I’m participating in the NEA International Arts Journalism Institute in the Visual Arts at American University with 12 writers from 10 states and 12 writers from Egypt, Columbia, Venezuela, Phillippines, South Africa, Bosnia, and India. My plan was to post more frequently about the experience and perhaps the next week will be easier, but I doubt it. Here’s a brief summary of our experiences.
Day 1. AU Prof. Gary Weaver discusses cultural sensitivity and differences and suddenly I’m very aware of being an American. Bus tour of DC and visit to Arlington National Cemetery and FDR monument. Hmm? Too much war and death and monuments to such for one day. So we lighten up by watching Charlie Chaplin films with the AU Prof. Despina Kakoudaki, the Greek Goddess of Film.
Day 2. Another bus trip. Get lost trying to find the Kelly Collection of American Illustration in Great Falls, VA. Are rewarded by finding the Kelly Collection and touring with collector Richard Kelly. Visit the Corcoran Gallery and tour with Sarah Cash whose installed a relatively uninteresting display of American Art, but hey, we must see the Frederick Church and the Albert Bierstadt! Grand American landscapes. Have a few minutes to run through the Maya Lin exhibit Systematic Landscapes and we are off to Freer + Sackler Galleries to see Surface Beauty the Peacock Room with curator Lee Glazer. Whistler gone mad.
Day 3. Writing Workshop. That’s what we’re here for after all. Followed by a blog session with New Media artist and former AU Prof. Randall Packer. Would have liked more in depth discussion of new media, blogging, social media, etc. This is where journalism is going. Anyway, we had a few hours to write 1,000 word masterpiece and then dinner and movie night watching “Little Miss Sunshine.”
Day 4. Did I mention we only had a few hours to write our 1,000 word masterpieces? Anyway, after posting them by 10 a.m. we headed off via public transportation to Smithsonian American Art Museum and a tour with director Elizabeth Broun. Enjoyed the Luce Center open storage and a brief but succinct explanation of conservation with Julie Heath from the Lunder Center. We did have time to wander the contemporary collection, but I never made it to the first floor for the New Deal for Artists show. We had lunch in the museums beautiful covered courtyard and then toured Inventing Marcel Duchamp with curator Ann Goodyear. Came back to AU and met in small groups to discuss our masterpieces. Turns out, they aren’t yet masterpieces. Imagine. Dinner was followed by an art history lecture with Prof. Helen Langa. (Did her undergrad work at CU Boulder).
Day 5. Philadelphia. The city of brotherly love and cheesteaks. Funny, that the International writerst recognized the steps Rocky ran up in the film before most Americans did. The PMA is an awesome museum and I’m ashamed to admit that I had never visited it before. Their collection of key works of modernism and contemporary art rivals… well…I don’t know. We toured with curator Kathleen Foster and assitant curator Adelina Vlas. Of course the highlight is the Duchamp collection and that mysterious Etant Donnes. Actually, it’s great to see the large glass piece The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even and Nude Descending a Staircase No. 1. Afterward we visited ICA and the Fabric Workshop.
Day 6. Another writing workshop. Mostly, it was a writing conversation. We don’t actually have time to write, except now, at nearly midnight. But hey, what do you want? To write or see all this freaking great art? Art. I’ll take the art! After lunch we go to the Hirshorn and take a tour of the exhibit Directions: Walaed Beshty with curator Evelyin Hankin. To top it off, we are joined by superstar photo critic A.D. Coleman. I also was able to squeeze in the Strange Bodies exhibit downstairs. Then we hit 14th street galleries and we were greeted by Annie Gawlak the director of G Fine Art and then I wandered into a lovely little space called the Curator’s Office and chatted with Andrea Pollan and fell in love with her space and the Chris Scarborough exhibit. Then we were charmed by George Hemphill at Hemphill Fine Art and his honest, truthful, down-to-earth style. No artspeak. No word mincing. At dinner we enjoyed dialogue with A.D. Coleman.
Day 7. Baltimore. Yes, another bus. It’s a dreary rainy day as we head out. First stop, The Visionary Art Museum. Can you say? Brilliant? Inspiring? A Gift. And that’s just director Rebecca Hoffberger, the museum itself is smart yet earthbound. Real. We follow that with lunch at Paper Moon Diner and then a tour of Baltimore Museum of Art with director Doreen Bolger. Those Cone sisters amassed an amazing collection of Matisse! We toured the Baker Artist Awards exhibit with critic Mike Giuliano and artist John Ruppert who then graciously took us to visit his studio! You rock John Ruppert. How many artists would invite 24 art critics to tour his studio? But when one’s work is this sophisticated, aesthetically pleasing and simple (in a good way), why not. Ended the evening viewing Goodbye Lenin!