Posts Tagged ‘National Gallery of Art’

The Assassination Site of President Garfield

President James A. Garfield was the 20th president of the United States, serving from March 4, 1881, until his death by assassination six and a half months later while waiting to catch a train at the Baltimore and Potomac rail station.  The site where it happened s just a few hundred yards from the 20th President’s official Presidential Memorial in an area of the city that has gone through many changes since the train station’s building and tracks were demolished in 1908 during a redesign of the National Mall.  The National Gallery of Art’s West Building is now located there (MAP).  But one thing stayed the same at the site for the first 137 years after President Garfield’s assassination.  That was the absence of a plaque or historical marker to indicate what happened there on July 2, 1881.  But that recently changed.  So on this bike ride, I went there to see the new historical marker.

When President Garfield was elected in 1880, a man named Charles Julius Guiteau falsely believed he had played a major role in his victory.  He also thought he should be rewarded with a consulship for his efforts in electing the new President.  So he submitted applications to serve in Paris or Vienna, despite the fact he spoke no French or any other  foreign language.  But when the Garfield administration rejected his applications, he decided it was because he was part of the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party, and President Garfield was affiliated with the opposing Half-Breed faction of the party.  Guiteau was so offended at being rejected for a consular position that he decided President Garfield had to die so that Vice President Chester A. Arthur, who was a fellow Stalwart, would succeed him.  He thought this would not only end the war within the Republican Party, but would lead to rewards for fellow Stalwarts, including himself.

As difficult as it is to imagine in today’s political world, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln was seen as a fluke due to the Civil War, and Garfield, like most people, saw no reason why the president should be guarded.  In fact, the President’s plans and schedule were often printed in the newspapers.  Knowing his schedule and where he would be, Guiteau followed Garfield several times.  But each time his plans to kill the President were frustrated, or he lost his nerve.  Then in the summer of 1881, when the President had been in office for only four months, Garfield decided to take a train trip to New England to escape the swampy summer heat of D.C.  Right after he arrived at the Baltimore and Potomac rail station, Guiteau emerged from where he had been hiding by the ladies’ waiting room and walked up to Garfield and shot him twice, once in the back and once in the arm, with an ivory-handled pistol, a gun he thought would look good in a museum.  Guiteau was quickly apprehended, and as he was led away, he stated, “I did it. I will go to jail for it. I am a Stalwart and Arthur will be President.”

The wounded President was taken upstairs to a private office in the train station, where several doctors examined him.  There they probed the wound with unwashed fingers, another thing that is difficult to imagine today.  At Garfield’s request, he was then taken back to The White House.  The physician who took charge at the train station and then at the White House was Willard Bliss, an old friend of the President’s.  About a dozen physicians, led by Dr. Bliss, were soon probing the wound, again with unsterilized fingers and instruments.

Although in considerable pain despite being given morphine, the President did not lose his sense of humor.  He asked Dr. Bliss to tell him his chances, which Bliss put at one in a hundred. The President then replied, “Well, Doctor, we’ll take that chance.”  In addition to his treatment, Garfield was also being given oatmeal porridge and milk from a cow on the White House lawn for nourishment.  However, he hated oatmeal porridge.  So when he was told that Indian chief Sitting Bull, a prisoner of the U.S. Army, was starving, Garfield initially said, “Let him starve,” but then quickly changed his mind and said, “Oh, no, send him my oatmeal.”

During the President’s treatment, Alexander Graham Bell attempted to locate the bullet with a primitive metal detector.  (The use of X-rays, which likely would have helped the President’s physicians save his life, would not be invented for another fourteen years.)  However, he was unsuccessful.  But they were able to help keep Garfield relatively comfortable in the stifling heat that he had been trying to escape with one of the first successful air conditioning units, which reduced the temperature in the sickroom by 20 degrees.

During the weeks of intensive care after being shot, Garfield would alternately seem to get better and then take turns for the worse.  He developed an abscess around the wound, which doctors probed but most likely only made worse.  He also developed infections that cause him to have a fever of 104 degrees, and he lost a considerable amount of weight.  Eventually, Dr. Bliss agreed to move him to Elberon, part of Long Branch, New Jersey, where his wife had been recovering from an illness at the time her husband was shot.

There, Garfield could see the ocean as officials and reporters maintained what became a death watch. Garfield eventually succumbed to a combination of his injury and his treatment.  On September 18, Garfield asked Almon Ferdinand Rockwell, a friend and business associate who was at his bedside, if he would have a place in history. Rockwell assured Garfield he would, but told him that he still had much work to do.  The President responded, “No, my work is done.”  He died later that night.

According to many medical experts and historians, Garfield most likely would have survived his wounds had Dr. Bliss and the other doctors attending to him had the benefit of modern medical research, knowledge, techniques, and equipment.  In fact, much like President Ronald Reagan after the assassination attempt at The Washington Hilton here in D.C., Garfield would probably also have survived being shot.  Instead, the treatment he received at least contributed, and most likely caused his death.  It is thought that starvation also played a role in President Garfield’s death.

Four presidents have been assassinated while in office.  And two of them occurred here in D.C.  President Lincoln was killed at Ford’s Theater in 1865, and just 16 years later President Garfield was shot by Guiteau less than a thousand yards away from where President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Boothe.  There were already official markers for President Lincoln at The Petersen House in D.C. where he died, President William McKinley in Buffalo, New York, and President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.  Now all four sites have been properly recognized.  I’ve now been to the two sites here in D.C.  The other two, however, are a little too far away for a lunchtime bike ride.

   

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

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Andrew W. Mellon Memorial Fountain

On this lunchtime bike ride, I visited a fountain just down the street from my office. It is located on Pennsylvania Avenue, at its intersection with Constitution Avenue and 6th Street (MAP), and is known as The Andrew W. Mellon Memorial Fountain. The fountain serves as a tribute to Andrew Mellon, who in addition to being known as a famous Pittsburgh industrialist and financier, also served as Secretary of the Treasury, ambassador to Great Britain, and was the founder of the National Gallery of Art, which the fountain is located just north of.

The round, tiered fountain is comprised of a series of three small-to-large nested bronze basins which empty water into its pebble-lined granite pool. The outer, and largest, bronze basin is engraved with the twelve signs of the zodiac, each sitting in its correct astrological position for the sun’s rays. And the top basin houses a spouting jet that shoots a stream of water up to twenty feet in the air, before falling back down and cascading through the tiers and into fountain’s base. Surrounding the fountain is a seven-foot wide granite walkway, and a semi-circular granite bench with an inscription that reads, “1855.Andrew W. Mellon.1937; Financier Industrialist Statesman; Secretary of the Treasury 1921-1932 Ambassador to Great Britain 1932-1933; Founder of the National Gallery Of Art 1937; This Fountain Is A Tribute From His Friends.”

The fountain was dedicated during a ceremony on May 9, 1952, which was presided over by President Harry S. Truman. And in 1993, when the fountain was surveyed by the Smithsonian Institution’s Save Outdoor Sculpture! Program, it was still described as “well maintained.” However, over the past quarter century the fountain had fallen into a state of disrepair. In fact, beginning in 2008 the fountain was no longer operational. So on September 25th of last year, the National Park Service transferred custody of the fountain and the surrounding triangular park to the National Gallery of Art, so that it could be restored.

The restoration and renovation of the fountain and site was divided into two phases. The first phase of the project included conservation of the three-tiered bronze fountain, revival of the original landscaping plan, and replacement of sophisticated mechanical waterworks that power the fountain spout and cascades. That phase was completed earlier this year, and was unveiled on March 17, 2016. Phase two of the project includes rehabilitation of the plaza and memorial bench around the fountain, and is scheduled to be completed in the summer of next year.

Given the newly restored condition of the fountain itself, and the ambitious schedule for the remainder of the project, at least according to D.C. standards, I think it’s a shame that ownership of many other fountains in the city cannot immediately be transferred to the National Gallery of Art.

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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.

Nationals Park

Nationals Park

The Washington Nationals played their last home game of the 2013 regular season yesterday, and beat the Florida Marlins by a score of 1 to 0 in an exciting end-of-the-year finale.  In picking up the win, Pitcher Jordan Zimmermann threw the first no-hitter in franchise history, and the first no-hitter by a Washington major league pitcher since Bobby Burke of the Washington Senators no-hit the Boston Red Sox on August 8, 1931, at Griffith Stadium.

The Nationals go into the post-season as the League’s top seed after having clinched their second National League East title in three years when they beat the rival Braves, the team that knocked them out of the top spot last season, in Atlanta back on September 16th.  With yesterday’s win they finish the regular season with a record of 96 wins and 66 losses, the best in the National League, and quite a change from their first season at Nationals Park just six years ago, when they finished with a league-worst record of 59 wins and 102 losses.

In recognition and celebration of their successful season, on this bike ride I rode to Nationals Park. The ballpark is located at 1500 South Capitol Street (MAP), within site of the U.S. Capitol Building, in the fast-developing Capitol Riverfront district along the Anacostia River, near The Washington Navy Yard in the Navy Yard neighborhood of southeast D.C.

Nationals Park was designed by Populous and Devrouax & Purnell Architects and Planners.  It was originally estimated to cost $611 million, but eventually cost $693 million to build, with an additional $84.2 million spent on transportation, art, and infrastructure upgrades to support the stadium for a total cost of $783.9 million. The exterior facade of the park features an innovative design of steel, glass and pre-cast concrete to create a facility that uniquely reflects the architecture of the National Capital City. Inspiration for the look of the ballpark was taken from the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, a structure designed by famed architect I.M. Pei.

The ballpark was originally designed to seat 41,888 fans, but for a variety for reasons the park’s capacity has been reduced over the last few years to 41,546 in 2010, then 41,487 in 2012, and finally down to 41,418 and 79 luxury suites on three levels around the infield in 2013.

It should be noted that Nationals Park is bicycle friendly, with a free bike valet for every Nationals game in Parking Garage C, which is located at the corner of 1st and N Streets. Additionally, there are over 250 bike racks in and around the Park. Each year the team also has an “Annual Bike to the Park Day” in conjunction with the Washington Area Bicycle Association and “National Bike to Work Day.”

Ground breaking for the park took place in early 2006, and thanks to an ambitious construction schedule it was completed just two years later. The George Washington University Colonials christened the park, playing the first game there on March 22, 2008. The local collegiate team beat Philadelphia’s Saint Joseph’s University Wildcats in a 9 to 4 victory. One week later the Nationals played their first game in the new ballpark, defeating the Baltimore Orioles, 3–0, in an exhibition game on March 29, 2008. The following day, the Nationals opened the 2008 MLB season in Nationals Park with a rare one-game series against the Atlanta Braves, which served as the first official MLB game at the park. True to tradition, President George W. Bush threw out the ceremonial first pitch. In an omen of things to come, the Nationals won the game by a score of 3 to 2 with a walk-off home run from Ryan Zimmerman.

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

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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Claes Oldenburg's "Typewriter Eraser, Scale X"

Claes Oldenburg’s “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X”

Located in the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art, at 6th Street and Constitution Avenue in Downtown D.C. (MAP), is a sculpture formally entitled “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X.”  Despite being something that people under the age of 50 may not even recognize, the sculpture is considered one of the more iconic pieces of late century U.S. sculpture.

In the mid-1960s Claes Oldenburg decided that he wanted to challenge the notion that public monuments must commemorate historical figures or events.  Considered within the context of our nation’s Capitol, which is replete with historic and commemorative monuments and memorials, this was a somewhat radical idea.  Using this idea as his only guidance, Oldenburf began creating drawings of monuments based on common objects, such as a clothespin or a pair of scissors.

He later went on to include discredited or obsolete objects, some of which were things he remembered from childhood.  He recalled that as a youngster he enjoyed playing in his father’s office with a typewriter eraser and the late 1960s and 1970s he focused on the typewriter eraser.  He used it as a source for drawings, prints, sculpture, and even a never-realized monument for New York City.

Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, was constructed in 1999, and is made of steel and fiberglass.  It measures over 19 feet tall, and weighs over 22 tons.  The sculpture presents a giant falling eraser that has just alighted, the bristles of the brush turned upward in a graceful, dynamic gesture.  There are two other versions of the Typewriter Eraser. One is the centerpiece of the MGM sculpture garden in front of the Mandarin Oriental in City Center in Las Vegas.  The other is located at the Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park. All three sculptures are the same size and identical in appearance.

Although it may not be your reason for taking a vacation in D.C., or even for visiting the National Gallery of Art, seeing Typewriter Eraser, Scale X is something you should consider. Its central location makes it easy to find, and it is always available for viewing 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Take a photo of yourself in front of it and show your friends that you stood in front of one of the weirdest sculptures you’ve ever seen.