- The Washington Times - Friday, September 3, 2004

The fall arts season bursts with energy, offering a menu of succulent exhibitions — some with totally new ingredients — ranging from iconic paintings by the 17th-century Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn to cutting-edge ex- periments by Americans Ana Mendieta and Dan Flavin and exotic Islamic-Muslim art stretching back to seventh-century Iraq.

Rembrandt shows are rare, which makes the National Gallery of Art’s “Rembrandt’s Late Religious Portraits” (opening Jan. 30) all the more welcome. The gallery’s series on golden-age Dutch art, including shows on the iconic Johannes Vermeer and humorous portraitist Franz Hals, attracted multitudes of visitors. A major display of Rembrandt’s paintings, prints and drawings has never been shown at the National Gallery.

Art historians praise Rembrandt (1606-1669) as one of the great artists of all time, and his late period — the works that are the focus here were painted in the late 1650s and early 1660s — as the most affecting. His power to evoke the spiritual nature of his sitters is extraordinary.

An exhibition label will explain that these late half-length religious portraits of Jesus Christ and His mother with Apostles and evangelists, as well as with mysterious saints and monks, reveal the artist’s personal turbulence at the time.

The minimalist Dan Flavin (1933-1996), whose fluorescent light sculptures stood the museum-going public on its ear at one time, is regarded as one of the great light artists of our era. The National Gallery’s “Dan Flavin: A Retrospective” is the first major museum celebration of his work.

Cuban-born Ana Mendieta’s (1948-1985) work startled art critics and the public even more. “Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance 1972-1985” at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden shows her experimenting with meditations on gender by combining con- ceptual, performance and earth art.

The mounting of once-in-a-lifetime exhibits isn’t the only art news here this season. The giant, adobelike National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) opens Sept. 21. Situated on the Mall against the majestic backdrop of the U.S. Capitol’s gleaming white marble, the NMAI is the first and only museum to house arts of American Indians from North, Central and South America.

A weeklong celebration trumpets the glories of American Indian culture with the opening ceremony, Native Nations Procession, First Americans Festival and First Nations Night, among a multitude of events. Initial exhibitions center on the art of individual tribes.

This fall, local art aficionados can savor contemporary artistry from foreign countries and the United States alike. Mexico steps up with an exciting showing of avant-garde clay sculpture at the Cultural Institute of Mexico.

Sculpting with clay could be regarded as unusual, but our neighbor’s clay arts go back hundreds of years. Titled “Dream of Earth: 21st Century Tendencies in Mexican Sculpture,” the display is a fascinating demonstration of an art rooted in the past but shooting for tomorrow.

Another contemporary artist showing here is Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang. With roots in both China and the United States, his site-specific installation at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, “Traveler: Reflection,” explores past and present, permanence and impermanence.

The first confrontation of “Reflection” definitely is startling. Visitors see the hull of a beat-up 50-foot-long Japanese fishing boat dug up near Japan’s coast. It rests on what looks like an “ocean” of shining white porcelain fragments of gods from Dehua, China. Clearly, the sculptor wanted to juxtapose a scruffy object with beautiful art, and he has been extraordinarily successful.

Turning to American artists, Pulitzer Prize-winner Jules Feiffer comes to the Washington DC Jewish Community Center with a slam-bang show of not only his famous cartoons, but his books, manuscripts, watercolors and drawings as well.

Nearby, local artist Andrew Krieger presents contemplative, dreamlike boxes at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, a first museum show for this talented artist.

Farther afield, senior Washington artists, painter A. Brockie Stevenson and printmaker Lou Stovall colorfully kick off the local art season at Strathmore Hall in North Bethesda.

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