DC at Night

DC at Night

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Farewell to the Opera Stage with Snails Space

When British artist David Hockney was young, he struggled with a dilemma. He had great passion for both art and music. So which should he choose as a career? Hockney, universally recognized today as one of the most influential British artists of the 20th Century, went with art. However, after a few years, he realized that by designing sets for operas, he could combine both interests. So, for almost 20 years Hockney practiced his craft in opera houses around the world.  But by the mid-1990s, his hearing had seriously deteriorated and he realized he would have to give up his opera work and return to painting.

His work "Snails Space with Vari-Lites: Painting as Performance," completed in 1996,  represents his reluctant farewell to his 2nd career as a set designer for operas. It is now on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The piece uses theatrical lighting to transform color into a kind of performance. In a 9-minute changing sequence, the installation is transformed into separate settings that rotate among pastoral, stormy, vibrant, and elegiac.  Although abstract, many observers point out that they see landscape references in the piece, which in structure resembles a 3-dimensional stage.

Hockney's end of his music involvement, signaled a new experimentation with using technology such as fax machines, photo copiers, and most recently, the iPhone to create art.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
The Smithsonian American Art Museum, which is located in the same building as the National Portrait Gallery, is my favorite art institution in DC. Since it is located off the National Mall on 8th and F streets, it is not as crowded as the mall museums. That allows a much more intimate viewing experience. The 2 museums are also open until 7:30 p.m. year-round. I am really looking forward to 2 big exhibitions that are coming later this year - The Civil War and American Art and Nam June Paik: Global Visionary.

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