- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

As the presidential election campaigns kick into high gear, Washington’s art museums are responding with exhibits focused on political and patriotic themes.

Many of these shows are devoted to photography, as in “Richard Avedon: Portraits of Power,” opening at the Corcoran Gallery of Art on Saturday.

Its more than 200 images pay homage to America’s past leaders and influential elite, from former President Ronald Reagan to civil rights activist Malcolm X. The familiar faces shot by Mr. Avedon extend the museum’s emphasis on popular photography from last year’s Annie Leibovitz show.

One of our most revered presidents, Abraham Lincoln, is the subject of a more focused exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. Opening Nov. 7, “The Mask of Lincoln” presents 30 likenesses of Honest Abe by Civil War-era photographer Mathew Brady and others. At George Washington University’s Luther W. Brady Art Gallery, “Stars and Stripes,” which opened Wednesday will salute the evolution of the American flag.

As presidential candidates debate the issue of national security, the Corcoran is reminding visitors of terrorist acts with “Wounded Cities,” opening Oct. 18. Prints by New York photographer Leo Rubinfien attempt to capture the lingering psychological damage left by recent attacks on London, Madrid, Jerusalem, Bombay and other cities.

More conventional warfare is the subject of two shows on view at American University’s Katzen Center. They pair contemporary prints interpreting recent conflicts, including the Iraq War, with some of the most powerful images of carnage ever created - Jacques Callot’s 1633 etchings based on the Thirty Years’ War and Francisco Goya’s “Disasters of War,” depicting horrors related to the 1808 Napoleonic invasion of Spain.

Nature’s destructive powers also will be felt this season. At the National Gallery of Art starting Oct. 19, “Pompeii and the Roman Villa” presents antiquities unearthed from archaeological sites around Mount Vesuvius.

Before the volcano erupted in ancient times, this area on the Bay of Naples was a vacation spot for prominent Romans, whose art, home decor and luxury goods are the focus of this 150-piece exhibition.

The effects of a more recent volcanic eruption - from Mount St. Helens in Washington state - is one of the subjects covered in “Accommodating Nature: The Photographs of Frank Gohlke,” opening Dec. 5 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The 85 images on view are linked by Mr. Gohlke’s fascination with the tension between people and nature.

The American West is popular again this season in exhibits celebrating its land and people. On Sunday, the National Gallery opens a show of 20 paintings by artist George de Forest Brush, who portrayed Indian tribes in Wyoming and Montana during the 1880s.

That exhibit will be followed by a pair of shows devoted to the Western views shot by photographer Ansel Adams, whose images were exhibited last winter at the Corcoran.

Starting Sept. 26, the Smithsonian American Art Museum will compare Mr. Adams’ photographs to paintings by artist Georgia O’Keeffe. The National Gallery will follow on Oct. 12, juxtaposing his scenic shots next to works by two other American landscape photographers, Robert Adams and Mrs. O’Keeffe’s husband, Alfred Stieglitz.

The Phillips Collection starts the fall season on Oct. 11 by examining a temporary artwork planned for Colorado’s Arkansas River by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the team responsible for “The Gates” in New York City’s Central Park.

Smaller environmental artworks from the 1960s and ‘70s go on view at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on Oct. 23. They represent recent acquisitions from Italian collector Giuseppe Panza, one of the world’s foremost patrons of modern art.

Starting with images from the 1980s, “Role Models: Feminine Identity in Contemporary American Photography,” opening Oct. 17 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, will explore portraiture by two generations of female artists. On Nov. 21, the museum will unveil “Mary Cassatt: Friends and Family,” a combination of works by the American impressionist and her French colleagues.

Sensuous imagery from India goes on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in “Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur.” Opening Oct. 11, the exhibit is the first to show paintings from the desert palace at Nagaur. It will be followed on Oct. 24 with “Falnama: The Book of Omens,” a grouping of texts used in the Islamic world to foretell the future - useful tools for predicting the outcome of this November’s presidential election.

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