If someone had told me when I began training as a docent at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery (NPG) that I would still be leading tours after seventeen years, I would have been surprised, to say the least. That said, I am so happy to have had the experiences that I have had as a result of my connection with the Smithsonian. In fact, I was introduced to an opportunity to experience art in another unlikely place because of information passed to me through my Smithsonian connection.
In September, NPG had an appreciation event honoring the docents. These events are always special. The food is terrific, seeing my fellow lover's of NPG is always a treat, and an interesting presentation is often a part of the evening. This year, the presentation shed light on an upcoming exhibit of art that was most unusual. The evening included an announcement given to us from the director of the Portrait Gallery, Kim Saget. Saget stated, “I want to expand the idea of what a portrait is,” “The Portrait Gallery commissions paintings, video, photography and drawings all the time. This is about pushing the boundaries of portraiture outside the walls of the museum.” Her excitement was palpable, but she didn't have to convince me. I was fairly bursting at the seams to see the work she described.
During the month of October a giant portrait could be viewed from atop the Washington Monument on the National Mall. This portrait was commissioned by NPG, and was made by the Cuban-born American artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada using approximately 2,300 tons of sand and 800 tons of soil. His work, he says, “will avoid any negative impact on the environment.” (That’s a requirement of the National Park Service, which will install soccer fields on the site next year.) Using GPS, he mapped the ground with 15,000 pegs to indicate facial features. He then linked the pegs with string to form a template for placing pale sand and dark soil.
To see this piece in a short video, click here.
Here is a photograph that I took from atop the Washington Monument on a nearly perfect day before it was deinstalled. The clarity was not as precise as when the art was first completed, but my excitement at seeing the work was not diminished. Art is everywhere!
Lately, I have been contemplating how art seems to spring up in very unlikely places. This is due in part to my recent activities, and just plain dumb luck. After completion of my piece for the CARAVAN exhibition, "Amen- A Prayer for the World, " I was struck by the art that was present in the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. The Cathedral in the nation's capital is in the beginning stages of hosting art exhibitions, while the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City has been hosting art exhibitions and installations for years. Synagogue Temple B'nai Shalom was very excited to install "Treatise," my piece to commemorate the Holocaust, last year. So, religious institutions are not new places to show and see art. That said, I was in for an eye-popping surprise when I first made my way into the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City. I was expecting to see my piece alongside the 47 other sculptural forms. The CARAVAN exhibition was beautifully mounted there. What I didn't expect was the stunning installation suspended from the ceiling of the giant cathedral.
The Catholic church has a long history of including art in their edifices. The Protestant movement has traditionally been less than enthusiastic regarding art displays. That has been changing for some time. What met me when I walked into the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine were two giant phoenix sculptures by the Chinese artist, Xu Bing. The artist culled refuse from construction sites in Beijing for two years, and used what he found to create two birds that are suspended from the ceiling of the church. The view was astounding. I was astonished to find out that the combined weight of the sculptures is 12 tons. It was an amazing experience to see this monumental work, and to have my artwork under the same (giant) roof.