Monday, June 26, 2006

James Hampton's "Throne of the Third Heaven" To Be A Highlight Of Reopening -- After Six And One-Half Long Years -- Of National Museum Of American Art

"PRESENT: A pioneering collection of folk art, including James Hampton's wild "Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly." The tin-foil covered monument was living in a Washington garage until the museum stepped in to save it after the artist's death in 1964.

ABSENT: The country's decorative arts, which for years were better than anything made here in painting and sculpture. The museum has borrowed several rooms of superb federal-era furniture from private collector Linda Kaufman, and some arts-and-crafts ceramics and glassware from other Smithsonian museums. That may show it's got ambitions to move further into this domain.

PRESENT: Works by lesser-known African American artists such as William H. Johnson and abstractionist Norman Lewis, who until recently might have been left out of the story of American art.

ABSENT: The probing, tough works of more recent black conceptualists, who've challenged our standard notions of race.

PRESENT: Selections from the museum's growing collection of American photography, installed in a corridor near the gift shop and floor-to-ceiling in a first-floor gallery meant to introduce visitors to "The American Experience."

ABSENT: Examples of important photo-based art, for example by Cindy Sherman or Nan Goldin, in the contemporary galleries on the third floor. Or any fine-art photography at all in the chronological account that spans the second. (There are photographs in a display on the Civil War, but they're mostly presented as documents rather than art.)

PRESENT: A handful of portraits, of varying quality, by figures such as Charles Willson Peale, Gilbert Stuart, John Trumbull and Thomas Sully.

ABSENT: More and better works by these early American masters -- and anything at all by artists like Martin Johnson Heade and William Harnett -- to take the full measure of the first American accomplishments in art.

PRESENT: The world's greatest collection of paintings of Native Americans, made by George Catlin in the 1830s.

ABSENT: Art works of the period by Native Americans, as well maybe as early photographs of Indians, to balance the view of things presented by the white man's paintings.

PRESENT: A beautiful Whistler from 1866 called "Valparaiso Harbor," one of his very first poetic blurs.

ABSENT: Anything else of note by this most influential of American artists." ...

Blake Gopnik "What's There . . . and What's Not: A Sampler of Smithsonian American Art Museum Hits and Misses" Washington Post June 25, 2006

James Hampton's "Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly" has been an inspiration for classical and jazz orchestral and oratorio music world-wide.

The National Museum of American Art and the National Portrait Gallery reopen to the public on July 1, 2006; after being closed for renovations for six and one-half years. In the meantime, this Historic District of Washington, D.C., of which the two National Museums (housed in the historic U.S. Patent Office where Walt Whitman once nursed Union Soldiers during the U.S. Civil War) were a long-time centerpiece, has been transformed, under "urban renewal" into an sports, entertainment, and night-life district rivalling Georgetown and Adams Morgan, D.C., and Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. There is no room now, in this Historic District, for either a Washington, D.C. Music Conservatory or a downtown campus of the University of the District of Columbia. However, there was development space left in the Historic District, fortunately and just barely, for the new Shakespeare Theatre Company's Harman Center for Shakespeare and the Arts.

National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Shakespeare Theatre Company Harman Center for Shakespeare and the Arts

Photo credit: African-American Artists. University of Wisconsin -- River Falls.


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