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Private Pleasures at the Textile Museum (Eileen Doughty)

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John McQueen, “Beside Myself”

The Textile Museum in Washington, DC, recently had an aptly-named exhibit, “Private Pleasures: Collecting Contemporary Textile Art”, showcasing over fifty pieces of textile art from eighteen Washington-area private collectors.

Thumbnails of some of the art may be seen here. Continue reading ‘Private Pleasures at the Textile Museum (Eileen Doughty)’

What’s on the Fridge?

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“Danseurs aborigenes, a l’inauguration des Jeux du Commonwealth.”
(Aboriginal Dancers, at the start of the Commonwealth Games)
Eckhard Supp
Brisbane, Australie 1982

I’ve had this postcard (sent to my family by a relative) for a few years now, posted in our kitchen. It appeals to me on a number of levels.

There is the interest of a culture not my own: this is obviously photographed in Australia while I reside in the U.S. There is the perfection of the asymmetrically-balanced composition: the tight group of dancers contrast in many ways with the uniformed man; they are separated from each other even though they are all in a very small enclosed space. It seems to be at night, so even though there are what seem to be windows, there is no sense of an outside, large space. The camera lens may have distorted it but the children and man tilt away from each other, no one’s eyes meet. The man’s eyes are closed and he appears to be suffering in silence, facing a window but can’t get out, while the children ignore him.

Overall there is the contrast of ancient and modern cultures. I know very little about the clash of Aboriginal and European cultures in Australia, except that it hasn’t been much better than the similar history in the U.S. I’d like to know how Aussies view this image, if they find it amusing or sad. Superficially, at first glance it looks funny, but the more I analyze it the sadder it gets.

I could not find any information in English about the photographer. Google turns him up as associated with a book with the German title, Australiens Aborigines. Ende der Traumzeit? (Babel Fish translates it as “End the dream time?”) The postcard title is in French probably because it was purchased and sent from Canada.

Little bits of art can be fascinating and thought-provoking. What’s posted on your fridge?

Immortal Words (Eileen Doughty)

Van Gogh’s letter

One page of a letter from Vincent Van Gogh to Émile Bernard, Arles, France, March 1888 (pen and brown ink). Note the words for colors in the sketch.

It is fairly well known that Vincent Van Gogh wrote hundreds of letters, mostly to his brother Theo and some to fellow artist Gauguin. However he also wrote at least 20 to a lesser-known artist, Émile Bernard, 15 years younger than Van Gogh. They had met in 1886, and Van Gogh became his mentor. Most of these letters, along with related paintings, drawings, and watercolors by both artists were the subject of an exhibit at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York City: Painted with Words: Vincent van Gogh’s Letters to Emile Bernard. Continue reading ‘Immortal Words (Eileen Doughty)’

Two Old Dogs’ New Trick (by Eileen Doughty)

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Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard Designed by Norman Foster

From the museum’s website:

The Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard, with its elegant glass canopy was designed by the world-renowned architectural firm Foster + Partners, is a signature element of the renovated National Historic Landmark building that houses the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. The enclosed courtyard provides a distinctive, contemporary accent to the museums’ Greek Revival building.

“The design was driven by a deep respect for the existing building,” said Foster. “It was decided that it should not touch the building at any point-floating above it instead, like a cloud over a courtyard.”

The roof, a steel structure with a glass and aluminum exterior, has a surface area of approximately 37,500 square feet. There are 864 panes of glass and no two are alike. Eight steel columns support the canopy, which weighs around 900 tons.

At 28,000 square feet, the courtyard is one of the largest public event spaces in Washington. The interior features a variety of plantings, including two 32-foot high ficus trees and 16 black olive trees which sit in white marble planters on a black granite floor. Foster + Partners worked closely with acclaimed landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson on the design of the interior which includes four of her signature water scrims.

 

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The building was originally called the Patent Office, and it is quite typical of the architecture of most federal buildings in Washington, DC. It was the third public building constructed in the new city of Washington, after the White House and the Capitol. Construction began in 1836, and the final wing was not finished until 1868. For decades it also held the government’s historical, scientific and art collections, including the Declaration of Independence; other agencies such as the Department of the Interior; a temporary barracks in the early days of the Civil War and served as a hospital and morgue after several battles. Walt Whitman tended to wounded Union soldiers here, and President Abraham Lincoln held his second inaugural ball on the third floor. In the early 1950s it was slated for demolition to make way for a parking lot, but the budding historic preservation movement saved it. It became a Smithsonian property in the 1960s. It was closed from 2000-2006 for extensive renovations. The new courtyard was completed in November.

The new canopy may rest solely on columns, but you’d never know it from the viewpoint of the floor. Computers were used to design the panes. It would have taken years otherwise for the architects to figure out how to make them fit together.

The space should feel “cold” with all the neutral, almost colorless, stonework — except for the trees which make it feel like an open park. However I felt warm and quite comfortable. Perhaps the glass ceiling gives the feeling of being under a slightly rumpled quilt.

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“Scrims” were a new word to me. They are shallow areas of gently flowing water (the water comes out from one side and drains at the opposite side). These are only about 1/8-inch deep, shallower than the sole of a shoe. Besides the fun of walking through the scrims (and having dry shoes in a few steps), was just watching the patterns of reflections change over the course of a minute or two. The water flow increases and decreases in a regular rhythm, causing the reflection of the canopy to blur and then become distinct.

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There are ever-changing shadow patterns on the walls.

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And the reflection patterns on the floor are just as enjoyable.

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I wonder how many people will go barefoot in warmer weather.

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This is a welcome addition to the staid architecture of most of Washington, DC, and the courtyard certainly is a destination along with the two museums it joins. However, the architects were required to make the beautiful canopy not visible from the ground outside — what a shame.

As quilt artists, perhaps we are predisposed to appreciate this mix of traditional and contemporary.  Do you know of other places that have a notable mix of new and old architecture, in your home town or anywhere in the world? Places that look great, or flopped? Another famous example mixing wildly different architectural styles is the Louvre, in Paris.

For more pictures of the courtyard, see the museum’s slide show; it includes a view from above the roof line and night lighting.

Renegade Graffitist – Dialogue or Monologue? (Eileen Doughty)

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Mother and Brick Madonna by James De La Vega courtesy Ray Kass

A special issue of Smithsonian Magazine recently profiled 37 American innovators (in arts and sciences) under the age of 36. One person featured is James De La Vega, who makes his art in Manhattan, both inside his storefront gallery and outside all over the city. Outside, he makes his mark with paint, chalk, or tape, on sidewalks, benches, walls. Inside, he sells fine art paintings and also t-shirts of his designs. Continue reading ‘Renegade Graffitist – Dialogue or Monologue? (Eileen Doughty)’


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