the Museum Tour


Nasty floods obliterated our museum scene here in Iowa City in 2008, and FEMA is now deciding what it will contribute and what additional monies need to be raised. So, at the heels of the Surface Design Association Board Meeting Washington DC, I attended exhibits at the Textile Museum, and in the National Gallery of Art, the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall.

My day on the Mall was so invigorating, as if little microbes honoring history and artifacts and legacy were simply there as energy in the air. The most singular, surprising experience was my lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian, which served up native foods. I could have chosen 18 variations of lunch there, equally interesting and tasty. In the end I went for a pumpkin soup with roasted chestnuts with maple syrup, a side dish of roasted fall apples, pumpkin and sassafras vinaigrette, and fry bread with wild blueberries. The soup was wonderful, if sweeter than expected. The sassafras component added a  bitter,  oddly intriguing taste. The fry bread was not what I’d hoped for; I should have chosen the blue corn cornbread instead. There were many other variations of foods and flavors, —for instance buffalo chili or salmon. Don’t miss it if you go there.

The Textile Museum had a stellar exhibition on Kuba textiles. Another one not-to-be-missed. I know a great deal about Kuba cloth, but this exhibit included other types of designs, including interspersed resist-dyed fabrics (the blacks dyed in iron-rich mud), plus exquisite head pieces. The very long Kuba cloths looked more contemporary than many works I see by artists today. A treat. Plans are in the works for the Textile Museum to associate with George Washington University, relocating there in a larger building with more opportunities for display and study. A great collaboration.

At the National Gallery, I viewed an impressive exhibit of the Pastrana Tapestries, documenting the Portuguese invasion of Asilah in Morocco. These are huge silk and wool tapestries dating to the late 1400s, measuring about 14 x 39 feet, woven in Belgium. They’ve been restored in recent years by the Spanish Government. My first impression is that they are a early form of graphic novel. The exhibition describes them as “war journalism of the 15th Century.” I was not allowed to photograph, and the image on the website simply does not do the work justice. Best to see it in person.

The remaining images show views in and around the Museums. Not a stellar camera, just my iPhone. The selection of three Rothkos defies photographic representation, the depiction of light through color. Of course, I love the large canvases of the Abstract Expressionists. Lots of construction. Sculpture in the fall gardens. Lovely.

National Gallery Pastrana Tapestries

Matisse's felt coat
Mourner Costume, 1919, Felt Coat with blue velvet applique, designed by Henri Matisse
Confusing art with construction, Sam Francis paintings, sculpture

Jean Dubuffet, La ronde des images, 1977, large painting, acrylic on paper, over canvas
the Calders, and the Calder room, my favorite. One has to slow down to take in the imperceptible movements
the Calders, and the Calder room, my favorite. One has to slow down to take in the imperceptible movements


What's art? What's installation? What's simply a planter?


Guestbook, studio of printmaker John Taylor Arms

National Gallery Sculpture Garden, near the restaurant, a facsimile of the metro gates in Paris
Roxy Paine, "Graft," 2008-2009 stainless steel & concrete, in the National Gallery Sculpture Garden

Sculpture Garden at the Hirschhorn. Hard to tell what’s sculpture and what’s construcion. (Hint: the red elements are a sculpture. The crane is not.)

Giacomo Balla, Italian, "Futurist Flowers," 1918-25, reconstructed 1968, wood and paint. This is a terrible photograph, but I was struck by how contemporary this work looks, and it was conceived during World War I.