Posts Tagged ‘National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden’

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The YuMe Tree

One of the best aspects of outdoor public art in D.C. is that it’s not limited to places like the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. Art in D.C. can be found almost anywhere, and often in some unexpected places. A good example of this is the mural entitled The YuMe Tree, which I happened upon during this hot afternoon bike ride when I stopped at a store to buy a cold drink. On the wall of the north side of a building housing a CVS store, The YuMe Tree mural is located just off Pennsylvania Avenue at 500 12th Street (MAP), near the intersection with E Street, in the southeast area of D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

The YuMe (you/me) Tree is a 28 by 14 foot mosaic art project that was literally built by the community as a tribute to community. It was designed by local artist and the founder of The Corner Store non-profit arts studio and performance center, Kris Swanson. Laurie Siegel, a fused glass artist and award winning art teacher who taught at Watkins Elementary School, located across the street from the mural, also contributed greatly to it. The project also included the input and involvement of dozens of friends, hundreds of Capitol Hill neighbors, and more than a thousand children at several elementary schools who sculpted and signed the three-inch names tiles that form the trunk, roots, and branches of the tree. Other tiles form the landscape out of which the tree emerges. These tiles contain messages reflecting some of the thoughts of the community, or are commemorative in nature, and come from various donors.

But one of the most striking aspects of The YuMe Tree is the tiles which make up the leaves of the tree. The leaves of the tree are cut mirror tiles, which reflect the reality of the mural’s surroundings back to the observer. The higher leaf groupings reflect the light and movement of the clouds in the sky. The lower mirror tiles reflect back the garden and other nearby trees, the street, Watkins Elementary School, and cars and people passing by.

The Yume Tree was installed and dedicated in October of 2003. But it remains an ever-evolving work.  It continues to change and grow along with the neighborhood as new name and sponsorship tiles are added periodically. So not only can you see this art project, but you can choose to contribute and be part of it as it carries forward in representing the community and beautifying the neighborhood.

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[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

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The Ice Skating Rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

The Ice Skating Rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

The circular reflecting pool at the center of the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden is transformed during the cold winter months each year into an outdoor ice skating rink. It has become an extremely popular winter destination, particularly for skating enthusiasts. And although I am not an ice skater myself, it was also my destination, at least for this lunchtime bike ride.

Ice skating has been a popular activity on the National Mall for well over a hundred years, with unofficial skating sites located at the Tidal Basin and The Reflecting Pool in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, the actual ice skating rink did not open until 1974. And it did not open in its current form until 1999. Because the ice rink had been operating at the site since for more than twenty years, it was included in the National Gallery of Art’s plans for the Sculpture Garden when it was conceived in 1996.

In its current location as part of the Sculpture Garden, visitors have the opportunity to skate while surrounded not only by the grand architecture of national museums and monuments, but by large outdoor sculptures and exhibits displayed by the National Gallery of Art. These sculptures include works by world-renowned artists, such as “Four-Sided Pyramid” by Sol LeWitt and Claes Oldenburg’s “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X“, to name just a couple. In all, there are nineteen works of modern and contemporary sculpture on the richly landscaped grounds surrounding the ice rink.

The ice rink can accommodate more than two hundred skaters, with a music system that brings vibrant sound to visitors on and off the ice. And at night, lighting further contributes to the festive atmosphere. This year, the gallery’s guest services will offer both skating and ice hockey lessons, for which students can register individually or with a group. There is also a snack shop named the Pavilion Café, which offers a panoramic view of the Sculpture Garden and ice rink in addition to a variety of food and beverages.

Located just off the National Mall at 700 Constitution Avenue (MAP) in downtown, D.C., the ice rink opened in mid-November and will remain open through March 16, 2015, weather permitting. The rink is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. On Sunday, it’s open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. The ice-skating rink will close at 5:00 p.m. Christmas Eve, and will be closed on December 25 and January 1. Admission for a two hour session costs $8 for adults. And if you don’t have your own skates, they can be rented for an additional $3. A season pass that covers unlimited access to the ice rink is also available for $195.

Whether you’re an avid skater or have never tried it before, I highly recommend visiting the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Skating Rink at least once this winter. Who knows, you may enjoy it so much that, like many other people already have, you’ll want to make it an annual winter tradition.

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Sol LeWitt’s “Four-Sided Pyramid”

The definition of public art is art in any media that has been planned and executed with the intention of being staged in the physical public domain, usually outside and accessible to all.  The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, which exhibits several pieces from the museum’s contemporary sculpture collection in an outdoor setting, is an excellent example of public art. Located on the National Mall between the National Gallery’s West Building and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History (MAP), the Sculpture Garden, and more specifically an exhibit there entitled “Four Sided Pyramid,” was the destination for this ride.

Four-Sided Pyramid consists of concrete blocks precisely stacked to form a stark, eye-catching terraced pyramid. In bright sunlight, the white blocks and shadows play visual tricks on the eye as you view the structure from different angles. From some angles the exhibit can appear to be a simple pile of cubes. But from other angles, the contrasting white blocks and dark shadows can also create a isometric optical illusion, where it isn’t clear whether a given vertex is an inside or outside corner. It was installed at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in 1999 by a team of engineers and stone masons, according to a plan designed by the artist, whose approach was to come up with a concept for each structure often presented as a set of instructions which assistants then used to construct the object.

Four Sided Pyramid was designed by an American artist named Solomon “Sol” LeWitt. He came to fame in the late 1960s with his wall drawings and modular, quasi-architectural forms he called “structures,” a term he preferred instead of “sculptures.” LeWitt was prolific in a wide range of media including drawing, printmaking, photography, and painting, and was from the early 1960s until his death in 2007 he was considered at the forefront of various movements, including Conceptual Art and Minimalism, of which he is regarded as the founder.

LeWitt has been the subject of hundreds of solo exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world for almost half a century. And his works continue to be represented here in the Sculpture Garden, as well as important museum collections throughout the world, including the Tate Modern Museum in London, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Australian National Gallery in Canberra, the National Museum of Serbia in Belgrade, and the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Loss and Regeneration

Loss and Regeneration

In a city predominated by memorials and statues, it is worthwhile to remember that D.C. is also home to a large number of public works of outdoor art.  From the formal pieces in the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art, to the informal murals whose canvas may be the side of a building or the wall of a bridge overpass, the quality and quantity of public outdoor artwork in our nation’s capital is often overlooked by visitors and locals alike.

On this bike ride I stopped to appreciate the two part sculpture entitled “Loss and Regeneration”, which is situated on the plaza along Raoul Wallenberg Place, which is adjacent to the United States Holocaust Museum in downtown D.C. (MAP).  The 1993 bronze sculpture by Joel Shapiro addresses the disintegration of families and the tragedy of lives interrupted by the Holocaust, and memorializes the children who perished.

The work consists of two bronze elements that engage in symbolic dialogue.  The larger piece is a towering, abstract, tree-like form that suggests a figure.  Approximately 100 feet away, a smaller, house-like structure is precariously tipped upside down on its roof.  The artist likens the overturned house to the subversion of the universal symbol of security, comfort, and continuity.  The larger figure is conceived as an emblem of renewal, a metaphor for cycles of life and death, the experience and the overcoming of anguish, the possibility of a future even after all has been lost.

The work is accompanied by an excerpt of a poem written by a child in the Terezin ghetto in Czechoslovakia, which reads,

“Until, after a long, long time,
I’d be well again.
Then I’d like to live
And go back home again.”

Aristotle once said, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”  If this statement is true, then “Loss and Regeneration” is worth not only taking the time to go see, but it is worth a little extra time to contemplate its meaning and significance as well.

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