1997-98 Arts Preview

Get a listing of selected art shows and venues, and a list of selected museum exhibits.

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On With the Shows: At Local Museums,
A Season of Surprises
The Day Dream.
Dante Gabriel Rosetti (English). "The Day Dream." 1880 Oil on canvas.
Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum

By Paul Richard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 7, 1997

Museums here are different. The objects they will show us in the season just beginning among them are the finest of our Civil War memorials, a Leonardo notebook, and paintings by Stanley Spencer, Charles Burchfield and Arthur Dove will demonstrate yet again that this region's art museums are more adventurous by far than most.

Washington's museums, perhaps because the best of them don't have to charge admission, tend to feel less venal than those in other cities, less box-office dependent, less hungry for your cash. And perhaps because art buying here has never had much oomph, local art museums seldom ape the market. They instead keep offering surprises. They astonish, and they teach.

This season they'll be bringing us a trio of our century's most idiosyncratic painters. If anything unites Dove, Burchfield and Spencer, it is probably their weirdness. When Dove (whose retrospective will be shown Sept. 20-Jan. 4 at the Phillips Collection) and Burchfield (whose paintings will be at the National Museum of American Art Sept. 26-Jan. 25) gazed upon the landscape, they didn't just see scenery. They sensed the scene before them altering its forms and writhing with strange energies, like a thing alive. Spencer, the Englishman (whose show will be on view Oct. 9-Jan. 11 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden), was equally impervious to the dictates of art fashion. In an era of abstraction, he kept painting human figures; as his age went secular, Spencer kept insisting on religion in his art. These three painters are too odd to comfortably fit into cubbyholes, which partially explains why they've been relatively ignored for so long.

Lorenzo Lotto, too, has been undeservedly neglected. Lotto, a 16th-century Venetian and a contemporary of Titian, was unknown to the broad public until Bernard Berenson first wrote with real passion on his melancholic paintings in 1895. "Lorenzo Lotto: Rediscovered Master of the Renaissance" (at the National Gallery Oct. 2-March 1) will be the Italian's first American show.

Meanwhile, New York's art museums, most of which rely on admissions for big chunks of their budgets, will be leaning heavily on the usual sus- pects-the impressionists 11) and the clothing designs of the late Gianni Versace (Dec. 11-March 22). The Brooklyn Museum of Art (admission $8) will offer "Monet and the Mediterranean" (Oct. 10-Jan. 4). A Robert Rauschenberg retrospective will be the autumn draw (Sept. 19-Jan. 7) at the Guggenheim Museum (where it costs adults $10 to get in), and at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the big fall show will be "The Warhol Look/Glamour Style Fashion" (Nov. 8-Jan. 18), though Richard Diebenkorn's retrospective, co-organized by the Phillips, will also be on view (Oct. 9-Jan. 11).

Whether "Augustus Saint-Gaudens's Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw" at the National Gallery (Sept. 21-Dec. 14) will attract comparable attention is more problematic, but that doesn't matter: The Shaw Memorial remains one of the most powerful, and in terms of race relations perhaps the most deeply felt, of 19th-century American public sculptures.

That museums lift the common man and improve the whole society was the principle on which Britain's first public art museum, the Victoria and Albert, in South Kensington in London, was opened to the public in 1852. "A Grand Design: Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum," at the Baltimore Museum of Art (Oct. 12-Jan. 18), will include 250 objects of the V&A's 4 million. Among those shown will be a book, Charles Dickens's "Bleak House" (the manuscript, the proofs and the first edition), a wooden chair (designed by Robert Adam and carved by Thomas Chippendale) and a pair of monstrously high shoes (designed by Vivienne Westwood) that Naomi Campbell fell off. The V&A exhibit also will present Leonardo's notebook of geometric meditations, German baroque ivories, a Chinese imperial throne (which was seized by the Russians during the Boxer Rebellion), and-since the V&A owns more paintings than London's National Gallery of Art-lots of pictures, too. Constable's "Salisbury Cathedral," Rossetti's "Day Dream" and Boucher's "Mme. Pompadour" will be among those shown.

The Emperor of Japan will also be contributing works of art this season. "Twelve Centuries of Japanese Art From the Imperial Collections," an exhibit of 56 paintings and a dozen calligraphies, most never sent abroad before, will be seen at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (Dec. 14-March 8).

Thomas Moran's vast and fastidious Western landscapes, some of which encouraged the nation to establish Yellowstone National Park, will be displayed at the National Gallery (Sept. 28-Jan. 11). M.C. Escher's intricate illusions of water flowing uphill and hands drawing themselves, which have encouraged lots of spacey meditations, also will be shown at the National Gallery (Oct. 26-April 26).

The multitalented Gordon Parks will also have a retrospective-"Half Past Autumn: The Art of Gordon Parks," an exhibit that accompanies 220 of his photographs with examples of his movies, his writings and his music, will be displayed at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Sept. 10-Jan. 11.)

The discerning eye of Sylvia H. Williams, the late director of the National Museum of African Art, enormously improved that institution's permanent collection, and it will be celebrated there in "Gifts to the National Collection of African Art" (Sept. 17-Jan. 4). The museum will also show "A Spiral of History: A Carved Tusk From the Loango Coast, Congo" (Feb. 1-April 26).

In December, to welcome its new neighbor, the MCI Center and its prime occupants, the Washington Wizards, the National Museum of American Art will offer a show called "Sports in Art" (Nov. 21-April 5).

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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