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Experience 30 Americans at the Corcoran Before They Leave

February marked the beginning of Black History Month, a 29-day cultural celebration showcasing the impact African-American culture has had on the United States. And while events run the entire month, one of the most compelling ways to pay homage to the African American experience wraps up this week, with the last chance to see it this Sunday, February 12th.

The exhibit 30 Americans has been featured at the Corcoran Gallery of Art since October, 2011. The Corcoran is the largest—as well as the oldest—non-federally funded museum in the District, and it contains one of the best collections of art anywhere in America. The museum’s holdings include Monet’s, Picasso’s and Cassatt’s. A trip to the museum, located on 17th Street NW, can be an all-encompassing afternoon, as visitors can view European impressionists and American modern art all within the same halls.

30 Americans, one of the gallery’s rotating exhibits, features work from the most important and influential African-American artists since the 1970s. Their pieces are intended to be thought-provoking, exploring the racial strife and cultural identity issues that are still prevalent in modern American society.

The exhibit comes courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection in Miami, where it had been on display for the past two years. The exhibit contains 76 pieces, which range from 80s punk-art to cutting-edge design from the late 2000s.

The early 1980s works are some of the more visually striking pieces in any Washington, D.C. museum. Robert Colescott’s Pygmalion is a massive acrylic painting, registering over 7’ x 12’ and it comes at the viewer in bright, bold colors. It’s a 1970s remix of quaint, Caucasian suburban life blended with an urbane African-American experience, all intersecting in the middle as a white professorial figure embraces a black woman. The title derives its name from the George Bernard Shaw play about a lower-class girl attempting to pass herself off as high society and the painting shows the angst that can come from assimilating while trying to maintain an independent identity.

Created 20 years later, Kehinde Wiley’s Sleep is 25-foot opus that shows just how much change society has undergone in two decades. It features a large, sculpted man as its centerpiece, in a pure, unadulterated form. Here, the painting says, in the 21st century, the African-American community is a proud and beautiful place, perfect as is.

The still photography that’s part of the collection is also impressive, with Rashid Johnson’s life-sized prints carrying an intensity that will stay with you well after you leave the gallery.

The exhibit, large in scope, can take several hours to transverse. But if you’re already at the Corcoran, it would be a shame to miss some of the other impressive works showcased in their hallowed halls.

The early European pieces, from the 1800s to the early 1900s are on par with any other museum in the area, with famous works by Pablo Picasso, like A Glass on a Table, and one of Claude Monet’s best pieces, Willows of Vétheuil. Also, not to be missed among the famous Europeans, is the lesser known, but equally talented František Kupka, who’s work Untitled was one of the first moves to abstraction in the art world.

Admission to the Corcoran is relatively inexpensive, with tickets just $10 a person. Children under the age of 12 are free. The gallery is closed on Monday and Tuesday, but over the weekend, the last chance to see 30 Americans, the Corcoran will be open from 10 a.m to 5 p.m.


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