Thought-Pourri: Art News This Week

Before we take a look at some arts stories that caught my interest this week, I want to invite you to join me for a Baroque concert at my parish of St. Stephen Martyr in Foggy Bottom, tomorrow evening at 7:30 pm.

The program for “But They Are At Peace: Music For The Feast Of All Souls” contains pieces for choir, organ, and soloists by Johann Sebastian Bach and the early German Baroque composer Heinrich Schütz. Featuring the Musica Spira ensemble as well as musicians from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington and the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, the concert begins at 7:30 pm and admission is free; there will be a free-will offering for donations to support the excellent music at St. Stephen’s. Details and directions may be found by following this link. I hope to see many of you there, and if you spot me in the audience please do come up and say hello!

Concert

And now, on to the news roundup:

A Sedona Surrealist Surprise

Much to the surprise of everyone, Bonhams auction house has announced that the star of its upcoming Impressionist and Modern Art Sale in November will be “Ohne titel (Sedona Landschaft)” [“Unititled [Sedona Landscape”], a painting of Sedona, Arizona by the great German Surrealist painter, Max Ernst (1891-1976), which had nearly been forgotten. Ernst painted the intensely-colored work during a visit to Arizona in 1957, and gifted it to a local surgeon; it has remained with the doctor’s family since then, and was last exhibited in 1961. The estimate of $500-$700k is, to my mind, rather low, but then again the work is only about 2 feet long and 18 inches high – perfect for over the sideboard. As I will be traveling to Sedona myself for a few days later next month, I’ll have to do a side-by-side comparison of Ernst’s painting alongside a far less important snap from my phone over on my Instagram account.

Ernst

Caravaggio and the Code of Silence

The myth that art theft is usually carried out by a sort of gentleman cat burglar, like Thomas Crown, Danny Ocean, or John Robie, is blown out of the water in this very interesting piece over on Vice. Art theft detective extraordinaire Charley Hill, who has helped in the recovery of a number of major art heists over the years, recounts the twists and turns involved in seeking one of the items he is still searching for, nearly 50 years after it went missing. “The Adoration of the Shepherds” (1609) by Caravaggio was stolen on Mafia orders from the Oratorian Church of San Lorenzo in Palermo back in 1969; it’s a very unusual work, completely different from Caravaggio’s better-known (and more conventional) version of the same subject, also painted in 1609. To this day, no one knows whether the missing altarpiece still exists, or who has possession of it. Hill believes he has an idea of where it is, and he’s determined to get it back.

Cara

Rocky Road for Rockwells

Regular readers will recall my take last month on the upcoming sale of two paintings by popular 20th century American artist Normal Rockwell, alongside a number of other works of art, which the artist had donated to the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The plot has thickened somewhat of late. The Rockwell family has now joined a group suing the Berkshire to halt the sale, and requested a temporary restraining order while that issue is being decided; the State AG’s office also seems to be investigating. Meanwhile, the museum’s director has temporarily stepped down for medical reasons, in an unusual bit of either chance or timing. Stay tuned, as this fight is getting more and more interesting.

Rockwell

The Banality of Basquiat and Brown

Two of the most famous American names in Modern Art and Popular Fiction are the late Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) and writer Dan Brown. Both created work that can be safely categorized as pseudo-intellectual garbage that commands utterly unreasonable prices, whether in terms of auction sales or box office receipts. For your pleasure and mine, then, I’d like you to enjoy a pair of absolutely scathing, wonderfully written take-downs. The first comes from the great British art critic Waldemar Januszczak who, in characterizing a major new exhibition of Basquiat’s work at The Barbican in London, is left shaking his head: “This really is what the art world has become: a shallow, uneducated, disingenuous, over-moneyed, rapacious chewer-up of proper artistic values.” Meanwhile over at The Week, Matthew Walther’s piece on Dan Brown’s latest novel, “Origin”, is an absolute howl, noting that no gifted writer of thrillers “would dare to begin with several chapters of a man taking a guided tour of a museum complete with unevocative descriptions of each work of art and follow it up with such varied set pieces as a conversation in a boat, a conversation on a plane, and a conversation in a driverless Tesla SUV before settling in to two more long conversations in an apartment and an office building.”

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DC’s Underground “Cathedral” To Be Revealed

One of the most iconic structures in America may be about to reveal its hidden depths to the public.

The Lincoln Memorial, which opened to the public in 1922, is well-known to anyone who has visited the Capital or seen it on film. It was designed by architect Henry Bacon (1866-1924), working with his frequent collaborator, sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931). As a monument to one of our greatest Presidents, it stands as a singularly impressive piece of architecture at the western end of the National Mall here in Washington. As a public gathering place, its steps have served as a podium for significant historic events, such as soprano Marian Anderson’s legendary performance of 1939, or Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963.

The building has long served as a backdrop in popular films and television, as well, from “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” to “Forest Gump”. Clint Eastwood and Rene Russo sat on its steps eating ice cream at the end of 1993’s “In The Line Of Fire” for example. Mark Wahlberg came upon an unpleasant surprise there at the conclusion of the 2001 remake of “The Planet Of The Apes”, where director Tim Burton chose to play with the monumental sculpture of Abraham Lincoln, rather than the Statue of Liberty, as had been the case in the 1968 original.

What most people do not know however, is that this massive Greek temple – Doric on the outside, Ionic on the inside – sits atop an equally massive foundation which is, if not as impressive as the structure which it supports, nevertheless a work of wonder in itself. The undercroft, as this area is known, has been described as a “cathedral-like” space, and with good reason. Rising to three stories in height at its highest point, what is essentially a concrete basement has some rather grand passages, that would look perfectly at home in one of the dwarf kingdoms in “The Lord of the Rings”:


Thanks to a gift from philanthropist David Rubenstein, who wants to see the Lincoln Memorial fully restored for its 100th birthday in 2022, the National Park Service is now planning to rehabilitate this underground space in order to expand the useable footprint of the building. Currently a warren of crisscrossing pipes, electrical conduits, and – presumably – rat holes, the hope is that the undercroft could be reconfigured to permit areas for exhibition space and visitor facilities. This would hopefully allow the main floor of the building, which houses the monumental statue of President Lincoln, to be freed from the ignominy of pedestrian things such as a gift shop.

In order for this to happen, a number of bodies charged with preserving DC’s historic buildings will need to give approval, and that is no small thing. Previous attempts to make use of this invisible, wasted space have been shot down before. Yet given the new underground visitors centers at the Capitol (currently open) and the Vietnam Memorial (opening in 2020), it is not hard to imagine that a similar solution may be forthcoming for the Lincoln Memorial.

Filmmakers should not get too excited however: as of 2017, filming from within the Memorial is currently banned, and presumably that ban would extend to any basement rehab, as well.

Seeing DC: Summer Architectural Tours Of The Capital With NCAS

I’m heading off on vacation to Spain today, so blog posts may be sporadic, but you can check my progress by visiting my Instagram page

In the meantime, I wanted to share this opportunity for seeing some of the interesting architecture of Washington DC metropolitan region, if you happen to find yourself in the Nation’s Capital this summer. The National Civic Art Society will be taking a look at a range of styles and subjects, from the British colonial past, to the Founding Fathers, to the horrors of Brutalist architecture. Definitely worth checking out or sharing with someone you know!

National Civic Art Society 2017

“Our Classical Heritage” Tours of D.C.

The National Civic Art Society is proud to announce the launch of our 2017 “Our Classical Heritage” walking tours. These tours are fashioned for those who wish a greater understanding of why and how the District of Columbia came to be a classically designed city. You will learn of the ancient antecedents of our political philosophies, of the stylistic precedents of our architectural forms, and of the Founders’ classical vision.

About the tour guide: Michael Curtis studied classical architecture at the University of Michigan, and painting, sculpture, and engraving in Florence, Italy. He has been a sculptor for more than 25 years. Major commissions include The History of Texas at the Texas Rangers Ball Park in Arlington, Texas, the largest American frieze produced in the 20th Century, as well as portrait busts for the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Thurgood Marshall Building, and many other public venues. His specialty is portraiture and fine medals. His book Our Classical Heritage: A Guide to the Political Philosophy and Aesthetic Precedent of Washington, the District of Columbia, will be published in fall 2017.

Tours are limited to three hours in length and begin at 10 AM at the location indicated. The cost per tour is $10. NCAS members, students, interns, and Hill staffers may obtain free tickets by e-mailing info@civicart.org. You must RSVP in advance. If you have any questions, please e-mail info@civicart.org or call (202) 670-1776.

Tickets are available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/our-classical-heritage-national-civic-art-society-walking-tours-tickets-34436469407

Tour I: Washington, the Classical City — June 3

The ancient cause of liberty; the immediate reason for independence; the classical principle of our convictions; the aesthetic model of a civil society.

The National Mall, from the Washington Monument

The Washington Monument

The Jefferson Memorial

Meet at the southeast corner of Constitution Ave. NW and 17th St. NW.

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Tour II: National, Political, and Personal Liberty — June 10

The various aspects of liberty considered in exemplary statues.

Lafayette Park, Lafayette Statue, et alia

Alexander Hamilton Statue

The National Liberty Memorial

Meet at the entrance of Teaism at 800 Connecticut Ave NW.

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Tour III: Freedom and Sacrifice — June 17

A consideration of freedom, sacrifice, and the architectural style best suited to remembrance.

Lincoln Memorial

Vietnam War Veterans Memorial

Korean War Veterans Memorial

The National WWII Memorial

Meet at the west end of the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool.

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Tour IV: Brutal Mistakes — June 24

Hubris and progressive misdirection; gradual abdication of citizen responsibility for morals and art; policy, an instrument to undermine traditional culture.

L’Enfant Plaza: Robert C. Weaver Federal Building, Housing and Urban Development, James V. Forrestal Building Department of Energy Building, L’Enfant Plaza Hotel

The Lyndon B. Johnson Department of Education Building

The Hubert H. Humphrey Department of Health and Human Services Building

Meet at the glass pyramid in front of the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel at480 L’Enfant Plaza SW.

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Tour V: British America — July 8

We trace in Alexandria, Virginia our growth from quaint colonial villagers to benevolent masters of the world.

Carlyle House and Lower King Street Warehouses

Prince Street and Local Alexandria

The Lyceum and the Confederate Statue

George Washington Masonic National Memorial

Meet at the front gate of Carlyle House at 121 N Fairfax St, Alexandria, VA.