Mid-Atlantic offers a wealth of museum exhibits

October 4, 2012

Crisp weather and the turning of the leaves aren’t the only incentives to venture out of the Washington area this season. Here are a few of the shows scheduled in the mid-Atlantic region, at museums somewhere between the James and the Harlem rivers.

Baltimore

“Matisse’s Dancers,” Baltimore Museum of Art, Nov. 14 through Feb. 24

Made between 1909 and 1949, the more than 30 prints, drawings and sculptures in this survey manifest Matisse’s perpetual fascination with dance and dancers. The crux of the show is a rarely seen series of 11 lithographs that follow a dancer’s or acrobat’s moves through various positions, gradually becoming an abstract portrayal of form and motion. These elegant prints, designed in 1931-32 but published only after Matisse’s death, are considered some of the most direct representations of the artist’s vision. The exhibition’s scope is widened by the inclusion of two sculptures by Auguste Rodin and Edgar Degas, who shared Matisse’s affinity for dance.

“Race: Are We So Different?” Maryland Science Center, through Jan. 1


Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), "Red Jackie." The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Copyright 2012. (Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. )

This show examines the physical differences among various people, which are much fewer than the similarities. It also considers the history of racial distinctions, and the way that laws, traditions and institutions established arbitrary definitions of “white” and “black,” “Western” and “Oriental.” The exhibits chart the role of racial assumptions in the early development of this country, and examine the latest science. Expanded knowledge of the human genome, the show’s curators note, reveals that “no one gene, or any set of genes, can support the idea of race.”

“Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe,” Walters Art Museum, Sunday through Jan. 21

Although European explorers barely entered Africa’s interior until the 19th century, traders were visiting the coasts by the early 1500s. These 75 works demonstrate how Renaissance artists, inspired by both myth and reality, began depicting Africans. Some of the people shown were slaves, but there are also merchants, scholars and diplomats, as well as such religious figures as St. Benedict of Palermo (the Moor), commemorated by a polychrome statue. Some of the pieces are from the Walters, but others are from such venerable museums as Florence’s Uffizi and Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.

New York

“Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years,” Metropolitan Museum of Art, through Dec. 31

Andy Warhol’s greatness is not universally accepted, but his influence cannot be denied. The core of this show, which has drawn mixed reviews, is almost 50 works by the man who transformed modern art with repeated (and mechanically reproduced) images of Marilyn and Mao, cows and cans. There are roughly 100 other pieces by 59 of the high-profile artists who followed Warhol’s example, including Barbara Kruger, Bruce Nauman, Gerhard Richter, Cindy Sherman and, of course, Jeff Koons. Also included are a few of Warhol’s films, which for all their blankness sometimes reveal more of the artist’s sensibility than his paintings.

“Yayoi Kusama: Fireflies on the Water,” Whitney Museum of American Art, through Oct. 28

Japan’s often-conformist society can produce remarkable eccentrics. One example is prescient feminist artist Yayoi Kusama, the now 83-year-old pop pioneer who spent the 1960s in New York — and has lived in a Tokyo asylum since 1977. This retrospective, which originated at London’s Tate Modern, shows how Kusama answered dark thoughts with bright colors and elementary forms. Polka dots are among her trademarks, as are the mirrored “infinity rooms” that can be seen as playful or scarily dislocating. Also featured are some of Kusama’s soft-sculpture phalluses, which may seem cute, but have their origin in the artist’s aversion to her father’s voracious sexuality.

“Picasso Black and White,” Guggenheim Museum, through Jan. 23

Aside from the solemn “Guernica,” Pablo Picasso is not known for working in black and white. Yet this show assembles 118 paintings, sculptures and works on paper, although it does fudge on the premise: Included are early monochromatic paintings in shades of blue and rose. The exhibition surveys the Spanish painter’s work from 1904 to 1971, with styles ranging from neoclassical to Cubist, and subjects from wartime atrocities to the erotic reveries of his late work. The array includes loans from private collections and the painter’s estate, so much of it will be fresh even to veterans of other Picasso retrospectives.

“Andrew Carnegie: Forging Philanthropy,” Museum of American Finance, through Oct. 31

A teenage Scottish immigrant who began his career as a bobbin-factory worker, Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) started the company that became U.S. Steel. Its success made him (by some calculations) the second-richest man in history. He founded many institutions, including Carnegie Hall and the Carnegie Institution of Washington. He also endowed more 2,500 libraries throughout the English-speaking world, from Fiji and his Scottish home town to D.C.’s Mount Vernon Square. This show recounts and evokes Carnegie’s life and career. The artifacts on display include a $100,000 gold bond certificate issued to Carnegie and his personal flag with the Stars and Stripes on one side and Scotland’s Saint Andrew’s Cross on the other.

“The Butterfly Conservatory,” American Museum of Natural History, through May 28

An interior butterfly garden is the highlight of this annual seasonal exhibition, which introduces some of the more than 250,000 known species of Lepidoptera. The museum’s vivarium — a temporary structure within one of the existing galleries — will house living specimens of butterflies from three families: Pieridae, known as whites and sulphurs; Papilionidae, or swallowtails; and Nymphalidae, which include morphos and longwings. Outside the butterfly habitat, exhibits will describe butterflies’ anatomy, evolution and life cycles. Also explained are how the delicate winged creatures interact with plants and other animals, and the threats to them from the rapid loss of suitable habitat.

Philadelphia

“Shipwreck! Winslow Homer and the Life Line,” Philadelphia Museum of Art, through Dec. 16

A single Winslow Homer canvas, 1884’s “The Life Line,” is the departure point for this show of paintings, prints and ceramics. Part of the analysis concerns the dramatic picture itself, which depicts evacuees using a pulley to traverse a menacing sea. Preparatory drawings and subsequent etchings reveal how Homer altered the final image; changes can also be seen in painted-over areas and in recent X-radiographs. Included in the exhibition are portrayals of shipwrecks dating to the 17th century, along with paintings Homer made during the crucial two years he spent in Britain, depicting the everyday lives of coastal residents.

“Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition,” The Franklin Institute, Nov. 10 through April 7

Long an object of fascination, the doomed RMS Titanic attracted a new generation of devotees with the release of James Cameron’s 1997 movie. A century after the April 15, 1912, maritime disaster that claimed 1,502 lives, this show presents more than 300 artifacts, many salvaged from the ship and its debris field. These come from the collection of RMS Titanic Inc., which has conducted eight underwater recovery missions to the site since 1987, collecting 5,500 objects. The exhibition also recounts the history of the Titanic from its construction to life on board during the disastrous maiden voyage. Re-created staterooms and stories of individual passengers evoke the human element sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer number of victims.

Richmond

“Chihuly at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,” Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Oct. 20 through Feb. 10

The light and color transmitted by glass artist Dale Chihuly’s work should sparkle in this museum’s glass-walled 2010 addition, the James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Wing. The American artist is known for sinuous forms, vivid hues and sheer scale, all of which test the limits of traditional glassmaking. This exhibition will showcase many of Chihuly’s best-known creations, including the massive “Persian Ceiling,” inspired by Middle Eastern glasswork from the 12th to 14th centuries. Also featured will be site-specific installations designed to complement the building’s reflecting pools and multistory atrium.

“Guitar: The Instrument That Rocked the World,” Science Museum of Virginia, through Jan. 4

The guitar might seem more a matter of art than science, but this exhibition delves into the acoustics and electronics of what it calls “the world’s most popular instrument.” (Pianists, please send your remarks directly to Richmond.) In addition to an array of more than 60 guitars and related Asian and European instruments, the show includes interactive displays. Visitors will be able to handle wood and string samples and hear distinctive sounds they provide. The physics of both electric guitars and their amplifiers are illustrated, along with examples of musical innovation allowed by the new technology. Finally, visitors can test their potential Guitar Heroism by playing riffs on a virtual fretboard that measures their ability to remember musical patterns.

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