Gordon Parks, Mrs. Ella Watson, Washington, D.C., July 1942

 

“DUE TO THE GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN, all Smithsonian museums are closed.” The message is featured in a banner across the top of all of the institution’s websites. A similar message is posted on the doors of the museums, which closed to the public on Tuesday. The Smithsonian is “the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex.” As a result of the closure, visitors are barred from several exhibitions featuring African American artists, including Gordon Parks (1912-2006), Dawoud Bey, and Mark Bradford.

The federal government shut down on Friday, Dec. 21, at midnight, after the U.S. Congress failed to pass a spending bill as negotiations with the President broke down over funding for a border wall with Mexico. After nearly two weeks, the situation remains at an impasse. About 800,000 federal government employees are impacted by the shutdown.

(The closure is a partial shutdown. Agencies that have already been funded and others classified as essential will continue to operate as usual.)

All Smithsonian entities, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Hirshhorn, the National Portrait Gallery, the American Art Museum, and National Museum of African Art, are shuttered. (The shutdown is also affecting Smithsonian museums beyond Washington, including the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York and National Museum of the American Indian–New York.)

Located on the National Mall, the National Gallery of Art is not a Smithsonian museum, but it does receive government funding. Relying on unspent reserves, NGA managed to eke out an extra day of operation and remained open through Wednesday. It’s closed now, too.

Starting today, Thursday, Jan. 3, all of Washington’s government-funded museums are closed, including the National Zoo, another Smithsonian venue. The closure means visitors are missing out on Bardford’s “Pickett’s Charge” at the Hirshhorn and “Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor” at the American Art Museum. The Bill Traylor exhibition is “the first major retrospective ever organized for an artist born into slavery, and the most comprehensive look at Bill Traylor’s work to date.”

 

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BILL TRAYLOR, “Untitled (Red Goat with Snake),” circa 1939–1942 (opaque watercolor and pencil on cardboard). | Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment. Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum

 

Those who haven’t had a chance to visit “UnSeen: Our Past in a New Light, Ken Gonzales-Day and Titus Kaphar” at the National Portrait Gallery, may not get a chance to view the show given the government shutdown. The exhibition, Titus Kaphar‘s largest to date, is scheduled to run through Jan. 6.

A spokesperson for the National Portrait Gallery was unable to comment on whether “Unseen” would be extended in the wake of the closure. “We do not have any information regarding the status of exhibitions,” she told Culture Type via email. “Everything is at a stand still until the shutdown concludes.”

Solo exhibitions of photographers Parks and Bey on display at the National Gallery of Art will also go unseen until further notice. Bey called the situation “shameful.” ARTnews requested a statement from the Chicago-based artist through Mary Boone Gallery.

The closure means visitors are missing out on Mark Bardford’s “Pickett’s Charge” at the Hirshhorn and “Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor” at the American Art Museum. …Solo exhibitions of photographers Gordon Parks and Dawoud Bey on display at the National Gallery of Art will also go unseen until further notice.

“How unfortunate that this administration that has already created havoc in the lives of so many has now caused the shuttering of the nation’s great museums, denying access to the works on display there to so many while callously denying a paycheck to the many staff who are the custodians of that work.” Bey said. “Access to culture is just as much a right as any other, and the president seems intent on scuttling this right too. Shameful…”

Other museums in the city, including the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Phillips Collection, remain open according to their regular schedules. These venues, however, are not currently featuring exhibitions of work by or about people of African descent.

For those seeking such a museum experience in the Washington region during the shutdown, head to Baltimore. About 45 miles north of the National Mall, the Baltimore Museum of Art is presenting the exhibition “Mark Bradford: Tomorrow is Another Day” and the installation “Ebony Patterson: …for little whispers…”

In Washington, check directly with museums and visit their websites for further information about closures and potential opening dates and hours in the days to come. The following exhibitions are among those shuttered due to the federal government shutdown:

 


GORDON PARKS, “Trapped in abandoned building by a rival gang on street, Red Jackson ponders his next move,” 1948 (gelatin silver print). | National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (The Gordon Parks Collection)

 
“Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940–1950” @ National Gallery of Art | Through Feb. 18

In the 1940s, Gordon Parks (1912–2006) “grew from a self-taught photographer making portraits and documenting everyday life in Saint Paul and Chicago to a visionary professional shooting for Ebony, Vogue, Fortune, and Life.” Featuring 150 photographs and ephemera, this is Parks’s first exhibition to focus on the formative decade.

 


DAWOUD BEY, “Betty Selvage and Faith Speights,” 2012 (2 inkjet prints mounted to dibond, overall: 101.6 x 162.56 cm / 40 x 64 inches). | National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Collectors Committee

 
“Dawoud Bey: The Birmingham Project” @ National Gallery of Art | Through March 24

Dawoud Bey’s “The Birmingham Project” responds to the bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., on Sept. 15, 1963. Four girls were killed and two boys died the same day, in the violent aftermath, in separate incidents in the city. The presentation at the National Gallery of Art features four diptychs and a split-screen video filmed in 2013.

READ MORE about The Birmingham Project on Culture Type

 


Installation view of “Mark Bradford: Pickett’s Charge” at Hirshhorn Museum. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine

 
“Mark Bradford: Pickett’s Charge” @ Hirshhorn Museum | Through 2021

“Pickett’s Charge” is Mark Bradford’s first solo exhibition in Washington, D.C. The title references a Confederate general’s failed charge against Union troops in 1863. The 360-degree cyclorama is composed of eight panels. With a circumference of 400 feet the multi-layered, mixed-media painting is Bradford’s largest work to date.

WATCH VIDEO of Mark Bradford doing final installation of “Pickett’s Charge”

 


TITUS KAPHAR, “Drawing the Blinds,” 2014 (oil on canvas). | Collection of Dr. Charles M. Boyd, © Titus Kaphar. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 
“UnSeen: Our Past in a New Light, Ken Gonzales-Day and Titus Kaphar” @ National Portrait Gallery | Through Jan. 6

This two-artist exhibition examines the absence of African Americans, Latino Americans, and Native Americans in historical portraiture and considers how their invisibility has influenced our understanding of U.S. history. Featuring 17 paintings by Titus Kaphar, “UnSeen” is the largest presentation of the artist’s work to date.

READ MORE about Unseen on Culture Type

 

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BILL TRAYLOR, “Untitled (Radio),” circa 1939–1942 (opaque watercolor and pencil on printed advertising cardboard). | Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment. Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum

 
“Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor” @ American Art Museum | Through March 17

The Bill Traylor exhibition is “the first major retrospective ever organized for an artist born into slavery, and the most comprehensive look at Bill Traylor’s work to date.” The prolific artist who settled in Montgomery, Ala., made more than 1,000 works of art primarily on discarded cardboard.

READ MORE about Between Worlds on Culture Type
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TOP IMAGE: GORDON PARKS, “Washington, D.C., Mrs. Ella Watson, a government charwoman, with Three grandchildren and Her adopted daughter,” July 1942 (gelatin silver print, 18.3 x 23.7 cm / 7 3/16 x9 5/16 inches). | Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

 

BOOKSHELF
Catalogs were published to accompany a few of the exhibitions hosted by the museums affected by the government shutdown. “Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940-1950” features essays by Maurice Berger, Sarah Lewis, Richard J. Powell and Deborah Willis. “Mark Bradford: Pickett’s Charge” documents the artist’s expansive exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum. “Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor” opens with an introduction by artist Kerry James Marshall. Meanwhile, “Dawoud Bey: Seeing Deeply” surveys the Chicago-based photographer’s four-decade career and explores The Birmingham Project, among many other bodies of work.

 

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