“The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art” Opens Oct. 31 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Exhibition Features Leading Contemporary Artists Exploring Birds in Modern Culture

The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art” examines mankind’s relationship to birds and the natural world through the work of 12 major contemporary American artists. The artists featured in the exhibition are David Beck, Rachel Berwick, Lorna Bieber, Barbara Bosworth, Joann Brennan, Petah Coyne, Walton Ford, Laurel Roth Hope, Paula McCartney, James Prosek, Fred Tomaselli and Tom Uttech. The exhibition will be on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., from Oct. 31 through Feb. 22, 2015, and is organized by Joanna Marsh, The James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the ideal venue for this exhibition, both as a museum committed to exhibiting living artists and as part of the Smithsonian Institution, where science, art and history intersect,” said Betsy Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  

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. Inspired by the confluence of these events, the exhibition explores how artists working today use avian imagery as a way to understand contemporary culture and the widespread desire to meaningfully connect with the natural world.

“At its core, this exhibition is less about birds and more about what birds tell us about ourselves and our connection to our planet,” said Marsh. “Together the works create a collective portrait of our own species as informed by our relationship with birds.”

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 inspiration for exploring man’s own earthbound existence. The nearly 50 artworks on display examine mankind’s evolving relationship with the natural world and the ways in which birds symbolize human impulses to both conquer and conserve nature. The exhibition’s title is drawn from the poem “The Bird at Dawn” by Harold Monro.

A number of artists will travel to the museum to install their artworks personally, including Berwick, Coyne and Prosek. Behind-the-scenes views of these installations will be available on the museum’s website. Berwick’s cast crystal sculpture, “Untitled (Blue),” will be on public display for the first time as part of the exhibition, as will a temporary, site-specific mural created by Prosek for the entrance of the exhibition space.

Free Public Programs

A series of free public programs will accompany the exhibition, including curator-led gallery talks, discussions with artists, film screenings and a family festival. Marsh will lead a gallery talk Thursday, Nov. 6, at 6 p.m. The film Curious Worlds: The Art & Imagination of David Beck will be screened Thursday, Nov. 13, at 6:30 p.m., followed by a Q&A period with Beck and film’s director, Olympia Stone. Further details about upcoming programs will be available on the museum’s calendar, americanart.si.edu/calendar, later this summer.

Connecting Online

The museum has created an “indoor birding” social media challenge that encourages finding, sharing and discussing depictions of birds in works of art. Beginning in the fall, submissions can be posted to Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #ArtBirds, a selection of which will be reshared by the museum.

A slide show of selected artworks in the exhibition will be available this fall on the museum’s website, americanart.si.edu/birds. Behind-the-scenes insights about the exhibition will be published on the museum’s blog, Eye Level, at eyelevel.si.edu. The public may also follow the museum for exhibition updates on Twitter by following and using #ArtBirds, Facebook at , Pinterest at pinterest.com/americanartpin and Instagram at instagram.com/americanartmuseum or by subscribing to the museum’s email list at americanart.si.edu/visit/enews.


“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.

About the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrates the vision and creativity of Americans with artworks in all media spanning more than three centuries. Its National Historic Landmark building is located at Eighth and F streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station. Museum hours are 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. Follow the museum on , YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, , Flickr, iTunes U and ArtBabble. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000. Website: americanart.si.edu.

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