In the Gallery’s department of public programs, we’ve been thinking a lot about what artists have to say about this moment, when so many people are navigating new challenges. Artists reflect the world back to us—sometimes as impossibly beautiful, other times as brutally honest or bleak, but always as a meditative practice for viewer and practitioner alike. Their work has the power to both express and break through isolation and suffering, strengthening our hearts and inspiring tired minds.
Our department coordinates a wide variety of public program offerings for adult audiences at the Gallery, and these events often allow our visitors to hear directly from some of today’s most influential artists. Although we can’t offer in-person programs while the Gallery is closed, many recordings of past events remain available for your exploration.
In this post, members of our department are sharing a selection of moments from artists’ talks held at the Gallery that have been resonating with each of us right now. We hope they help remind you, as they did for us, of the richness and resilience of human expression.
Carrie Mae Weems on Creativity
I’ve thought often of Carrie Mae Weems’s Kitchen Table Series lately, in part because I’ve spent much of this isolation period sitting in my kitchen. There is plenty happening in Weems’s photographs of people around a kitchen table, but the table is merely the lens through which Weems shows us these characters’ larger lives. When the Gallery added Kitchen Table Series to its collection in 2018, Weems came to speak about her photographs. In this clip, we hear Weems intone (to my current relief) that thinking about art can be an enriching way of passing the time. When ruminating on the images and stories that inspire us, she seems to say, we’re more productive than we think—and more human. —Terence Washington, curatorial liaison for public programs in modern art
Richard Mosse on Beauty and Suffering
I find Richard Mosse’s work, mainly centered on stories of conflict and displacement, to be deeply impactful and provocative. Speaking on the occasion of the opening of his work Incoming, a video installation that probes the global refugee crisis, Mosse considered the power of aesthetics and the need for beauty, which he uses to draw us in and challenge our viewpoints. I think in our current moment, while we might feel fatigued by bad news and saturated with images of hardship and loss, Mosse’s visually striking work reminds us of the incredibly resilient and complex world outside our quarantine bubbles and asks us to consider our place in the global community. —Rachel Tanzi, program assistant for adult programs
Kwame Alexander on Showing the Triumph
Last spring, the education division collaborated with award-winning artists Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson to organize a daylong celebration of their newly released picture book The Undefeated, which went on to win multiple prestigious awards. Originally performed for ESPN’s website TheUndefeated.com, this illustrated poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. Kwame Alexander is an artist whose words I turn to regularly for encouragement, inspiration, and irrepressible happiness. He moves the earth. Enjoy this empowering excerpt from Alexander and Nelson’s conversation. —Ali Peil, administrator
Elizabeth Alexander on the Belief in Beauty
Poet Elizabeth Alexander has visited the Gallery twice to speak on her late husband, Ficre Ghebreyesus, and his legacy as an artist, husband, and father. Her stunning memoir of love and loss, The Light of the World, reminds us how strong the human spirit is. While I urge you to listen to her 2016 reading, too, I’m sharing here an excerpt from a later talk. In 2019, Alexander offered an overview of Ghebreyesus’s beautiful, haunting images that, although created in a different context, articulate feelings and emotions similar to those many of us are experiencing: isolation, anxiety, and grief. I return to her words for solace and inspiration during this moment of great uncertainty. —Sarah Battle, program administrator for lectures
Photo: Carrie Mae Weems speaking at the National Gallery of Art on February 6, 2018.