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Posted at 10:35 AM ET, 06/21/2007

The Big Ones

By Julia Beizer

Two big museum exhibits have opened in recent weeks, and a third (easily the biggest) opens this Sunday. The large museums lapse into a bit of a lull for the next few months, so here's a round-up of recently-opened exhibits to chew on over the long, hot summer.

Kata Kalman's "Coal Carrier"

Politics in Pictures: The National Gallery's "Foto" exhibition takes a look at photography in Central Europe between the two World Wars. Kind of a specific subject, don't ya think? Even so, the exhibit works. It showcases a war-torn region's passion for a newish art form. The wall labels offer up biographical morsels about the artists -- many of whom made appearances in the museum's "Dada" show last year and the Corcoran's current "Modernism" exhibition -- but even casual museum-goers can bask in the haunting beauty of works like Roman Vishniac's "Entrance to the Ghetto, Kazimierz" and Karel Kasyparyk's "Why?" Check out a gallery of images from the show here.

Ernest Lawson's "New England Birches"

Impressionism, American Style: As I wrote in this month's Comings and Goings, impressionism has never been among my favorite art styles. Nevertheless, even a skeptic like me can enjoy the Phillips Collection's "American Impressionism" show. It's full of pretty works, as most impressionist exhibits are, but it also shows how American painters embraced this new-at-the-time style. The bright colors and whimsical brushstrokes offer a perfect complement for distinctly American scenes like snowy New England fields and farmhouses in summer pastures.

This brass sculpture of a messenger hails from Nigeria.

Globalization, Version 1.0: The term "globalization" is rarely invoked with as much glee as was witnessed at yesterday's press preview for the Sackler's impressive "Encompassing the Globe" exhibition. The show, which opens on Sunday, focuses on the Portuguese explorers and the faraway lands they visited. Speakers at yesterday's preview argued that the resulting cultural exchange -- what the Portuguese took (or plundered, depending on your point of view) from these lands and what artistic impressions the explorers left behind -- marked the first real era of globalization. It's a compelling argument, and probably the best way to look at this completely massive exhibition of nearly 300 objects. Without such a framework, even the most dedicated history buff is likely to get lost in the sheer mass of decorative objects.

Walking through yesterday, I kept in mind the words of Julian Raby, director of the Freer and Sackler galleries. He said that exhibition is about the acquisition of "goods, souls and land." Some objects are simply beautiful -- like the Asian-inspired ewers in the Portuguese section and the hand-carved salt cellars in the African section. Religious artifacts on display tell the story of the Christian missionaries. Perhaps most importantly, maps, capes, costumes and painted artworks give a sense of the people who were involved in this cultural exchange. These Portuguese explorations led to a bunch of undesirable outcomes -- think religious persecution, slavery, stolen lands, inequitable trade -- but this look at what people on both sides learned from their encounters is a compelling one to explore.

The Hirshhorn's edgy Wolfgang Tillmans show is still my top pick for museum goers this summer, but elements in each of these three shows have take-your-out-of-town-guests written all over them.


By Julia Beizer  | June 21, 2007; 10:35 AM ET
Categories:  Museums  
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Don't forget about the Folklife Festival starting next Wendesday June 27 and going through July 1, and then July 4-8. Awesome food, fascinating performances and it's free!

Posted by: Lee Brooks | June 22, 2007 8:24 AM | Report abuse

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