The Washington Post
Critics’ picks: Outlining 7 good art shows
For museum lovers in Washington, a three-day weekend is the perfect opportunity to catch up on the latest exhibitions. Here are seven shows that have been recommended by our critics.
‘Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now’ at the National Portrait Gallery
An exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery focuses on the silhouette in American life, its prevalence as a cheap way of producing a portrait likeness before the advent of photography, and its persistence as a visual medium in contemporary art. “Black Out” is a fascinating show that successfully uncovers the strange cultural history of the form, especially its intersections with the foremost social crisis of the age, which was slavery. . . . One senses in this exhibition the core of an even larger show that would better distinguish the American silhouette mania from the making of silhouettes in Europe at the time, and draw out connections between the older, artisanal form made with candlelight and cut paper and its close cousin, the photograph. Through March 10 at the National Portrait Gallery. npg.si.edu. — Phillip Kennicott
Cézanne portraits at the National Gallery of Art
When Cézanne painted portraits — and his portraits are the subject of a riveting show at the
National Gallery of Art — he didn’t want puffed-up professionals or expert models schooled in the art of posing. He preferred cloddish, authentic types. Good, rural folk who were, in the words of the exhibition’s curator, John Elderfield, “unselfconsciously heroic.” There are 60 paintings in the National Gallery show, the first devoted to this crucial — if often baffling — aspect of Cézanne’s oeuvre. They take us from the 1860s, when Cézanne painted like a hormonal teenager head-butting everything in sight, through the 1870s when, using first himself, then his son, then Hortense Fiquet (later Madame Cézanne) almost as scientific controls, he tried to adapt his developing outdoor idiom to the demands of indoor portraiture. . . . Looking at Cézanne’s pictures is a process. A meditative one. Not everyone loves it. You have to be in the mood. But if it makes you want to take up painting — well, you wouldn’t be the first. Through July 8 at the National Gallery of Art. nga.gov. — Sebastian Smee
Portraits of the Obamas at the National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery
has unveiled the official portraits of former president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, both painted by African American artists and both striking additions to the museum’s “America’s Presidents” exhibition. The 44th president is seen sitting on a wooden armchair that seems to be floating amid a scrim of dense foliage and flowers in an image by Kehinde Wiley. The first lady, painted against a robin’s-egg-blue background, rests her chin on one hand and stares at the viewer with a curious mix of confidence and vulnerability in a canvas by Amy Sherald. The artists, chosen by the Obamas, have combined traditional representation with elements that underscore the complexity of their subjects, and the historic fact of their political rise. . . . The Obamas took a significant chance on both artists and were rewarded with powerful images that will shake up the expectations and assumptions of visitors to the traditionally button-down presidential galleries. At the National Por-
trait Gallery. npg.si.edu. — P.K.
‘Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings’ at the National Gallery of Art
Sally Mann came to international prominence — and notoriety — in the early 1990s. Photographs she took of her three young children whiling away the summers on a verdant riverside property outside Lexington, Va., were published in “Immediate Family.” That book — half family album, half delirious art spell — offered a read on family dynamics that had the aura of a dream and the psychological complexity of a novel. . . . A selection of these family pictures is on view in “A Thousand Crossings” at the National Gallery of Art, a much-anticipated overview of Mann’s long engagement with the South. . . . In number, the photos are not enough to convey the gamut of emotions that accumulate over the pages of “Immediate Family.” But it is a pleasure to see them in the context of Mann’s ongoing career. The exhibition shows, be-
sides much else, that the family
pictures were no fluke. Through Monday at the National Gallery of Art. nga.gov. — S.S.
Ikat textiles at the Sackler Gallery and at the Textile Museum
If I could see only one kind of art for the rest of my life, it’s easy. Textiles. Uzbekistani textiles. No question about it. . . . They’re stunning — somehow relaxed, improvised, aerated — yet also dreamily, transcendently elegant. They’re everything Henri Matisse was trying to achieve, just in colored thread. And there are two — yes, two — ikat shows you can see, both in the nation’s capital: “To Dye For: Ikats From Central Asia,” at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery, and “Binding the Clouds: The Art of Central Asian Ikat” at the Textile Museum at George Washington University. Both are showing textiles originally collected by Guido Goldman, a specialist in German history and an investor who amassed what many consider the world’s finest ikat collection. “To Dye For,” through July 29 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. freersackler.si.edu. “Binding the Clouds,” through July 9 at the Textile Museum. museum.gwu.edu. — S.S.
‘In the Tower: Anne Truitt’ at the National Gallery
The main gallery space of the National Gallery’s Anne Truitt
exhibition is a modestly large but tall room, where for years the museum displayed the beloved cutouts of Henri Matisse. Upon entry, you encounter what seems to be a family gathering, a collection of wooden pillars and walllike forms, in different colors, upright and erect, as though they all shared the same DNA that Americans prize as markers of wealth and good health. They are mostly long and lean and stand apart from one another with a certain WASP-ish reserve. ... Among the most compelling is “Parva XII,” from 1977, which takes Truitt’s basic stellalike form and turns it on its side, so that it can inhabit a shelf, like a cat. Through July 8 at the National Gallery of Art. nga.gov. — P.K. firstname.lastname@example.org