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Exhibitions

The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art

3rd floor North, American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, N.W.)
October 31, 2014 – February 22, 2015

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Image for The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art

Fred Tomaselli, Migrant Fruit Thugs, 2006, leaves, photo collage, gouache, acrylic and resin on wood panel, Glenstone. © Fred Tomaselli. Image courtesy Glenstone

Birds have long been a source of mystery and awe. Today, a growing desire to meaningfully connect with the natural world has fostered a resurgence of popular interest in the winged creatures that surround us daily. The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art examines mankind’s relationship to birds and the natural world through the eyes of twelve major contemporary American artists, including David Beck, Rachel Berwick, Lorna Bieber, Barbara Bosworth, Joann Brennan, Petah Coyne, Walton Ford, Paula McCartney, James Prosek, Laurel Roth Hope, Fred Tomaselli, and Tom Uttech.

The presentation of “The Singing and the Silence” coincides with two significant environmental anniversaries—the extinction of the passenger pigeon in 1914 and the establishment of the Wilderness Act in 1964—events which highlight mankind’s journey from conquest of the land to conservation of it. Although human activity has affected many species, birds in particular embody these competing impulses. Inspired by the confluence of these events, the exhibition explores how artists working today use avian imagery to meaningfully connect with the natural world, among other themes.

While artists have historically created images of birds for the purposes of scientific inquiry, taxonomy or spiritual symbolism, the artists featured in The Singing and the Silence instead share a common interest in birds as allegories for our own earthbound existence. The 46 artworks on display consider themes such as contemporary culture’s evolving relationship with the natural world, the steady rise in environmental consciousness, and the rituals of birding. The exhibition’s title is drawn from the poem “The Bird at Dawn” by Harold Monro.

Rachel Berwick’s large-scale, mixed-media installation, “Blueshift,” will be on public display for the first time as part of the exhibition, as will a temporary, site-specific mural James Prosek has created for the exhibition’s gallery space. A behind-the-scenes time-lapse video of the installation of this mural is available on the museum’s YouTube channel. Artworks by each artist can be viewed in our online gallery.

The exhibition is organized by Joanna Marsh, The James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art.


Free Public Programs
Thursday, October 23, 2014, 6 p.m. – Gallery Talk with artist James Prosek
Saturday, October 25, 2014, 5 p.m. – Concert - 21st Century Consort presents “Aviary”
Thursday, November 6, 2014, 6 p.m. – Gallery Talk with Exhibition Curator Joanna Marsh
Thursday, November 13, 2014, 6:30 p.m. – Screening of “Curious Worlds: The Art & Imagination of David Beck” followed by Q&A with Beck and director Olympia Stone
Wednesday, December 3, 2015, 5:30 - 8 p.m. – “Handi-hour” featuring bird-themed crafts and craft brews
Thursday, December 11, 2014, 6 p.m. – Curator Discussion – Shaping The Singing and the Silence
Tuesday, January 13, 2015, 6:30 p.m. – “Bird Sightings” Gallery Talk with curator Joanna Marsh and Pete Marra of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center
Tuesday, January 20, 2015, 6 p.m. – Film Screening: “Aves”
Tuesday, February 3, 2015, 6 p.m. – Round Robin: An Artist Panel with curator Joanna Marsh and artists Fred Tomaselli, Laurel Roth Hope, and Petah Coyne
Thursday, February 12, 2015, 3 p.m. – “Fluorescence in Featherwork” Conservation Talk
Tuesday, February 17, 2015, 6 p.m. – Film Screening: “Winged Migration”

Credit

The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from Rollin W. King, The Margery and Edgar Masinter Exhibitions Fund, Caroline Niemczyk, Debbie Frank Petersen, Rosemary L. Ripley, Holly and Nick Ruffin and the C.K. Williams Foundation.


Connecting Online

Join "art birdwatchers" from around the world for the #ArtBirds Social Media Scavenger Hunt! Find, share, and discuss depictions of birds in works of art on Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr during September and October by using the hashtag #ArtBirds. You may see one of your "sightings" re-shared by the museum! The museum will continue using the #ArtBirds hashtag following the exhibition opening to share works of art from the exhibition on social media.

A behind-the-scenes time-lapse video of the installation of James Prosek’s mural is available on the museum’s YouTube channel. Behind-the-scenes insights about the exhibition will be published on the museum’s blog, Eye Level. Follow the museum on Facebook, Flickr, Pinterest, Instagram, and on Twitter using #ArtBirds for exhibition updates.


In the News
Fall Arts Preview 2014, The Washington Post, September 6, 2014, by Philip Kennicott
Art Preview: "The Singing and the Silence" at the American Art Museum, Washingtonian Magazine, October 30, 2014, by Tanya Pai
‘The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art’ at the Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrates avian inspirations, Washington Post Express, October 30, 2014, by Elena Goukassian
The Threatened Birds in These Artworks Might One Day Go the Way of the Dodo , Smithsonian Magazine, November 6, 2014, by Saba Naseem
‘The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art’ at the Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrates avian inspirations, Washington Post Express, October 30, 2014, by Elena Goukassian
Flights of fantasy for some that are no more, The Washington Post, November 28, 2014, by Roger Catlin
In Bird Art, Do Animals Become Objects?, Washington City Paper, December 2, 2014, by Erin Devine
Art Review: ‘The Singing and the Silence’ at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington Post, December 18, 2014, by Mark Jenkins