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May 21, 2021

Acquisition: Gifts from the Tony Podesta Collection

Oren Eliav
Rest on the Flight into Egypt, 2015
oil on canvas
overall: 199.71 x 149.86 cm (78 5/8 x 59 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC
Photo by Elad Sarig

Over the past two decades, gifts from the collection of Tony Podesta have made significant contributions to the contemporary holdings of the National Gallery of Art. Podesta has recently donated several outstanding works in a variety of media by artists from eight different countries.

Israeli artist Oren Eliav (b. 1975) is inspired by old master paintings, exploring their techniques and perspective while highlighting themes with contemporary relevance, such as sexual violence, political corruption, false testimony, and refugee experience. Rest on the Flight into Egypt (2015) incorporates controlled effects like layering, transparency, and blotting to create a suggestive, surreal landscape with a mysterious figural narrative. This is the first work by Eliav to enter the National Gallery’s collection.

The Kenyan German artist couple known as Mwangi Hutter merged their artistic identities in 2005. Through painting, video, installation, and performance, they explore issues of identity, race, and relationship dynamics. Ours To Hold And Caress And Cherish (2017) from the Embracing Series—their first work to be acquired by the National Gallery—takes advantage of the fluidity of acrylic paint to present a lyrical image of an embracing, intermingling couple.

Inspired by old master painting, classical mythology, and Christian iconography, Berlinde De Bruyckere (b. 1964) is a Belgian sculptural illusionist who uses casting and a variety of materials to create surreal presences that consider issues of human and animal suffering, abjection, beauty, and decay. Actaeon (Miami III) (2012), part of a series based on the story of Diana and Actaeon from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, is the first work by her to be acquired by the National Gallery.

Chinese artist Chen Zhen (1955–2000) is known for his examination of East-West differences, critique of Maoism, and exploration of Taoist traditions. Un-interrupted Voice (1998) is a rare example from Chen’s Daily Incantation series and the first work by the artist to be acquired by the National Gallery. It consists of three wooden chamber pots attached to a board with metal fasteners and a bed that has been turned into a drum by stretching a cowhide over it. The pots resemble Buddhist bells, referring to the artist’s childhood memory of noises from the cleaning of chamber pots intermingled with mandatory reciting of Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, also known as the Little Red Book.

Cuban artist Carlos Garaicoa’s (b. 1967) sculptures explore the neglect of Havana’s historic and modernist cityscape under the Castro regimes and indirectly address Cuban politics. Towers (2000), a delicate, luminous structure made from Japanese rice paper and eight light bulbs, simultaneously refers to phalluses, rockets, Noguchi lamps, and Japanese architecture. The sculpture is characteristic of the wit, craft, and poetic suggestiveness of his best-known works. This is the first sculpture by the artist to enter the collection.

Accompanying Garaicoa’s Towers is his 2004 photograph Untitled (#2330). It is part of a series in which the artist photographed deteriorated structures in Havana and then outlined their missing parts with pins and thread placed directly on the surface of the print. This work is an important example of Garaicoa’s examination of the social and political importance of the built environment in Cuba and will join two other photographs from the series in the National Gallery’s collection.

Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz (b. 1961) recreates easily recognizable images or well-known artworks with unexpected materials, such as thread, garbage, and torn out fragments from magazines, and then photographs the results. Adding to the National Gallery’s holdings of Muniz’s photography is Leap Into the Void, after Yves Klein (1998), the first from his Pictures of Chocolate series to enter the collection. Using chocolate syrup, Muniz made a two-part drawing after Yves Klein’s iconic 1960 photograph Leap into the Void. The final photographic diptych alludes to the photomontage process used to create the astonishing original photograph that captured Klein diving off a building to an empty street below. In a second photograph by Muniz in this gift, WWW (World Map) (2008), from his Pictures of Junk series, the artist has created a three-part planisphere map of the world using discarded plastic and electronics. The title, which includes the acronym for the world wide web, points to the global connectivity of human technology and the ever-increasing detritus it produces.

In her Soliloquy series, British artist Sam Taylor-Johnson (b. 1967) has presented large photographs placed above smaller panoramic ones, echoing the format of a Renaissance altarpiece with its main panel and predella. Soliloquy IX (2001) portrays a man sitting, perhaps in a sauna, shrouded in steam and lost in his own thoughts. A picture of a barren landscape is depicted below him. The formal separation of the two photographs suggests a comparison between the sublime and physical. Soliloquy IX joins three photographs and two time-based media artworks by Taylor-Johnson in the National Gallery’s collection.

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