The Corcoran Gallery of Art Brings Miami and Washington Together
by merle ginsberg
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Bird on Money, 1981
|Nick Cave’s Soundsuit (2008), made with fiberglass, metal, and human hair|
Of all the diverse cities across this country, few have less in common than Washington and Miami. One appears utterly serious about government, history, and diplomacy, the other about hedonism, partying, sex, and bright colors. One is all about hard work, the other is a vacation kickback. Those, of course, are stereotypes. In reality, DC and Miami have two major elements in common: the exhibition 30 Americans, opening at the Corcoran Gallery of Art on October 1, which is all about stereotypes (and shattering them); and the Rubell family, which started a hotel empire in Miami and began its national expansion here in DC with the retro-stylish Capitol Skyline Hotel, and from whose private collection the exhibit is drawn.
Running through February 12, 30 Americans will display works by 31 of the most important African- American artists of the past three decades. It pairs iconic figures like Jean-Michel Basquiat and his urban graffiti paintings and David Hammons and his sardonic investigations of racial language with cutting-edge emerging artists like Kehinde Wiley and Shinique Smith, juxtaposing Leonardo Drew’s cotton and wax sculpture and Kara Walker’s cut-paper silhouettes. What we will see at the Corcoran is somewhat reconfigured from the original Miami show, culled from the Rubell Family Collection in Miami and exhibited at their Contemporary Arts Foundation, which houses work from their collection, begun in 1964 (and including pieces by Keith Haring, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, and Andy Warhol). Still, the basic premise of 30 Americans remains the same: how racial, sexual, and historical identities are explored in contemporary culture in very different ways.
Sarah Newman, curator of contemporary art at the Corcoran, saw 30 Americans in Miami in 2008 and admits she wasn’t necessarily thinking of it for the museum. But she was struck by the way the Rubells have handled their collection. “It’s very artist-based,” explains Newman. “They started small in 1964 and got to know the artists over time. They will collect a lot of each artist; their collection grew as their finances grew. I think their collection strategy manifests in this show. It’s a web of social connections.”
Organizing the works of 31 artists across the country presented unique challenges, even for those that are part of a single collection. It was difficult to get in touch with those artists who eschew the mainstream, and others have meanwhile emerged as bona fide stars, says Newman. “Some of these artists are more accessible than others,” he explains. “Glenn Ligon has a huge profile right now; he’s in the stratosphere. Mickalene Thomas had a show in New York and is making such interesting work. Kehinde Wiley continues to be fabulous—people are interested in whatever he’s doing. Nick Cave is also one of the stars of the show.” Other artists on the roster include Nina Chanel Abney, John Bankston, Mark Bradford, Iona Rozeal Brown, Noah Davis, Renée Green, Barkley L. Hendricks, Rashid Johnson, Kalup Linzy, Kerry James Marshall, Rodney McMillian, Wangechi Mutu, William Pope.L, Gary Simmons, Xaviera Simmons, Jeff Sonhouse, Henry Taylor, Carrie Mae Weems, and Purvis Young.
photographs by philip beaurline (roof); denny henry (door)
Celebrating the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner at Carnegie Library.