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National Gallery, embassies host exciting art exhibits in September
Diplomatic Pouch / August 21, 2014

By Larry Luxner

Washington’s National Gallery of Art and four foreign diplomatic missions all plan exhibitions next month celebrating the creativity of home-grown artists and writers ranging from the Czech Republic’s Franz Kafka to Kurdistan’s Sardar Kestay.

On Sept. 1, the National Gallery opens its new exhibit, “From Neoclassicism to Futurism: Italian Prints and Drawings, 1800-1925” — a period it says has largely been neglected by art historians even though it produced “extraordinarily varied, vital and often stunningly beautiful art.”

Curated by Jonathan Bober, the exhibit — on view until Feb. 1, 2015 — celebrates Italy’s rotating presidency of the 28-member European Union from July 1 to Dec. 31. It features 80 prints, drawings and illustrated books by 53 artists ranging from works inspired by the ancient past to magnificent set designs, poetic landscapes and striking approaches to non-representational art.

“Italian art of 19th and early 20th centuries included certain groups whose names still resonate—like the and the futurists,” said Earl A. Powell III, the gallery’s director. “But unlike its European neighbors, especially France, the newly forming country did not have a common style, much less one that developed according to the conventional history of modern art. Italian art had its own varied forms, distinctive life and development.”

Over the past several years, the gallery has built its holdings of Italian prints and drawings from this period, creating what has already become the largest and finest collection of its kind in the United States. As much as a presentation of Italian art of the period, this exhibition introduces the results of the gallery’s efforts.

Notable are the groups of drawings by distinguished academics Luigi Sabatelli (1772–1850) and Bartolomeo Pinelli (1771–1835); grand topographic views like Balaklava (1857) by Carlo Bossoli (1815–84) etchings from the technique’s revival in the second half of the century, especially those by Antonio Fontanesi (1818–82) and Giovanni Fattori (1825–1908); and books by the Futurists that combine imaginative texts with abstract imagery. Two promised gifts, the watercolor A Priest in a Church Interior (1900s) by Giovanni Boldini (1842–1931) and Study for “Ballerina (c.1913-14) by Gino Severini (1883-1966) are critical additions from private collections.

fills three galleries and spans Italy’s turbulent history, from Napoleonic rule to the splintering and reunification of the nation and its subsequent descent into fascism.

The first gallery features works that reflect the persistence and weight of tradition through the first half of the 19th century in engraved interpretations of old master paintings, drawings inspired by antique models, and theatre designs. Works in the second gallery reveal a late but passionate embrace of Romanticism and an individualistic approach to art according to the geographic centers where it flourished: Turin, Milan, Rome and Naples.

The final gallery features works by all the major figures in the Futurist movement, from its founder Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876–1944), to Umberto Boccioni (1882–1916) and Carlo Carrà (1881–1966). It also includes works by important precursors of this explicit modernism, such as works by Fattori and Telemaco Signorini (1835–1901), and other responses to the new age, like Still Life with a Basket of Bread(1921) by Giorgio Morandi (1890–1964).

Continuing the European focus, on Sept. 3 the Czech Embassy will launch “Mutual Inspirations Festival 2014” with a special exhibition by Czech cartoonist Jiri Slíva. The exhibition, Kafka & Co., features humorous drawings, lithographs and etchings inspired by Franz Kafka and other famous Czech luminaries.

The Mutual Inspirations Festival, an annual event sponsored by the Czech Embassy, “focuses on the mutual inspirations between Czech and American cultures, and features each year an extraordinary Czech personality who has greatly influenced and inspired others through his or her work,” according to an embassy press release. Now in its fifth year, the latest edition of this festival celebrates Franz Kafka, one of the greatest authors of the 20th century. It also coincides with the 90th anniversary of his passing.

Like Kafka, Slíva, 67, lives in Prague; he was trained as an economist and worked as a teacher for eight years before becoming a freelance cartoonist, illustrator and graphic artist. Slíva’s first published drawing appeared in 1972 in Mladá fronta;he’s since published 15 of his own books of cartoons in the Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, France and the United States. His drawings have also appeared in more than 150 books and foreign newspapers such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times.

For his creativity, Slíva has won many awards at cartoon festivals and has had solo exhibitions in Bratislava, Zurich, Moscow, Budapest, Warsaw, Havana, Berlin, Brussels, Tel Aviv, New York and many other cities.

Also on Sept. 3, two European countries — Sweden and Latvia — will host the opening of “Vibrations of Amber” by Latvian textile artist Iveta Vecenane, and “Sami Crafts of Soul, Hand and Mind.”

The joint event will mark the selection of Latvia’s capital, Riga, and the Swedish city of Umea, as European Capitals of Culture for 2014. Co-hosted by Latvian Ambassador Andris Razans and Swedish Ambassador Björn Lyrvall, the event will take place at the House of Sweden in Georgetown.

Moving to the Middle East, “Amen: A Prayer for the World” opens at Washington National Cathedral on Sept. 4 as part of Caravan 2014. The interfaith arts exhibit features 48 fiberglass sculptures in prayer painted by 30 Muslim and Christian Egyptian artists as well as 18 Christian and Jewish artists from outside Egypt. The participating artists have each been given a life-size fiberglass sculpture in one of four poses of prayer to paint or decorate as they wish.

The exhibit is co-curated by Egyptian artist Reda Abdel Rahman and Caravan’s founder and president, the Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler. It is sponsored by the Egyptian Embassy and Egypt’s Sixth of October Real Estate Development Co. (SODIC) with additional support provided by the British Council.

“The Caravan exhibit is an exciting opportunity for Washington National Cathedral in so many ways,” said the cathedral’s dean, the Very Rev. Gary Hall. “It continues our great tradition of interfaith ministry and collaboration. A wide range of artists from varied cultural and religious backgrounds — Muslim, Christian and Jewish, Egyptians as well as Westerners — are bringing their own unique gifts and perspectives to the decoration of these praying figures. I hope many will come and experience the pieces themselves, and the cathedral, in a new way.”

On Sept. 5, the local mission of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government will feature the work of two Kurdish artists: Ramzi Ghotbaldin and Sardar Kestay. The exhibit, “Colors of Kurdistan,” will run until Sept. 28 at the Foundry Gallery in Washington’s Dupont Circle neighborhood.

Ghotbaldin, born in Kurdistan in 1955, graduated from Baghdad’s Institute of Fine Arts. From 1982 until his move to Paris in 1990, he worked with the Kurdish resistance fighting Saddam Hussein. His work has been shown in the United States, Japan, France, Iran and elsewhere. Kestay, born in Kurdistan in 1973, was director of the Duhok Gallery from 2009 until last year. A caricaturist, his work has also been exhibited in the United States and throughout Europe. He now lives in upstate New York.

Finally, the Austrian Embassy rounds out the series of exhibit openings on Sept. 17 with the inauguration of “Innovation@Upper Austria” by Reinhold Mitterlehner, Austria’s minister of science, research and economy.

With 1.4 million inhabitants, Upper Austria is the third-largest of Austria’s nine states in population, and the fourth-largest in size. It borders Germany and the Czech Republic, and accounts for 25 percent of the country’s exports.

“Innovators are pioneers who walk off the beaten track. Their new creations contribute to the economic development and cultural enrichment of the people in our state,” says an embassy press release. “Upper Austria is proud to have talented innovators and visionaries in our economy, technology, art and culture. The excellent resources that are available in Upper Austria ensure that our state stays competitive in the future too. This exhibition enables an insight to the innovative and creative talents of Upper Austria as well as the joy of innovation.”

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