- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 29, 2001

To paraphrase Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities," local museums and galleries enjoyed the best of times and endured the worst of times in 2001. Museum construction and renovation took a large place on this year's canvas, but trouble looms for some projects.
In a positive development, the Commission of Fine Arts on Oct. 18 approved Frank Gehry's design for the $120 million renovation and addition to the Corcoran Gallery of Art near the White House. Mr. Gehry, known for his sensational design of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, shows a similar kind of daring at the Corcoran.
The gallery has raised a little more than half of the $120 million and will step up fund raising in the next 18 months to 24 months. Groundbreaking is scheduled for 2003 and completion in 2006.
Renovations of the two Patent Building museums, the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of American Art, were continuing apace. But President Bush's Office of Management and Budget is proposing cuts for next fiscal year that would roll back the opening of the two museums by one year. OMB officials said the budget reductions were necessary to fight terrorism, boost homeland security and try to bring back balanced budgets and surpluses. The two museums already were scheduled to be closed until 2005.
Construction of the planned Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport, which will be an annex of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, and the National Museum of the American Indian close to the Capitol also was moving ahead, with openings scheduled for 2003 and 2004 respectively. The OMB cuts also would affect these museums, such as halving the planned number of artifacts at Udvar-Hazy and eliminating public lectures and some programs at both.
In a plus, the Capital Children's Museum, 800 Third St. NW, appointed veteran arts administrator and fund-raiser Kathy Dwyer Sawyer as president. She will work on relocating the museum to a more visible downtown location and on raising needed money.
Another ongoing project is the acquisition of art for the new Washington Convention Center. Planned as one of the city's largest public art collections, it will include a variety of media and the work of regional, national and international artists with a targeted goal of 50 percent regional representation.
Still another is the Millennium Arts Center in Southwest Washington, which director Bill Wooby envisions as a national arts center. He is working to refurbish the 150,000-square-foot former high school, collaborate with other Washington arts organizations and organize a lively program of exhibition, music-theater performances and resident artists.
Moreover, Washington's museums presented unusual and diverse shows in 2001. The National Gallery of Art in June opened a long-anticipated survey of 19th-century German art titled "Spirit of an Age: Nineteenth-Century Paintings From the Nationalgalerie, Berlin." It covered art from the time of King Frederick the Great to Germany's birth as a nation through the romantic landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich, the industrial tour-de-forces of Adolph Menzel and the violent expressionism of Lovis Corinth.
Two other superb shows can still be seen at the National Gallery: "Virtue and Beauty: Leonardo's 'Ginevra de' Benci' and Renaissance Portraits of Women" (through Jan. 6) and "Aelbert Cuyp" (through Jan. 13).
The National Gallery originally planned a smaller exhibit concentrating on the "Ginevra" but enlarged it to demonstrate the extraordinary rise of female portraiture in 15th-century Florence, Italy. It was the first great age of individual portraiture, and wealthy Florentine merchants used the genre to present their marriageable daughters complete with dowries.
Viewers prize the 17th-century Dutch Cuyp (1620-91) for his magical use of light in landscapes and Italianate treatments of mythological and biblical scenes. The show of Cuyp's work is the newest in the gallery's growing series on "golden age" Dutch artists.
The Phillips Collection's lyrically beautiful "Impressionist Still Life" survey (through Jan. 13), the first major exhibition of French still lifes in the United States, leads the modernist art category, with the "Henry Moore" sculpture show at the National Gallery of Art a close second (to Jan. 27).
The Phillips expanded the definition of "still life" considerably by adding figures and portraits to the usual fruits and flowers. "I included them when the still lifes in the paintings were of equal interest to the figures or landscapes," exhibit curator Eliza Rathbone says of Pierre-Auguste Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party," Berthe Morisot's "On the Veranda" and Edgar Degas' "Millinery Shop."
The "Henry Moore" exhibit casts new light on the prominent English sculptor as it shows both sculptures and drawings. It demonstrates that Mr. Moore distilled forms from Egyptian, Greek, Mayan, Oceanic and African art for what he called organic "universal shapes."
The National Gallery opened "Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and His New York Galleries" last January and focused on the greatest American modernist of them all the multitalented Stieglitz, who was a pioneering photographer, discoverer of new talent, gallery and exhibit originator, promoter, writer and publisher all wrapped up in one. It was the first attempt to assess Stieglitz's contributions and was six years in the making.
Visitors walked through 14 rooms of 200 works organized to evoke Stieglitz's shows at 291, Anderson Galleries, the Intimate Gallery and an American Place from the first years of the just-past century to 1946 when he died. Curator Sarah Greenough re-created five decades of Stieglitz's accomplishments in these spaces when he introduced the art of Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Marcel Duchamp and Paul Cezanne to the United States and championed Americans John Marin, Georgia O'Keeffe, Marsden Hartley and Charles Demuth.
Washington museums gave contemporary artists more play than usual with the "Juan Munoz" exhibit at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (critics credit the Spanish artist with giving new life to contemporary sculpture); "Virgin Territory: Women, Gender, and History in Contemporary Brazilian Art" at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (a challenging show that examines Brazil's history and cultural identity through new approaches such as installations, videos and films, and the usual ones of painting and sculpture); "Word Play: Contemporary Art by Xu Bing" at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (Mr. Xu demonstrates that words can be destructive and divisive while healing differences and delighting aesthetically); and "William Christenberry: Changing Landscape The Source Revisited" at the Kreeger Museum (the museum shows the whole range of his art by focusing on connections between the photographs, constructions, wall constructions, works on paper, "dream houses" and what he calls "objects").
The terrorist hijackings that demolished the World Trade Center in New York City and hit the Pentagon here September 11 also affected the art world. Four key paintings for the "Impressionist Still Life" exhibit, including the show's signature "Jar of Peaches" by Claude Monet, were en route from Europe the day of the attacks. All four eventually arrived, with the Monet the last, on Nov. 14.
"Virtue and Beauty" opened Sept. 30 with four works missing, but they arrived within four days.
Attendance at Washington's museums, especially those on the Mall, took a nose dive. Visitor numbers at the Smithsonian dropped by 44 percent in October and 45 percent in November.
"We expect visitation to increase during the always busy week between Christmas and New Year's," Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas says.
The Phillips Collection, a privately funded museum, reported that projected attendance at the "Impressionist Still Life" exhibit was well below expectations. "Visitation was 46 percent of anticipated attendance the first week the show opened but climbed to 70 percent of projected numbers during October. In early December, it dropped to 62 percent, reflecting the decrease in tourism," collection spokesperson Lynn Rossotti says.
Business plummeted in the Smithsonian's Business Ventures' section, which includes moneymakers such as the Smithsonian catalog, Imax theaters, museum shops and museum cafeterias. The institution recently laid off 11 percent of the ventures' employees.
Washington's commercial galleries also reported a sharp downturn in sales.
New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation Director Thomas Krens, speaking Nov. 4 on "The Future of Art Museums" at the Hirshhorn, said of the post-September 11 world: "We'll have to change. On the road upwards there will have to be retrenchment. We will downsize for the next two years. Huge shipping and insurance problems are bound to surface. Interesting programs will be scaled back."
He went back to New York to cut his staff by 20 percent.
The private Anton Gallery at 2100 R St. NW mounted an impressive exhibit of work by 40 artists on the September 11 theme. The exhibit is called "9/11/01."
The morning of the attacks, the National Building Museum had scheduled a press preview for "Cesar Pelli," a survey of the work of the Argentina-born, 75-year-old architect. Mr Pelli had designed the twin Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the world's tallest structures, and the World Financial Center, a close neighbor of the World Trade Center towers.
In other museum developments this year, directors of five Smithsonian museums resigned, two to retire, two "to pursue other interests" and one to protest Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small's aggressive fund-raising policies.

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