The Corcoran is one of the museums in Washington DC that is private and you must pay for. The original housing for the collection was in today’s Renwick building (seen below, left). If you have a North American reciprocal card with your local membership you should be able to get in for nothing, same as the Women’s Museum or the Phillips. The Phillips may have an “extra” exhibit, many do, that almost negates this by making you pay extra. Luckily, if you do pay, it is only $10. A bargain next to the New York museums.
As history echoes itself last year, the Corcoran’s claim to shame comes in the 80s when it backed down on showing Robert Mapplethorpe’s work in light of a very hostile Right wing in both Congress and the White House. That was at a time when lunatic un-Christians felt that gays “got what they deserved with AIDS.” So much for that dedication to art.
If you are outside the museum there is poster of the classical painting of a reclining seminude male, which is even more arresting because of the presentation, which is lined up on the floor, its scale and technique. This image was part of the 30 Americans, the show at the Corcoran, of the artworks of many contemporary African American artists, many who have become museum staples (Kehinde Wiley, Mickalene Thomas) in most contemporary collections in progressive American museums. As I have written a lot about both of them, including Kara Walker, another one of my favorites, but am not sure which piece she did. It is less about who they are now, but how they will evolve that interests me. There is a Basquiat. I always think of Basquiat, as I think of Janis Joplin, which is where would they have evolved. The trouble with aging, is you find yourself doing that each decade.
The layout of the show is a little confusing, so of course, I would take at least one illegal shot of an intriguing installation. At once, the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, as we confront our not to0 recent past, as we are reminded that Hitler patterned his propaganda (Jews as a “race”, public sanctioned murder) upon our dear old post-Reconstruction days. We think we have gone past those days, but when I think of all the hateful things people say and do, who have no business getting involved. But that has nothing to do with the overall show. –Or does it?
The Corcoran is a good all around museum. While you have a lot of contemporary going on, you also have traditional work and craft, which gives a more pertinent view as to what art could be. The little Remington (below), although more illustration, is a pleasant diversion.
Frederic Remington’s Off the Range (Coming through the Rye)
I was happy to go through the rooms and see both abstract expressionists and early pop. Hofmann gains more ground as his work ages. I remember when he was strictly NY. Two of my professors were disciples of his. Ironically, not yet 20, I dropped both their classes!
Hans Hofmann‘s Golden Blaze (left) and Helen Frankenthaler’s Hurricane Flag (right).
Mitchell’s reevaluation seems normal in the age of post-feminism. Her color, a little toward tints, does not compromise but enhance, her bold brushwork.
Joan Mitchell’s Salut Tom
Ad Reinhardt’s Red Wall (left) and others
Raymond Saunders’ Red Star and Andy Warhol’s Mao
Most museums have some recreation of a room or rooms, but nothing is quite like this for the authenticity and the freedom to be inside it. The beauty of this room is that it was imported once from Paris from the hôtel de Clermont to a New York apartment, then again to the Corcoran. Originally built by Count D’Orsay in the 1770s in honor of his fiance, it was moved to New York by Senator Clark in the late 19th century with some modification. It is on the level of Versailles, with beautiful understated decoration and gilt embellishment.
Some sculptors invent with a material, let’s face it, stone is not flexible. After working for years in clay, I admire the carvers. Good ones, Michelangelo and some of the Spanish and German woodcarvers, have an interesting ability to truly visualize three dimensionally in that block of material. This wonderful little piece creates the illusion of a veil, while retaining beautifully the features and subtleties of light, especially around the eyes. It reminds me of some of those beautiful Vogue shots in the early fifties which were the last of veiled hats for women.
Within a few rooms sits the likes of several wonderful painters: Delacroix, Corot, Daubigny, Diaz de la Peña, Constable and Gainsborough. These painters would have effect on what would become Impressionism. The paintings, most of them are small and wonderful studies after those overly large historical things one see in the National Gallery and the Met.
Eugène Delacroix’a Tiger and Snake
There was an interesting photographic show adjoining “30.” And after seeing the above, I caught sight of the modern American painters of the twentieth century who predated Abstract Expressionism. These few were shot a little better than the others.
Wonderful Hopper. A rare use where the figures don’t seem like architectonic ornaments. Check out the use of negative space within the figure grouping. Hopper does Perugino to Cezanne type space in the blink of an eye in this one. Odd color, although I have seen that coloring in New England.
John Singer Sargent’s Margaret Stuyvesant Rutherford White (above) and Marie Buloz Pailleron (below, left).
I don’t believe there is really any painter like Sargent. I have always admired his brushwork and the detail above (above) is one of the reasons why. He has unfortunately inspired many of those learn how to paint books, because they try to use his technique. He must have been very facile at that, because you have to be a terrific draftsman to lay paint down like that and get that effect. His drawings, robust and broad in a classical tradition, do not really expose what you will see in his painting. This technique to me is more like in some of the looser style of Jacob Jordaens. I also think of what a debt he owes to Delacroix, who really began to structure color against color, for optical effects. Sargents pop up in all museums in the U. S. If I get a chance this summer, I’ll go back and dig up the shots of murals he did for the Boston Public Library, and a few in the MFA.
When I came down the steps I saw this classical statue of a pretty woman with a lovely behind. I humorously smiled, as this was once the tradition for fine art. It came from a day and age, where any “decent” lady was covered from neck to toe. Only sometimes did this lady have a little décolletage showing, or a little adornment, a train or a bustle, attached to her backside. We go forward sometimes, then backwards. Sometimes not.