Arts Desk

National Gallery’s New Acquisitions: McCracken, Paik, Torres-Garcia, Gober, Ligon

mccrackenThe National Gallery announced today the acquisition of new works from a disparate group of artists, several of whom are firsts for their collection. Here's a rundown of the new works you'll be able to see in coming months:

John McCracken, "Black Plank": McCracken has much in common with artist Anne Truitt, whose retrospective at the Hirshhorn closed in January. Both were attracted to the simplicity of obelisk-like pillars of wood, but they also covered them with color, bridging the gap between sculpture and painting as minimalists in the '60s and '70s. McCracken was more interested in the texture of his planks once color was applied, though, and he found that a layer of fiberglass across plywood increased the brilliance and sheen of the color. And unlike Truitt's columns, McCracken made the connection between painting and sculpture literal, neither hanging his works up, nor putting them on a pedestal—instead, they're leaned from the wall to the floor. This is the first McCracken acquisition for the National Gallery, and it will be on display by the end of May.


paik_ommahNam June Paik, "Ommah"
: While there are several other Paik works in D.C. collections—most notably at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where "Electronic Superhighway" and "Megatron/Matrix" provide a full-room sensory overload—there's nothing quite as personal as the NGA's acquisition of "Ommah" (the word means "mother" in Korean). A television plays looping video of Korean girls dancing and manipulated images of video games and other pieces of pop culture ephemera, but it's covered by a silk robe. This was one of the last pieces the artist—a pioneer of the video art genre—made before his death in 2006. It will be on display by the end of May.

Joaquín Torres-García, "Untitled Composition": A gift from Roger Sant, chairman emeritus of the Smithsonian Board of Regents, and his wife, Victoria, "Untitled Composition" is a gridded, hieroglyphical work by the Uruguayan painter. The symbols "embody what Torres-García would call Universal Constructivism, proposing a harmony between the realms of the intellect (represented here by the triangle and the clock), the emotions (the hosue), and the earthy, natural world (the fish and elephant)," said the National Gallery. The work will be on display April 20.

Francesca Woodman: Several photographs from Woodman were acquired, most notably works from her Temple Project, in which she and her friends posed as ethereal Greek maidens. Woodman is best-known for her sensual photos of women, but her career was cut short—she committed suicide in 1981, at the age of 22.

Al Taylor: Two works, "Untitled (Can Study)" and "Untitled (Floaters)," were acquired. Both explore the lines and shadows of humble subject matter.

Glenn Ligon: Ten lithographs from Ligon's "Runaways" series—in which he asked friends to describe him, and inserted their adjectives, Mad-Libs-style, in old posters for runaway slaves—were acquired. The artist is a favorite of President Obama, who borrowed his "Black Like Me" from the Hirshhorn for the White House collection.

Robert Gober, "Untitled"
: A commentary on the media and his own mortality, this untitled photolithograph from Gober blends good news and bad: He recreated a page of the New York Times in which the wedding announcements run side-by-side with gristly news, including a fabricated account of the artist's own death. For a realistic touch, he painted in the stains left by a coffee mug.

Top: John McCracken, "Black Plank," 1967, polyester resin, fiberglass, and plywood; gift of the Collectors Committee; photo by Ron Amstutz, courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York.

Nam June Paik, "Ommah," 2005, one-channel video installation on 19-inch LCD monitor, silk robe; gift of the Collectors Committee; photograph by G. Orona

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