September 8, 2010 | by David J. Hoffman
Museums, galleries planning a busy fall

Arts of painting and sculpture and drawing and print-making and furniture design spill over the rim of the cup of this autumn’s cornucopia of exhibits and shows nearly overwhelming in their abundance.

The challenge to the seasoned art lover and to the would-be aesthete is to pick and choose. To that end, here is one person’s idiosyncratic guide, front-loaded for September but including a few highlights for October also.

Begin first with a few of the larger institutions.

For example, the Kennedy Center hosts its 26th annual Open House Arts Festival from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday in a whirlwind of more than 20 free performances, demonstrations and events — part of the Center’s three-week salute to Mexico on the occasion of the nation’s 200 years of independence and 100 years since the 1910 revolution. And all over the D.C. area residents shall see many signs of Mexico’s cultural bonanza in the arts.

One hands-on event invites us all to participate. Local illustrator Edwin Fontanez will convene “Washington’s Chalk Festival” on Saturday afternoon, an interactive invitation to decorate the main plaza in front of the Kennedy Center. Take up your chalk and create your own masterpiece. Then watch the Ballet Folklorico de la Universidad Veracruzana or listen to Mexico City’s renowned pianist Eugenio Toussaint perform his piano concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra.

Meanwhile, at the Phillips Collection, seize the last opportunity this weekend to see the stunning exhibit of Richard Pousette-Dart and his predominantly white paintings, a series he began in the early 1950s when shortage of funds prevented him from buying his usual supply of paints. But in later years — until his death in 1992 — he continued in this style of mostly white works, saying, “white is something you endlessly return to.”

This showcase of a major figure in the New York School of mid-century abstract expressionists closes Sunday as does another Phillips show also not to be missed, 26 small-scale works by Robert Ryman, who began his career as a jazz musician. Ryman, born in 1930, like Pousette-Dart also uses a predominantly white palette with challenging white-on-white abstractions. It is his first solo presentation in the D.C. area.

The museum was luckily spared any serious damage following a major fire on the rooftop of the original building, a Greek Revival mansion, last week. Fire doors were swiftly closed, and all artwork was safe and secure, though some water damage was unavoidable. In the wake of the fire, all regular admission fees are being waived during the month of September.

The Phillips is located near 21st and Q at 1600 21st St. It is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and also until 8:30 p.m. Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.

This weekend try on the “Beautiful Minds” art exhibit at the new Yards Park, which hosts its grand opening Friday through Sunday at D.C.’s new waterfront destination, the Capitol Riverfront at 10 Water St., S.E., just three blocks from the Navy Yard Metro station. In addition to a quarter-mile long boardwalk along the water, there is a terraced lawn, a waterfall/canal and an iconic, sculptured pedestrian bridge.

Musical performances are featured, alongside a “doggie social” and food and drink and fireworks in activities beginning at 3:30 p.m. today and all day beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday. About 60 local artists will present their work in a star-studded group show “Beautiful Minds” curated by Art Whino in the historic Lumber Shed Pavilion. From 1 to 8 p.m. Saturday witness large-scale live painting by Art Whamo artists.

Also this weekend try not to miss “Arts on Foot,” sponsored by the Washington Examiner newspaper, centered at 7th and F streets in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. It closes its four days today and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. featuring an art marketplace with 50 local artists selling their work.

Then turn to less fugitive possibilities at the Corcoran Gallery of Art at 510 17th St., N.W., near the White House. The Corcoran currently offers a range of selections from its permanent collection of historic American art, for example the breathtaking sweep of Frederic Edwin Church’s “Niagara” (1857), an eye-filling 42 x 90 inches of oil on canvas, a stunning study in blues and white of waterfall grandeur.

Opening Saturday  is the inaugural exhibit of “NOW at the Corcoran” with works of sculptural installations, photographs and drawings by Spencer Finch in an exhibit he calls “My Business, With the Cloud.” This is new work, the first solo exhibit in Washington by Finch, an artist born in 1962 and living and working in Brooklyn, N.Y. In this show Finch probes the poetic and the meteorological in the intersections of science, nature and memory with a focus on the subject of clouds, drawn from the history and physical environment of Washington.

The Corcoran is open 10 a.m. – to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Friday through Sunday, and until 9 p.m. on Thursday.

Next consider masterpieces like Monet’s “Springtime at Giverny” (1884), giddy in all pink and blue in oil on canvas at the Kreeger Museum, 2401 Foxhall Rd., N.W., housed in the former residence of David and Carmen Kreeger and designed with contemporary flourish by world-famous gay architect Philip Johnson. The Kreegers amassed their world-class collection beginning in 1959 and opened doors to the public with their museum in 1994.

The Kreeger will host a lecture series on Post-Impressionism on Oct. 21 on self-portraits by Paul Gauguin and on Nov. 4 on Vincent van Gogh’s small art school at Neunen, Holland that he established there while still largely a self-taught novice. Both lectures begin at 6:30 p.m. those Thursdays.

Finally, try an exhibit of 66 pieces of turned and carved wood, “A Revolution in Wood,” opening Sept. 24 at the Renwick Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Museum for crafts and design, located just steps from the White House at 1661 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.

This show, the gift to the Renwick by noted collectors Fleur and Charles Bresler, are masterpieces by the best-known wood artists in the U.S., highlights of the craft’s organic expressiveness and one of the largest gifts of wood art ever to any museum.

Also at the Renwick now and through Jan. 30 is a very different show, a study in how the human spirit cannot forever be quashed by misfortune. More than 120 art objects — tools, teapots and toys, and furniture and simple creature comforts — are presented in an exhibit called “The Art of Gaman — Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942-1946.” More than 120,000 ethnic Japanese on the West Coast were interned and used scraps and found materials to beautify their humble surroundings. These works are now on loan from former prisoners and their families.

The Renwick is open daily 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

To remind us that smaller is also beautiful when it comes to venues for the arts, consider two local galleries — Long View and planb.

At the Long View Gallery (1234 Ninth St., N.W.), gallery director Drew Porterfield presents beginning Sept. 16 photos of our solar system — scenes from “out there” of such arresting beauty, composite mosaics processed from among hundreds of thousands of photos taken from telescopes and NASA’s space probes — in a show titled “Images From … Beyond.” Long View’s show is linked to those running concurrently at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (6th Street and Independence Avenue, S.E.) and Dulles International Airport.

The photo creations using color filters are by celebrated filmmaker and photographer Michael Benson. His photos will “astonish and bewilder” says the New York Times, “and lure the viewer into a state of wonder.” They jar us away from any preconceptions of what these planets — like Mars — ought to look like. Mars is revealed as a “frigid desert” and Venus as “the victim of a runaway greenhouse effect.”

Benson will give a talk and screen a film at a reception at the gallery at 6 p.m. on Sept. 16. The Benson exhibit closes Oct. 24.

Long View Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

Finally, Gallery planb (1530 14th St., N.W.) has just opened a new exhibit, “Relative: Recent Paintings and Drawings” and offers a reception with the two artists at 6 p.m. on Saturday.

According to gallery director David Kalamer, artist Chad Andrews presents his trademark “silicone drawings” and also his monotypes with their juxtaposed, dueling images, and also a few small, atmospheric paintings of Washington at night.

One standout work from Andrews, who lives and teaches in Bloomsburg, Pa., is a work titled, “What She Said,” a study of painted circles floating on a white surface and printed subtexts in beiges, constructed on paper from gouache and graphite and tape and glue.

Gail Vollrath, who lives and works in Washington, meanwhile works from Polaroids and painting, presenting palimpsests of new imagery and past imagery with provocative use of materials like tar and glitter along with oil paint.

Gallery planb is open noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.

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