Art beyond the Beltway: Museums worth leaving the Mall for


Funny Girl (1968) | Pers: Barbra Streisand | Dir: William Wyler; on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. (Columbia / The Kobal Collection/COLUMBIA)
October 4, 2013

As the new art season gets underway in museums from Richmond to Boston, Washingtonians who are willing to travel will find that a wealth of modernist painting beckons from beyond the Beltway. Among the highlights on view now are such New York exhibitions as “Balthus: Cats and Girls — Paintings and Provocations”(through Jan. 12 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art); “Chagall: Love, War and Exile”(through Feb. 2 at the Jewish Museum); “Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938” (through Jan. 12 at the Museum of Modern Art, or MOMA); and “Robert Motherwell: Early Collages” (through Jan. 5 at the Guggenheim).

The coming months hold even more modernism, and even closer to home. “Leger: Modern Art and the Metropolis” opens Oct. 14 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “German Expressionism” debuts Jan. 29 at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

But why stick with the tried and true?

Known for its stellar collection of ancient Egyptian art, Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum opens “Egypt’s Mysterious Book of the Faiyum” on Sunday. Organized in conjunction with the Roemer-und-Pelizaeus-Museum, Hildesheim, the show features as its centerpiece a nearly-20-foot-long papyrus illustrating the adventures of Sobek the Egyptian crocodile god. Too old? Check out “She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers From Iran and the Arab World.” On view now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the group show features a dozen artists who are known for making provocative statements in their work, such as against the oppression of women in fundamentalist Islamic cultures.

Here are several other suggestions for out-of-town art trips that shine a light on artists, themes and genres that are, for one reason or another, off the beaten track.

Female artists

One thing about those folks listed in the first paragraph: They’re all men. For a more estrogen-rich art diet, consider these:

Sarah Sze” (Dec. 13-April 6) is a good place to start getting to know Philadelphia’s Fabric Workshop and Museum, an adventurous institution that isn’t yet a household name and probably doesn’t want to be. Although the artist, who represented the United States at this year’s Venice Biennale, doesn’t work exclusively — or even primarily — with fabric, her elaborate, room-filling architectural constructions of found objects are a perfect fit for the quirky museum, whose purview extends well beyond textiles.

In 2008, Amy Sillman was the subject of a small, single-gallery show at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Now, the painter is getting a mid-career survey with “One Lump or Two,” on view at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art through Jan. 5. Organized by the ICA’s Helen Molesworth, a former curator of contemporary art at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the show will trace Sillman’s stylistic evolution from her cartoonish figuration of the 1990s to her current use of colorful abstraction.

Photographer and video artist Carrie Mae Weems will be the subject of a 30-year retrospective opening Jan. 24 at the Guggenheim. Known for her socially conscious staged images, Weems was recently named a recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant.”

When Johannes Vermeer’s “The Concert” was stolen from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990, Sophie Calle took notice of the painting’s theft. The disappearance of one of the artist’s favorite paintings inspired the French conceptualist’s “Last Seen,” a 1991 meditation on memory and loss using photos and text. That work, along with a newer, related series of images, goes on view Oct. 24 at the Gardner in “Last Seen.”

Herb and Dorothy Vogel

The documentary “Herb and Dorothy 50x50,” which opened Friday at the West End Cinema, is a follow-up to a 2008 film spotlighting husband-and-wife art collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel, a New York postal worker and librarian who, beginning in 1962, amassed one of the world’s great collections of minimal and conceptual art. Then, as the new film notes, they gave it away to the American people, donating 50 artworks apiece to museums in all 50 states.

So where can you see some of this art? “The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States” runs through Oct. 20 at Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. If you’re in New England, check out “Many Things Placed Here and There: The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery” (through Jan. 26), or “Dorothy and Herb Vogel: 50 Works for 50 States,” on view through May 18 at the University of Vermont’s Fleming Museum.

Armory Show centennial

America got its first look at modern art 100 years ago, at the International Exhibition of Modern Art, a 1913 show at New York’s 69th Regiment Armory that featured controversial work by some of the art world’s most daring nose-thumbers. Locally, that anniversary is being celebrated by two shows: The Phillips Collection’s “History in the Making” (through Dec. 1) features works from the permanent collection by artists who were in the Armory Show. “Decenter NY/DC,” on view through Dec. 20 at George Washington University’s Luther W. Brady Gallery, takes a more contemporary approach to the 1913 show, featuring artists of today who have been affected by the legacy of cubism and other early 20th-century art movements.

But for New York’s take on the historic show, check out “The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution,” opening Oct. 11 at the New York Historical Society Museum and Library.

Fashion

Fashion, like art, reflects and shapes the society in which it is born. For fans of “Project Runway,” several out-of-town shows on clothing design offer a diverse selection of historical, cultural, technical and aesthetic perspectives, including:

A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk,” through Jan. 4 at the Museum at FIT (New York).

Future Beauty: Avant-Garde Japanese Fashion ,” opening Nov. 16 at the Peabody Essex Museum (Salem, Mass.).

Hippie Chic,” through Nov.11 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Hollywood Costume ,” opening Nov. 9 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (Richmond).

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk,” opens Oct. 25 at the Brooklyn Museum.

Performance art

This June’s Rosslyn-based performance-art festival, Supernova, suggested that there’s a healthy appetite in the Washington area for art action. Those looking for even more of it should head to New York this fall, where the Performa 13 biennial of performance art will take place Nov. 1-24 in more than 40 venues around the city, including the Bronx Museum of the Arts and MOMA, as well as miscellaneous theaters, galleries and other alternative spaces. A more tightly focused look at the genre can be found in “Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art.” The two-part survey was organized by the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston. The first runs through Dec. 7 at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery; the second half opens Nov. 14 at Harlem’s Studio Museum.

Finally, if you’re in New York, don’t miss “Chris Burden: Extreme Measures .” The New Museum exhibition, which will take up all five floors and part of the building’s exterior, is the first American survey of the artist’s work in 25 years.

Burden, who is perhaps best known for controversial early performances in which he was shot in the left arm (1971) and nailed to the back of a Volkswagen (1974), has since migrated to more sculptural work. The show is on view through Jan. 12.

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Michael O’Sullivan has worked since 1993 at The Washington Post, where he covers art, film and other forms of popular — and unpopular — culture.
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