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An Interesting Update

Updated: Jul 26, 2019

Just some of the art I have consumed lately. . .

On an outing to the National Gallery of Art's East Building yesterday, I picked up their most recent gallery brochure and noticed that featured prominently on its cover was the painting by contemporary abstract artist Amy Sillman, Blue Diagram, that I wrote about in a comparative analysis for school my first semester (summer/fall 2018) titled Helen Frankenthaler and Amy Sillman: The Anatomy of a Search for Diversity in a Major Art Museum.

Digital collaged image of Amy Sillman (top) and Helen Frankenthaler's (bottom) paintings.

An element of my writing in the paper drew attention to some of the glaring gaps in the institution's display of works of art on its gallery walls by women and other minority artists. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised to see Sillman's work so prominently featured in the marketing materials for the National Gallery of Art. Although, inside the brochure, I think you get a better idea of what's really going on. Out of 31 artist's works featured, only 7 are of women artist's work, with one African American woman artist--Alma Thomas--included. When it comes to women artists, I suppose that this is a small but positive turn of events. Still, as with many museums today, I think that they have some work to do in the diversity department.

At the National Gallery of Art from April 14 through September 15, 2019.

Oliver Lee Jackson

Speaking of diversity, one of the exhibits that I was excited to see on my trip to the National Gallery, was Oliver Lee Jackson's Recent Paintings. Jackson is an African American artist who "emerged in the wake of abstract expressionism" but unlike other artists at the time "never wavered from his figural stance." Indeed, one of the best parts of the exhibit for me was the short movie clip in which Jackson is talking about his process and how he always returns to the figure as inspiration in his work. I am endlessly fascinated to hear artists talk about their process and thinking around their art practice.

After reading this article Discovered After 70, Black Artists Find Success, Too, Has Its Price in the New York Times, in which a few of the abstract expressionist artists that were interviewed talked about their experiences coming of age in the 1960s, and how it was a rather lonely place for them at a time when black artists were expected to create work around social issues, I wonder if Jackson as one of their contemporaries, also felt similar pressure to conform? Unfortunately, neither the exhibit nor its brochure addressed this issue.

Oliver Lee Jackson, "No. 7, 2017 (7.27.17)" oil based paint on panel.

I was drawn to and identify with Jackson's art because, like me, he works "across many media, from painting and drawing to printmaking and sculpture." And his paintings "make connections between gestural actions (pointing, bending, kneeling), recurrent motifs (figures with hats, instruments, carts), and references to the act of making (drawing, brushing, measuring, scraping, cutting)." As you can see from the image above, his works are big, vibrant pieces that express moments of action through the use of bold color, as well as with the expression of his brushstrokes which seem to suggest the human figure in joyous motion.

On display from June 2 through August 19, 2019.

The Life of Animals in Japanese Art

Also currently on display at the National Gallery of Art's East Building is The Life of Animals in Japanese Art. This exhibit is a sprawling show that explores the roles of animals and their symbolic meaning in Japanese culture through the themes of religion, mythology and folktales, the zodiac, the world of the Samurai, and nature.

Contemporary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's dog sculptures.

The exhibit is chockfull of art forms, everything from the contemporary 21st century pieces shown above by Yayoi Kusama; (although, I noticed on the wall label for these sculptures that she is listed as "Kusama Yayoi." I wonder if that is the traditional way that the Japanese write their names?); to the earthenware pieces shown below that date to the Kofun period, c. 5th and 6th century; to current day fashion and pop art.

Earthenware pottery dating from the 5th and 6th century.

Animals have so many symbolic meanings in Japanese culture, and in folklore they can have supernatural powers as well. "The crane is said to live for a thousand years, and the turtle for ten thousand." Thus, when their images are incorporated into the embroidery of clothing, like the beautiful robes below, the wearer is endowed with the wish for long life.

There are so many visual elements to this exhibit, as well as a lot of written information to take in, so at times it was hard to know where to look next. But I did find it to be a fascinating look into a culture that I don't know a lot about, even if it was hard to take it all in on one visit. I think I will have to go back and see it again, as well as to buy the catalogue. I found the imagery to be very beautiful and inspiring, and I am always looking for ways to infuse my own work with symbolism. I can learn a thing or two from the Japanese.

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