Art Update: Washington DC November 2-4, 2012

Arrived on Friday, November 2nd in Washington DC to attend the International Forum (IF) weekend presented by The Phillips Collection and to see Xavier Veilhan’s first major US museum presentation, curated by Vesela Sretenovic.  Dorothy Kosinski, the director, brilliantly organized a stimulating weekend filled with lectures, panel discussions, visits to private collections, a luncheon and a seated dinner Saturday evening in the museum with artists, trustees and philanthropists.
Although not part of the IF events, my first stop was a much anticipated visit to the Glenstone Museum Foundation in Potomac, to view the private collection of Mitchell P. Rales, who opened a museum to house his post WWII art collection in 2006. It was a sheer delight to experience the sublime integration of art, architecture and landscape owing to the collaboration with Charles Gwathmey Siegel & Associates, Peter Walker and Partner Landscape Architects.
The current exhibition entitled “No Substitute,” curated by his wife Emily Wei Rales, taps into the extraordinary quality of the Rales collection.  Our group of four (one must reserve in advance) was privileged to be escorted around the exquisitely designed and installed galleries by Ginger Spizey, the art historian who shared her vast knowledge, passion and enthusiasm with us. Photography, sculpture and installations were featured by 12 artists, whom the Rales collect in depth, including Thomas Demand, Peter Fischl and David Weiss “The Objects for Glenstone,” Katharina Fritsch, Robert Gober, Damien Hirst “Medicine Cabinet,” Barbara Kruger “I SHOP THEREFORE I AM,” Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, Charles Ray, Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall’s light boxes.  The only way to describe the Glenstone Museum experience is breathtaking! It is perfection personified!
Xavier Veilhan, “Bear” at The Phillips Collection
Later that evening, I attended a private reception at the residence of the Ambassador of France Francois Delattre and his wife Mrs. Sohphie L’Helias-Dalattre to honor Xavier Veilhan. Xavier was charming and easy to talk to both in French and English. Xavier Veilhan’s exhibition titled “Intersections: (IN)balance” is a survey of 18 of his works. His 8 foot tall polyurethane sculpture called “The Bear,” 2010, painted Ferrari Red is a welcome sight outside the Phillips Collection Gallery. You just want to give the bear a big hug! The “Bear” as well as “Xavier” self-portrait, 2006, both digitally rendered, investigate the relationship between the constructed and the created, the engineered and the organic. “He uses strong shapes, clear forms, monochromatic palettes, and mathematical precision to create his pieces, tempering their coolness with careful humor and a fair amount of whimsy.” In September 2009, Xavier had an exhibition in the Royal Court of the Chateau de Versailles for 3 months including a 50 foot long coach and horses in purple which greeted the visitor upon entering the exhibit.  It was extraordinary to walk inside the palace and outside in the gardens to see his monumental sculptures of the great architects that he adores!
Xavier Veilhan, “Xavier” at The Phillips Collection


On Saturday morning the day began with a visit to the private collection at the home of Anita and Burton Reiner in Bethesda Maryland, where we were welcomed by the vivacious couple who have amassed an eclectic collection of their favorite artists.
Then headed over to see Ai Weiwei’s “According to What” exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, a retrospective of his work, spanning three decades. Upon taking the escalator up to the main exhibition floor, one sees the head of a giant snake coiling above. “Snake Ceiling” consists of hundreds of children’s backpacks, 600 to be precise, attached to the ceiling of the Hirshhorn’s circular hall. The backpacks represent the thousands of children lost in the 2008 earthquake in China.  According to the artist, “When the masses of life are ignored in this kind of tragedy, it takes away anybody who is alive,” recalling how much the earthquake had changed his own life. “It is a struggle — how as an artist do I do work to remember it when I see the pain is disappearing and it is like the memory is not real.” Another extraordinary piece titled “Forever” consists of 42 Forever-brand bicycles twisted, taken apart and reassembled into a circular motif.  This installation speaks to the rapid modernization of China and is loaded with personal, social and political references. One of his most famous works is “Colored Vases,” 2006 “a collection of ancient pottery painted in vivid colors like lime green, hot red and bright yellow.”
Ai Weiwei, “Colored Vases” at the Hirshhorn
It was a quick walk over to the National Gallery of Art to see Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, which is the first major exhibition of the artist’s work since his death at 73, in 1997.  Beginning with works from the 50s, it offers a comprehensive look at his various interpretations and styles.  On view is his first pop painting, “Look Mickey,” humorously showing Lichtenstein’s riff on Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.  It, as well as many of his early works helped change notions about art.  This retrospective includes 134 of his most iconic paintings including his memorable 1960s cartoons about war and romance, his landscapes made of small dots, nudes, brush stroke series and his re-interpretations of works by Picasso, Cezanne and other artists.


An elaborate brunch was offered on Sunday morning in the modern and airy apartment of Linda Kaplan and her husband Louis (Beau). She addressed the group and discussed their American modernist collection in a scholarly manner reflecting how the collection was formed over 25 years.


In the early afternoon, I returned to the Phillips collection to take in how it all began with a small family collection of paintings inherited from Duncan Clinch Phillips, his father, a Pittsburgh window glass millionaire. As an art critic, the son was instrumental in introducing America to modern art.  The Phillips Collection is America’s first museum of modern art, which opened its doors in 1921. He conceived of his museum as “a memorial…a beneficent force in the community where I live – a joy-giving, life-enhancing influence, assisting people to see beautifully as true artists see.” I found the Rothko Room particularly moving and to think how Mr. Phillips had the foresight to purchase these paintings in the early 1960s attests to his extraordinary vision!
Off to the airport…