Monday, November 23, 2009

The Weekend Report: Art in Asia and Africa

I feel so good about myself. So cultured. You too can achieve this feeling of accomplishment - just spend some time in a museum! All it takes is the effort to walk your two feet through the front door. Security peeks in your purse, and then you're good to go. You can spend the whole day looking at every single piece, reading the captions, contemplating the details. Or you can just walk through, listening to your ipod (who's to say van Gogh wouldn't have loved a little BeyoncĂ©?), look left look right, and you're out. Culture? Check.

I've blogged about my love of museums before. And if you follow my weekend reports, you know that museums come up pretty often. 
This weekend I hit up one of my faves - the Freer-Sackler Gallery and African Art Museum. They're attached through underground passage (sounds pretty cool, huh?) below the Smithsonian Castle - right next to the Metro stop.

Freer Sackler is officially the Asian Art Museum of the Smithsonians, but it also has a good number of works by Whistler and some American artists like John Singer Sargent. (The reason for this is that Whistler was strongly influenced by Asian art and often used Asian subjects for his paintings. Whistler then guided the art education of Charles Lang Freer, a Detroit Industrialist and the founder of the Freer Gallery of Art.) 
My personal favorite is the Peacock Room by Whistler. I LOVE the Peacock Room. Mostly because I grew up reading a children's book about it - great story - beautiful room. 

Asian Art is kind of hit-or-miss for me. 

I have no interest in pottery (I love a good bowl to eat out of...but to look at? Not so much.), but I think that the detailed Japanese and Chinese screen paintings and the Islamic book artwork is spectacular. 

And on to African Art via the underground passageway (which contains a pretty cool exhibit on the country of Panama). 
Surprisingly, I'm not into "traditional" African art. I love pretty much everything else about the continent, but masks, carvings, etc. are just not my thing. 

Modern African art, however, is a different story entirely. Africa has gone through a transition in the last century unparalleled in history (at least as far as I know). Just think, in some places an 100-year-old will have lived through "traditional" semi-isolated village life through colonialism, through the elation and optimism of independence, through civil unrest as countries try to process their independence, and through the current generation's sense of disenfranchisement and disillusionment. 
Woah. That's a canvas for a lot of emotions, right? This is not the forum for me to pontificate on the current state of an entire continent. Let it suffice for me to say that this emotional roller-coaster has resulted in some really interesting and powerful modern art. 

The current installation is by British-Nigerian Yinka Shonibare MBE, and includes photography, textile sculptures (rather scandalous...maybe leave your kids in the Walt Disney African Vision section), and performance art. Pretty cool. This is one you should probably read the captions on, otherwise you may just leave thinking, Hmm. That was weird.

So I hope you all had a lovely weekend as well. If you haven't yet finalized your Thanksgiving menu, check out this previous post. And if you're looking for holiday dessert ideas - everything is better with pumpkin, right?

Oooooh, and just a teaser for tomorrow: it might be cheesecake. It might be AMAZING. I will leave you with that to think about until tomorrow!