Art and the City

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Mardi Gras. New Orleans, LA. 9,000 bricks; 50 hours to construct. Credit: Warren Elsmore

This August, you do not need to go far from Capitol Hill to feel like you’ve traveled.  Just down the hill from us, a wide array of captivating art exhibitions will transport you to new and exciting places without leaving DC. Prepare yourself for an extraordinary journey through architecture like never before at the National Building Museum’s “Brick City: A World of Architectural Marvels in LEGO® Bricks.”  Discover the transformative power of “Red is Beautiful,” a retrospective by Canadian artist Robert Houle at the National Museum of the American Indian. Lastly, the National Gallery of Art, “Philip Guston Now,” offers an unparalleled journey through Philip Guston’s life as an artist. These exhibitions will reignite your imagination and leave you with unforgettable memories.

National Building Museum
Warren Elsmore “Brick City”
Through Spring 2025
nbm.org/exhibition/brick-city
Brick City: A World of Architectural Marvels in
LEGO® Bricks

Lincoln Memorial. 2,000 bricks; 24 hours to construct. Credit: Warren Elsmore

Prepare to embark on a thrilling journey through the world of architecture, as the immersive exhibition “Brick City” comes to the National Building Museum. Created by UK artist Warren Elsmore, this expansive showcase celebrates the wonders of cities worldwide, meticulously recreated using iconic LEGO® bricks.

With the stroke of Elsmore’s masterful hand, visitors are magically transported to new destinations across all seven continents, where vibrant streetscapes of Cartagena, Colombia, and lively Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans come to life in dazzling colors and intricate detail. Travelers are then whisked away to encounter the grandeur of intricately designed temples from India to Mexico, and to marvel at imaginative castles from medieval Japan to modern-day Las Vegas.

What makes this exhibition truly remarkable is the way it seamlessly connects structures that are thousands of years apart and located in different corners of the world. As you journey through the exhibition, you’ll be captivated by the intriguing parallels between architectural marvels like the iconic Roman Colosseum and the contemporary 2012 Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London.

Philip Guston, Painting, Smoking, Eating, 1973, oil on canvas, overall: 196.85 x 262.89 cm (77 1/2 x 103 1/2 in.), Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, © The Estate of Philip Guston

At the heart of the exhibition stands a true masterpiece —a breathtaking 12-feet-long replica of London’s St. Pancras Station. This awe-inspiring creation, painstakingly assembled from over 180,000 standard LEGO® bricks, serves as the centerpiece of the exhibition.

But “Brick City” is not just an awe-inspiring visual spectacle; it’s an interactive experience for visitors of all ages. Aspiring builders and seasoned enthusiasts alike can unleash their creativity in the dedicated LEGO® brick creations area. From crafting pixelated artwork on the expansive “graffiti wall” to constructing imaginative cities in designated building zones, this exhibition fosters a sense of play, exploration, and artistic expression.  401 F Street NW. Thursday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.  202.272.2448

National Museum of the American Indian Robert Houle “Red is Beautiful”  On view through June 2, 2024 americanindian.si.edu/explore/exhibitions/washington

The color red holds a profound meaning for Robert Houle, a celebrated Canadian artist hailing from the Saulteaux Anishinaabe tribe of Sandy Bay First Nation who dwell in the province of Manitoba. For Houle, red is more than just a hue; it represents a beautiful force, carrying im mense power and expressive qualities that lie at the very core of his artistic practice and identity as an indigenous person. Throughout his extensive career, his artworks have been imbued with the essence of what he cherishes most—the transformative moment, the profound connection to the Earth, and the sacred.

Houle’s artistic journey is deeply intertwined with both his deep religious beliefs and his relentless desire to sustain his indigenous identity, one which the Canadian government sought to subvert and replace at every turn by unsuccessfully suppressing his tribe’s language and religious practices.  As a result, his work lies at the intersection of western and indigenous artistic traditions.  Houle places his work in the canon of global modernism using the genre to address issues of Indigenous identity and their struggle for survival since colonization.

Robert Houle, Red Is Beautiful, 1970. Acrylic on canvas, 45.5 x 61 cm. Canadian Museum of History, V-F-174, IMG2017-0112-0003-Dm. © Robert Houle

His reverence for the sacred drives him to reimagine the essence of his homeland while paying homage to his ancestors. The result of Houle’s artistic exploration is a transcultural path that seamlessly weaves together color, light, and gesture, anchored firmly in the sovereignty of Indigenous heritage. This remarkable retrospective, aptly titled “Red Is Beautiful,” is a testament to his singular and impactful career, commemorating over five decades of artistic innovation. Fourth Street & Independence Avenue, SW. Hours: Daily 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, except December 25.

National Gallery of Art,
West Building
Philip Guston Now On view through August 27, 2023
www.nga.gov
Celebrating the Timeless Influence of Philip Guston

Philip Guston’s legacy transcends time and has left an indelible mark on the world of art. Revered not only for his extraordinary paintings but also for his unyielding courage, Guston still inspires artists across the globe. This comprehensive retrospective of the artist’s work connects audiences with the enduring power and contemporary relevance of his art.

Kaywin Feldman, Director of the National Gallery of Art, shares her admiration for Guston’s transformative impact: “Philip Guston has inspired generations of artists—not just for his remarkable paintings, but also for his courage.” Indeed, Guston’s audacious approach to art has earned him deep admiration and respect from the artistic community.

This exhibition provides an enriching experience for both seasoned art enthusiasts and novices alike, taking visitors on a journey through Guston’s artistic evolution. His canvases delve deeply into the human psyche with a blend of raw emotion and intense subject matter. Through his art, Guston offers a candid commentary on society, compelling audiences to confront the atrocities of war and the enduring legacy of racism in the United States.

As viewers immerse themselves in the world of Guston, they will find his art as relevant today as it was during his time. His courage in challenging conventions and embracing artistic experimentation continues to inspire contemporary artists to push boundaries and dare to express their beliefs unapologetically.  West Building, 4th Street and Constitution Ave NW. Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily.

Phil Hutinet is the founding publisher of East City Art, DC’s visual art journal of record. For more information visit www.eastcityart.com