Friday, August 29, 2003

Usually, one major museum blockbuster dominates the Washington art scene each season, but this year it’s different. True, there are many wonderful shows in the city’s “temples of the muses,” such as the National Gallery of Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and Corcoran Gallery of Art. However, pluralism rules as never before.

This new pluralism in the local art scene is distinguished by its internationalism. Visit Korea’s artistic offshoots in “Dreams and Reality: Korean-American Art Exhibition Celebrating 100 Years of Korean Immigration to America,” which explores the experiences of 18 Korean-American artists facing the realities of success in a new country (through Sept. 19, Smithsonian’s International Gallery, S. Dillon Ripley Center).

Nearby, in traditional Japan, calligraphy and painting often powerfully conveyed Buddhism’s teachings, as in the Arthur M. Sackler and Freer Gallery of Art’s “Faith and Form: Selected Calligraphy and Painting from Japanese Religious Traditions” (Sept. 27 to Feb. 8).

View works by artists from Denmark, Holland and Finland next. The National Gallery is pulling out all the stops with “Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1783-1853),” the first big loan monographic exhibit in the United States of the “Father of Danish Painting.” It will be the Gallery’s major exhibition over the Christmas holidays (Nov. 23 to Feb. 29).

Eckersberg practiced a precise, but romantic, realism, based on closely studying human figures and nature, and combined it with a classical approach to structuring his compositions. An influential teacher as well as artist, Eckersberg greatly influenced the generation of painters who came after him, those of the “golden age of Danish painting.”

Finnish artists have always excelled with art glass, and the Embassy of Finland’s charming birds and animals by Oiva Toikka are no exception (Sept. 5 to 28).

Not to be missed are the extraordinary still-life paintings of Adriaen Coorte, a mysterious 17th-century Dutchman who turned out images of succulent gooseberries, wild strawberries, peaches and asparagus set on cracked stone ledges. (National Gallery, through Sept. 28).

France is heavily represented with three exhibitions of its art at the National Gallery, “Picasso: The Cubist Portraits of Fernande Olivier” (Oct. 1 to Jan. 18) and two companion shows, “The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting” (Oct. 12 to Jan. 11) and “Colorful Impressions: The Printmaking Revolution in Eighteenth-Century France” (Oct. 26 to Feb. 16).

Picasso’s 1909 portraits of his then-mistress Fernande Olivier are justly famous in the history of cubism and portraiture, and the exhibit is the first to concentrate solely on these portraits. The artist painted over 60 Fernande images — the exhibit has 50 — created over the winter and spring of 1909, an unprecedented outpouring of creativity. The Fernande series are not portraits in the conventional sense, the Gallery says. Only about 12 depict her clearly. Rather, Picasso made more than 60 images of women in various formats — head, bust, half-length — and in every medium except printmaking, that call up different facets of Fernande’s character.

“French Genre Painting” is the first exhibit focusing on scenes of everyday life, real and imagined, by famed 18th-century French masters Jean-Antoine Watteau, Jean-Honore Fragonard, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Francois Boucher and Louis-Leopold Boilly. The artists depicted the period of far-reaching political, economic and social change that was 18th-century France.

It was also one of the most exciting periods in the history of color printmaking, and the 115 prints of “Colorful Impressions” capture the drama of the times, from Louis XV’s reign to the beginning of the French Revolution. Master printmakers experimented with new methods of etching and engraving, pioneering the four-color printing process still in use today.

Egypt’s entry into the fall art sweepstakes, “Eternal Egypt: Masterworks of Ancient Art from The British Museum” at Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum, is too big and impressive to miss (Sept. 21 to Jan. 19). The British Museum houses one of the world’s most important collections of Egyptian art, and the 144-work exhibit shows works ranging from colossal sculptures and architectural pieces to intricate jewelry and figurines. Treasures include a 6,000-pound red granite lion that guarded a temple in the 14th-century and papyrus sheets from the “Book of the Dead.”

Two of the most impressive exhibitions on the 2003 fall art schedule are distinguished not by country but rather by individual genius. The National Gallery’s “Art of Romare Bearden, 1911-1988” is the most comprehensive and diverse exhibit of this prominent American artist ever presented. It is also the first one-man show of a black artist at the gallery (Sept. 14 to Jan. 4).

The other is “Beyond the Frame: Impressionism Revisited, the Sculptures of J. Seward Johnson, Jr.” at the Corcoran Gallery (Sept. 13 to Jan. 5). Noted for his super-realist sculptural representations such as his “Giant” that seems to rise out of the earth at Hains Point, Mr. Johnson has created 15 life-sized tableaux based on paintings by French impressionist painters such as Auguste Renoir.

Things are also lively on the contemporary arts front. The Numark Gallery, known for its presentations of cutting-edge artists, moves on Nov. 1 to new quarters at 625-27 E St. NW. Numark inaugurates its new space with Washington sculptor Jim Sanborn’s “Critical Assembly” and “Atomic Time,” an installation and series of photographs Mr. Sanborn believes demonstrate the destruction caused by technology and experimentation around U.S. nuclear weapons sites. The show coincides with the artist’s solo exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery (Nov. 1 to Jan. 26). Hemphill Fine Arts showcases new works by two important area artists, Steven Cushner and Renee Stout (Sept. 3 to Oct. 18). The Hirshhorn Museum exhibits for the first time the work of a younger local artist, Dan Steinhilbert, in both in its first-floor and Directions Gallery areas (opens Sept. 27).

The biggest public art project in the city, funded to the tune of $4 million by the D.C. government, will open at the Washington Convention Center in late October. Much of the work is by D.C. artists such as Yuriko Yamaguchi, Kendall Buster, Mr. Sanborn, Tom Nakashima, Jae Ko, William Dunlap and Sam Gilliam among others.

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