Tuesday, November 02, 2010


As we vote today, it is a somber thought when we recall those who live under the boot of tyrants. Yesterday I told you about the brutalization of Reina Luisa Tamayo Danger, a Cuban grandmother and dissident activist who, since the murder of her son Orlando, has become one of the leaders of the peaceful Cuban protest for freedom from the iron-fisted rule of the Castro brothers.

Following an immediate international outrage over her beating and jailing, this gutsy lady was released from jail, where we have now learned that she was shouting "Freedom!" over and over from her dungeon cell, and thus she was beaten in the mouth and her mouth stuffed with a rag soaked in gasoline.

Tamayo's three sons and their wives are still being held in jail by Castro's police. It is curious to see how none of this has made generally the US news circuit (other than Miami newsmedia of course) while making news all over the rest of the world.

Reina Luisa has been offered exile and to leave Cuba. Her answer was no! and: Freedom!

35 Years!

Washington Project for the Arts (WPA) will present Catalyst, its 35th anniversary retrospective exhibition, at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center in Washington, DC, from November 9 through December 19, 2010.

Using three floors and the outdoor sculpture garden of the museum, Catalyst will be a dynamic, narrative 're-collection' of the WPA legacy, showcasing selected artists, exhibitions, programs, and events from its 35-year history. Curated by longtime WPA member, artist, writer, curator, and art professor J.W. Mahoney, Catalyst will include both recent and period artworks, documentation in both still and moving media, with a fully illustrated catalogue to accompany the exhibition.

In a statement provided by Mr. Mahoney, "Catalyst is intended to demonstrate the uniqueness, the resilience and the authentically catalytic power of a truly successful alternative arts organization that has survived for more than three decades." Divided chronologically into three major sections of the museum, the exhibition will feature works by over 150 artists in a variety of media. Through the presentation of selected works and narrative text, Catalyst will demonstrate the integral role WPA has played in the history of contemporary visual art in Washington, DC.

Catalyst is not intended to be presented as a traditional historical retrospective and it, by practical restrictions on space and time, can present only a glimpse of the depth and breadth of WPA's 35 years of creative production. It is intended to communicate the idea of WPA as a catalyst - as an organization that has meaningfully encouraged and supported the creative spirit of artists - and to demonstrate that artists continue to practice and thrive here in our region.

The exhibition catalogue features an introduction by American University Museum and Curator Jack Rasmussen, an illustrated timeline of selected moments in WPA history; essays by curator J.W. Mahoney, former WPA Executive Director Jock Reynolds, and former Bookworks Manager Robin Moore; and an illustrated exhibition checklist. It is available for $35 on the WPA website and in the American University bookstore.

WPA will also produce an interactive website for the exhibition which will invite artists and individuals associated with WPA throughout its history to contribute stories, artifacts, and information about the organization. The site www.wpadc.org/catalyst, which will include a timeline, comprehensive artist list, and exhibition and performance history of the organization, will be live November 1, 2010.

An opening reception will be held on Saturday, November 13, 2010 from 6-9pm at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20016. A ticketed benefit opening will take place on Tuesday, November 9 from 6:30 to 9:00 pm. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact esmitherman@wpadc.org. Individual tickets are $75 for WPA member artist and $150 for individuals. Proceeds will benefit WPA's 35th anniversary exhibition season.

WPA will also host a series of related performances and public programs leading up to, and during the exhibition dates. Exhibition curator J.W. Mahoney will lead a tour of the exhibition on Saturday, November 20 at 4pm. Further details on the exhibition and related programming will be available at www.wpadc.org in the coming weeks.

My own experiences with the WPA have been terrific and go back many years. But clearly the most important one was in 2005, when I had perhaps the most difficult and most fun curatorial job ever. And at the end, it delivered the most wonderful gift of my life.

This happened when I was retained to curate the massive "Seven" exhibition for the then WPA/Corcoran. My goal in curating the show was to expose WPA artists who rarely, if ever, got any attention from previous curators and pair them up with some well-known names. In order to do that I reviewed 24,000-plus slides in the WPA/C Artfile, plus about a 1,000 digital submissions - the first time that the WPA had used digital entries for a show!

I reviewed all those slides and files not once, but twice over a six month period of trips to the Corcoran, where the WPA lived at the time.

"Seven" got its title because it filled seven different spaces at the Warehouse Theatre and Gallery complex on 7th Street, NW. At the time it was the largest WPA exhibition ever, and it was the WPA's best-selling show up to that time (nearly 70% of all the artwork from 66 artists sold, including two Sam Gilliams, three Chan Chao photos, a major Tim Tate glass piece, huge Graham Caldwell glass piece, Cornelius videos, Jamison painting, etc.) and about a dozen WPA member artists without representation got picked up for representation by galleries from that show (as I took groups of gallerists for one on one tours of the show). These dealers then picked up new artists for their galleries... such as Susan Jamison by Irvine Contemporary.

It was a huge opening with estimates of 600-800 people all spilling out onto the streets. We had a live nude drawing class during the opening show, with the model posing for several artists who created drawings on the spot. They were in what I had dubbed the "Nude Gallery," which was hung with the work of artists who focused on the nude.

We also had opera singer Hisham Breedlove, who had been body painted ahead of time by Adrianne Mills, singing around the galleries as a walking, living work of art. On the top floor gallery, Kathryn Cornelius conducted a performance several times that night. All of this was going on at the opening.

The show got major reviews by the DMV press with coverage in The Washington Post, the City Paper, Georgetowner, and all the (then) new art blogs. It was even covered by local TV as well as covered by CNN - It was the first WPA show ever covered by CNN!

The show was the buzz of the town for the whole month and it accomplished what I had intended to do: expose as many "new" artists to the DC art scene as possible while getting the WPA some buzz and selling some artwork. It did all of that and more.

And most important for me: I met the woman who eventually became my wife at the curator talk that I gave during the show! I challenge anyone to beat that success story!

This is important: Again...a ticketed benefit opening will take place on Tuesday, November 9 from 6:30 to 9:00 pm. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact esmitherman@wpadc.org. Individual tickets are $75 for WPA member artist and $150 for individuals. Proceeds will benefit WPA's 35th anniversary exhibition season.

Overheard while voting

Elderly Chinese lady in the voting booth to my right (talking to another - much younger - Chinese lady in the voting booth to my left): "I can't believe that I'm voting for all these Republicans!"

Agitated voting judge comes over and tells her that she can't discuss her voting with people around her. The elderly Chinese lady doesn't say anything and the voting judge retreats to her station.

Elderly Chinese lady, this time in Chinese, again speaks to the other Chinese lady to my left. The words "Ike Leggett" and "Republicans" are distinct amongst the Chinese chatter.

Agitated voting judge comes over again, but I'm not sure that this time she knows who was talking. She looks at me and announces: "Please! No talking while voting!"

I finish voting, and while depositing my electronic voting card in the box by the voting judge, I say "syeh-syeh" ("Thanks" in Mandarin Chinese) to her. She looks at me oddly.

Whatever you do today, please make sure that you vote. Otherwise, please refrain from bitching tomorrow.