Archive for October, 2012|Monthly archive page

Ai Weiwei at Hirshhorn

This city is lucky. Because of having the Smithsonian Institution in its area, Washington, DC gets to see many great exhibitions of art. This time is noted Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei. His retrospective at the Hirshhorn opened recently.

Friends had seen the show and raved about the three long rooms of his work from the 1980s until work completed this year. One friend enjoyed the black and white photographs that the artist took while living in New York City during the 1980s. Others liked the colorful photographs of the making of the Olympic stadium in Beijing. Photographs document changes over time and you can see the construction site as it was bare through the hosting of the games. What was particularly interesting in the exhibit was the placement of some of these photographs on the floor. You walk over some of them, giving you the ability to see the building from “on top.”

When you enter the room, you see a green snake. The snake has a long history in the world’s religions as a tempter but also as a rejuvenator of life.


The snake fit nicely with the theme of animals and the Chinese Zodiac that adorned the garden outside the museum building that Weiwei created.


The most spectacular pieces shown were the constructions that Weiwei made. An amazing large piece called map of China involved taking a beautiful red wood from an old Qing Dynasty temple and fashioning it together so that the top of the piece showed the mainland of China.

A second wood construction from the same material also proved striking.

A protest piece of porcelain crabs proved striking for its reference to Chinese culture but also for his comment about political suppression under the Chinese government.


The show works well for people who know little about China’s culture and history. It is richer for those who do.

DC Is A Dance Place

Velocity DC did it again this year. The DC dance festival is in its fourth year and was stronger than ever.

Washington has a wide range of dance companies performing everything from traditional Flamenco dance to Appalachian foot stomping. Saturday night’s began with high energy dance while the host, Peter DiMuro, offered a Top Ten list for being at the show. The first of several good contemporary dance pieces came from Edgeworks. I’ve seen them several times before and their work is often very moving.

As an international city, we get treated to distinctive performances from other countries. Xuejuan Dance Ensemble gave us a beautiful fan dance that made you believe the fan was a partner. The flamenco, from the Flamenco Aparicio Dance Company, lit the hall up as it closed out the first act. Check them out:

Rasta Thomas’ Bad Boys of Dance opened the second act with highlight reel gymnastics and moves. See below when they were on So You Think You Can Dance.


My partner raved over the contemporary piece called “Y” from Company | E, and our friend could not get enough of the Washington Ballet Studio Company and their sweet, sensitive performance.

DC returned to its international flair with Farafina Kan performing the Sound of Africa, with some amazing drum solos.

Washington DC Historical Studies

Another fine year for the DC Historical Studies Conference! The conference included a wide-range of topics and presenters, including students from local high schools, Howard and George Washington Universities, and independent and academic scholars.

This conference is interested in bringing many disciplines together. Historians, archeologists, linguists, sociologists all gave fantastic papers on topics ranging from the city’s school system, and African-American cemeteries, to gay community formation, and a how-to presentation on doing oral history.

The history of the school system and its governance shows how divided the group has been on how to best serve the children of white and black families. The papers hint at some of the reasons behind the current difficulties. A session on discovering the Black community of Georgetown showed how the history can engage youngsters and help them build the skills of researching and analytical thinking. The Mount Zion Cemetery is listed as one of the most endangered in the country.

The DC Public Library discussed a grant they are receiving to build a web application that will enable people to read passages from works of fiction that describe the area where they are currently standing.

The History Network filled the Great Hall of Martin Luther King Jr. DC Public Library. Non-profit organizations, including the Arlington Historical Society and Cultural Tourism DC, offered brochures and suggestions about experiencing the variety of historical sites and activities in the area.

What’s American About American Art

Last night’s Clarice Smith Lecture at the Smithsonian American Art Museum posed the question. Adam Gopnick, American critic, essayist, commentator, and journalist, entertained the crowd very well. A writer for The New Yorker, Gopnick split the discussion into three sections. First, he considered who are American artists, then he focused on American art institutions, then concluded with a discussino about the definition of being American.

The artists he discussed including Winslow Homer, often moved into painting and other fine arts, after working in a more practical application of their artistic skill, such as illustration for newspapers. Unlike many European artists, they were not academically trained in many cases. Gopnick observed that these American art emerged in the mid-nineteenth century at a time when photography emerged to depict what painting had often been used for (showing an image). Thus, theses artists immediately faced the question of what is the purpose of art. Gopnick noted that the artists frequently made paintings that showed the abundance of American reality or the spiritual as a single white glowing oblong.

The boomerang effect between these two poles forms a major part of what is American about art. Another is that American art institutions included a wider range of items in their collections than European art galleries and museums. They showed decorative and other arts in the same gallery and hall as the “fine” arts, defining them all as part of American artistic creations. He did not discuss the origins of museums in America, which came out of the tradition of the dime museum, or the great hall of wonders, and included a wide-range of objects.

The presentation concluded with an argument to see American as not an innate biologiocal thing but a pluralistic urge that includes.

Surprisingly, Gopnick showed a small number of images. The main pieces he showed included Wayne Thiebaud’s Cakes

   and James Turrell’s light painting to illustrate the boomerang effect.

I think some people in the audience would have liked to have seen more images so that they could see things for themselves.

As a historian, I would like to see Gopnick link his thesis tohow the artists thought in the specific time and place in which they created their work. A sense of abundance in America would mean something different in the late 19th century US or even in mid-Twentieth century US, then it means to some one today. Same for the effortsd to represent the spiritual.

Boxer Comes Out Gay

Of all the sports where a male athlete who is currently competing would come out as gay would you think the first one would be boxing?

Yes, that’s right. Orlando Cruz, one the eve of a title bout, announces he is gay!