photo by Jennie Terman
The Taratibu Youth Association performs on the Panarama Room stage.
Photo by Jennie Terman

Over the course of the Festival, the Citified staff, participating artists, and festival-goers collaborated on the creation of a comfortable and nurturing environment. The artists supported one another, which created a strong sense of camaraderie. For example, Baba-C made an effort to learn from different artists, contribute to the discussions, and intermittently exclaim, “Yebo!” (“yes!” in Zulu) in encouragement.

Easy-going even in extreme heat, the Iverson Mall Line Dancers motivated audiences to get up and participate in popular dances like the “Wobble” and “Cupid Shuffle.” Albus Cavus, a muralist collective, were a continuous force in strengthening the Citified community and enlivening the program site through ongoing demonstrations by artists and by encouraging visitors to participate in creating murals. While some parents were worried their children would interfere with the artists’ work, Albus Cavus strongly encouraged the children and all visitors to contribute.

The Iverson Mall Line Dancers show festival-goers how they can move despite the heat.
Photo by Jennie Terman
Interns Jennie Terman and Malik Stevenson take a break to play a game of horseshoes.
Photo by Jasmine Reid

Also scattered through the program site were several other activities and features designed to make people feel at home. Chess, checkers, dominos, horseshoes, and a sprinkler (for the extra hot days) brought artist and festival-goers together for informal interaction and fun. Playing games, such as dominos and horseshoes, on the National Mall was a unique experience indeed. Staff, interns, and participants all got involved, and in this way, had the opportunity to experience the festival as visitors did.

Additionally, artists enjoyed complimentary homemade mambo sauce, a favorite D.C. condiment, which was available in the Citified tents to make artists feel more at home, while simultaneously enhancing the flavor of the Citified program.

The Citified Chuck Brown Tribute Day on July 7 especially solidified a sense of community among artists, visitors, and staff/interns/volunteers through shared celebration of the late “Godfather of Go-Go,” Chuck Brown. Throughout the festival, many participants referenced the influence that Chuck Brown has had on their art. Jay Coleman painted a portrait of Chuck, collaborating with visitors to create the final product.

On the Chuck Brown Tribute Day, the Good Hope and Naylor Corner tent hosted various narrative sessions and discussions on go-go, including a talk with past members of the Chuck Brown Band. During “Go-Go Then/Go-Go Now,” a narrative session about the history of go-go music and culture, participant Christylez Bacon shared his human beat-boxing talent to illustrate an example of the go-go beats being discussed.

Despite the 105-degree weather, an hour of go-go fitness drew a huge crowd that moved their bodies and exercised to Chuck Brown songs and other go-go hits. During the performances of go-go music on the main Panorama Room stage, members of the Taratibu Youth Association and the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers were among the most energetic dancers in the audience. Go-go music brought together in celebration a huge east-of-the-river contingent to the Festival, as well as many other Washingtonians and additional visitors.

Children play in a sprinkler as they try to keep cool in the 105-degree heat.
Photo by Jennie Terman

By the end of the ten-day festival, these instances of camaraderie all experienced in a physical space on the National Mall created the community atmosphere that was felt. The creative people from East of the Anacostia River, Citified staff, interns, and presenters, and festival visitors talked together, listened to and supported each other, experimented with new ideas, played music, danced, made art, worked, ate at the community barbeque and drank smoothies, enjoyed each other’s company, laughed, and relaxed together. To us, that is community. It may have been a temporary community during the two-week festival, but we hope that the artists, staff, and festival visitors will bring the experience and feeling of community home with them and continue the atmosphere of the festival in their own communities.

Kate Aebischer, Malik Stefan Stevenson, and Jennie Terman were interns for the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival program Citified: Arts and Creativity East of the Anacostia River. Aebischer is studying anthropology at The College of New Jersey. Stevenson is studying Spanish Literature at Xavier University of Louisiana. Terman is a graduate student at the University of Maryland where she studies ethnomusicology and is a teaching assistant for a course, The Impact of Music on Life.

Every Three Years, Artists Compete to Be On View at the National Portrait Gallery. Here Are the Winners

Smithsonian Magazine

It’s not easy to look away from the captivating subjects in the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition that just opened at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. 

Unlike the historical and modern-day leaders, renowned activists and famous personalities depicted in the rest of the museum, these are by and large the faces of the unknown; Americans, most of them, looking back at the viewer in a direct gaze.

Not only does that make a confrontational and often emotional connection in these 43 paintings, photographs, sculptures and drawings; it also seems to demand something from the viewer, as if to ask, what will you do now?

“Each displays an intimate connection between the artists and their sitters,” says Dorothy Moss, the associate curator of painting and sculpture at the National Portrait Gallery, who is director of the Outwin Competition. 

Held every three years, the competition was begun by a gift from a former volunteer and benefactor Virginia Outwin Boochever, who died in 2005. It’s grown in popularity each time, with some 2,500 entries submitted this year in a variety of media.

And there’s something especially intense and topical in the 2016 show, whose artists hail from 19 states. “I think people are looking at portraiture as a way to have conversations about bigger issues that they are experiencing in their lives, that are in the news, and that also people are talking about,” Moss says.

The winning entry does it as well as any, with a clear-eyed African-American young woman with a large red flower on her hat, whose white gloves hold a comically oversized coffee cup, seemingly rising above social constructs with pure confidence. Baltimore artist Amy Sherald titles her Miss Everything but adds a parenthetical subtitle, Unsuppressed Deliverance.

Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance) by Amy Sherald, 2013 (Frances and Burton Reifler)

“It’s about who she is in the present moment,” says Sherald, who as first place winner receives $25,000 and a commission to create a portrait of a living individual for the museum’s permanent collection. 

Miss Everything is emblematic of the show as well in its depiction of diversity. Unlike, say, the nearby exhibition of presidential portraits, here is a show that celebrates people of color, or various ages, and different backgrounds, and not always distinct gender. 

The down and out subject of Joel Daniel Phillips drawing Eugene #4, a third place winner in the competition, regains dignity by having his Mission District surroundings removed and replaced by pure white. Jenny Miller, the subject of Claudia Biçen’s drawing, from a series depicting elderly people facing death, speaks to the viewer not only with a piercing gaze but through her words written intricately on her blouse as if a woven pattern. The deft tonal colors in Dean Mitchell’s watercolor of Artist Bob Ragland makes it look as if he is a ghost, or has just seen one.

And if there is a common profession among those depicted as artist. The most famous of them, David Hockney, in Brenda Zlamany’s oil painting, smiles from his leafy, colorful home. Riva Lehrer’s drawing and mixed media of the graphic artist and Fun Home author Alison Bechdel comes with a Bechdel-like depiction of her mother. Gilda Snowden in Her Detroit Studio by Donita Simpson shows the artist and organizer in her realm as if on a throne. John Ahearn provides, as is his wont, two portraits of his subject, the 19-year-old South Bronx artist Devon Rodriguez, depicted in heroic plaster busts as The Rodriguez Twins

There are more portraits of children this time around, Moss says. But they are not particularly joyful and playful depictions. Instead, there is a haunting worry from their eyes. Shannan in a photograph by Maureen Drennan looks back from her tiny two wheeler at a street level, bringing to mind the colors and bike shots of William Eggleston. James, Post-Wirral Fight in Jona Frank’s photograph, looks defiant, angry and a little bruised, as a child enlisted in a boxing match might. Mavis in the Backseat is a haunting enough picture from Cynthia Henebry to have earned it second place in the competition; sitting within the womb of a station wagon, it denotes a complexity and depth one might not expect from a five-year-old. 

Caja De Memoria Viva II: Constancia Clemente-Colon by Adrian "Viajero" Roman (Collection of the artist)

It’s not so different than the ambiguous look of Jarod Lew’s Audrey, a similar image in an enclosed car as if it is her again, older and full of disappointment, her face seeming to ask “Why didn’t anybody tell me?”

There are glints of humor and cleverness in the show as well, as when Wendy Arbeit presents 17 self portraits representing every decade of photography—each perfectly realized studies of formal portraits—and how they were framed—through the years, right up to a sassy selfie—the one example of today’s ubiquitous portrait style in the show.

Naoko Wowsugi plays up the cheesy frames too in her series of department-store-like portraits that capture the people who taught her an odd English word, shooting them in the act of saying it (resulting in some odd facial expressions). 

Rare are the portraits exuding happiness, but Lucy, 15 Years Old seems happy finding herself in a dress in the photograph by Carolyn Sherer

While videos were prominent in the last competition, none made the final cut this year. Instead, the most elaborate multimedia piece is the prominent portrait of the elderly aunt of artist Adrian "Viajero" Roman, in the hanging piece Caja De Memoria Viva II: Constancia Clemente de Colon. It shows the four sides of the woman’s care-worn face on a box, while inside, photographs, utensils and other items reflecting her native Puerto Rico are hung, and her voice can be heard in a recording as well.

Becky, June, Jessica and Mary by Jessica Todd Harper, 2013 (Collection of the artist, courtesy of Rick Wester Fine Art, New York City)

But there are shots of immediacy that seem captured from headlines. The desperate woman in Louie Palu’s photograph Deported clutches a blanket before she’s sent home. A moving portrait of a family traversing the Rio Grande by Rigoberto A. Gonzales, La Guia (The Guide), has the same kind of painterly drama found in Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa or Delacroix’s Massacre at Chios.

Masters of portraiture, particularly John Singer Sargent, are often mentioned as inspirations by the selected artists, including Rick Ashley in his photograph of his brother-in-law, who has Down syndrome and a Superman costume in Michael #147973

But the influences are sometimes subtle. 

There’s a pride and purpose to a lot of the sitters, from the mostly covered mother in the photograph April and her daughter Sarah by Claire Beckett to the two church-going women of seemingly different faiths, Margaret and Marquetta Tisdell, Original Providence Baptist Church by Paul D’Amato; the splendid plaid coat of Johnny Jones in Marti Corn’s photograph or the explosion of patriotically-hued carnations in Tim Doud’s American Prize

Ray DiCapua, a return artist from the 2013 competition, delivers another large format charcoal drawing, Phyllis, in which he depicts his mother seemingly grappling with age. The only other work as large is Sedrick Huckaby’s close up self-portrait Sedrick, Sed, Daddy which combines a Chuck Close nearness to the bold strokes of Rouault. It wins a cash prize as "Commended" as will Daniel James McInnis’ inkjet print Heidi and Lily, Ohio 2014; Jess Dugan’s self-portrait photograph; and Jessica Todd Harper’s photograph Becky, June, Jessica and Mary. 

Michael #145973 by Rick Ashley, 2014 (Collection of the artist)

“To end up with a show of this depth and quality focused on the portrait really speaks to the continued viability of that genre as an art practice,” says Dawoud Bey, a professor of art at Columbia College Chicago, one of the judges assembled for the competition. Helen Molesworth, chief curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, New York magazine senior art critic Jerry Saltz and John Valadez, a Los Angeles painter and muralist also joined Moss and National Portrait Gallery chief curator Brandon Brame Fortune to form the jury. 

But the viewers can also be their own judge.

Voting is open through September 20 for a People’s Choice Award winner.

Proof of the popularity of the portrait competition comes in the fact that when the show ends its run in Washington on January 8, 2017, it will travel to three other museums across the country for another year. 

“The Outwin 2016: American Portraiture Today” is on view at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. through January 8, 2017. The exhibition will travel to the Tacoma Art Museum in Tacoma, Washington, from February 4, 2017 to May 14, 2017; the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi, Texas, from June 8 to September 10, 2017; and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri, from October 6, 2017 to January 7, 2018.

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