Author Archives: Philip Kennicott

Images coming from Ferguson, Mo., reveal unfiltered, uncomfortable truths

A photograph is never sufficiently proportional to truth. The truth — the full story, the context of things — is too large and complicated to be encompassed by any single image. So from Ferguson, Mo., where daily protests have erupted after Saturday’s police shooting of an unarmed African American teenager, we get only photographic data points.

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Washington National Cathedral goes under the microscope

Andrew Tallon stands at the clerestory level of the Washington National Cathedral, some 65 feet above the pews, and carefully positions the tripod of his Leica laser scanner on the narrow walkway. The camera straddles the metal guardrail, with one leg precariously close to the edge of the vertiginously high and exposed passage. As colored light streams through the enormous stained-glass windows on both sides of the nave, Tallon’s scanner shoots a green laser beam at about 40,000 flashes per second, registering millions of data points — accurate to within millimeters — in little more than five minutes. When the data is processed, it will give the Vassar College professor a three-dimensional map of the cathedral, more thorough and accurate than traditional photography or old-fashioned (and time-consuming) physical measurement.

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Memorials to World War I may be less obvious, but more meaningful

By 1982, when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial opened on the National Mall, something had shifted in the way we remember our wars. A national memorial, prominently placed on the nation’s most symbolically significant public space, came to seem like an essential dignity offered to veterans, and the families and memory of those who gave their lives.

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Rembrandt’s depiction of rape, suicide of Lucretia shows understanding of men’s role

We wouldn’t call it a crime of passion, but an act of violent misogyny. Yet Livy, in his “History of Rome,” specifically mentions lust as the proximate cause of Lucretia’s death: “Lucretia’s beauty, and proven chastity, kindled in Sextus Tarquinius the flame of lust, and determined him to debauch her.” Tarquinius rapes her, and then, from an excess of shame and commitment to honor, she stabs herself.

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In new Silver Line stations, an emphasis on the functional

The architectural design of the new Silver Line stations won’t make your heart sing. They are functional, and there are signs of value engineering throughout. All of the new stations are aboveground, so none of them have the spatial drama of the great, vaulted stations the system’s original architect, Harry Weese, created in downtown Washington.

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Take a ride through artist Salvatore Scarpitta’s works in Hirshhorn exhibition

In a 1975 oral history interview, artist Salvatore Scarpitta remembered his time in Italy during the Second World War in contradictory ways. It wasn’t so bad, kind of a lark, except for the hunger and the time the Nazis “chewed up the ground with a machine gun around my body.” Born in the United States in 1919 (to an Italian father), Scarpitta moved to Italy in 1936 to study art. After the United States entered the war, he spent time in an internment camp: “Well, it was like being on a vacation, except we didn’t have anything to eat.”

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National Gallery of Art to exhibit works of Renaissance painter Piero di Cosimo

The National Gallery of Art will present a rare exhibition devoted to the Renaissance painter Piero di Cosimo beginning Feb. 1.

According to the gallery, it will be the first major retrospective ever devoted to the Florentine master and the first time a substantial number of his paintings have been seen together in the United States since 1938, when seven works attributed to him were shown in a New York City gallery. The exhibition, which will be seen in a revised form at the Uffizi Gallery Museum in Florence later in 2015, will include about 40 works believed to be by Piero. (Attribution of his work has long been a complicated subject.)

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Petition about Corcoran Gallery of Art should be heard for transparency’s sake

A motion filed Wednesday to stop the dismemberment of the Corcoran Gallery of Art should be given serious consideration by D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Okun. The integrity of any final dispensation of the Corcoran depends on several key points raised by the petitioners, which include the advocacy group Save the Corcoran and more than a dozen other plaintiffs.

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Albert Paley’s fluid, yet sci-fi metal works at the Corcoran

A new Corcoran Gallery retrospective of metal work by Albert Paley is a bittersweet pleasure. Plans for a Paley show date back to 2008, during the tenure of former director Paul Greenhalgh. Now they’ve come to fruition as the last major Corcoran exhibition before the gallery and school close as an independent entity, the art to be taken by the National Gallery, the school delivered into the insatiable maw of George Washington University, and tens of millions in cash (from the dubious sale of material from the collection) divided between the two institutions as a kind of macabre death dowry.

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Ai Weiwei: A retrospective of his works

Ai Weiwei has reached the particular orbit of fame where he is subject to the same celestial winds that buffet ordinary celebrities. Now 56 years old, he is one of a handful of artists who are household names and is by far the best-known, if not always the most admired, artist from China. For more than a decade beginning in 1981, he was based in the United States and absorbed the artistic energies coursing through the streets, galleries and museums of New York. In 1993 he returned to China, where he remains today, unable to leave because his passport is being held by the Chinese government. He is now a dissident artist, which comes at great personal cost yet magnifies his stature and amplifies his message, making him an international voice of conscience for artistic freedom and personal integrity in a country where it is easy to make art — and easy to make a fortune — so long as you stay within the government’s unspoken redlines. Some critics have soured on him, but few dismiss him. His power of visual condensation, his keen flair for paradox and his ability to connect well-made and appealing objects to troubling chains of thought make him an artist of exceptionally broad reach and clarity in an otherwise fractured, noisy and anarchic art world.

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