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Corcoran Show Takes Clouds to New Levels

Clouds are taking on a whole new meaning this month at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

No, it hasn’t started raining inside the museum, nor have the walls been lined with fluffy white pillows. Instead, the gallery is launching a contemporary art program highlighted by an exhibit from artist Spencer Finch, an abstract, diverse set of works called, “My Business, With the Cloud.”

Finch’s exhibit is part of a larger initiative, called NOW at the Corcoran, which will feature two exhibits in addition to Finch’s. The program will display art that addresses “issues central to the local, national, and global communities of Washington, D.C., and that responds to the collection, history, and architecture of the Corcoran,” according to the museum. In other words, the art is based on history but includes a twist of the contemporary.

That twist is evident in Finch’s primary work, “Passing Cloud,” the piece in the collection with the deepest connection to Washington. For inspiration, Finch recalled one particular location in the District in the summer of 1863, during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and the Civil War. That year, the poet Walt Whitman was living in Washington, and in an effort to see the president up close, Whitman went to the corner of Vermont Avenue and L Street to watch Lincoln ride past on horseback. In Finch’s art, he intends to capture that moment in the city’s history by replicating the lighting and cloud cover at that intersection today.

“Instead of solidifying an idea of the past in stone, Finch’s cloud is a dynamic and changing environment that tries to capture a living, breathing moment in time,” said Sarah Newman, the Corcoran’s curator of contemporary art. “The work is about the impulse to experience history firsthand, by Whitman, by Finch, and by visitors of Washington, D.C.”

The unusual piece — a collection of transparent, paper-like colored materials called theater gels that are held together by reinforced clothespins and hung by fishing line from the Corcoran’s rotunda — uses the museum’s natural skylight to bathe the room in a bluish light. Finch said he hopes viewers leave the exhibit with both a connection to Whitman’s Washington and with a feeling of constant movement and change, as clouds are always moving and changing.

“This piece activates the space [in the rotunda] … with natural light and is something specific to Washington, D.C., without being connected to the ‘brutal reality,'” Finch said Wednesday at the Corcoran.

The rest of Finch’s exhibit is notable for its versatility of materials and methods, one of the Corcoran’s main themes with NOW. Finch uses some traditional artistic techniques, such as watercolor painting, but he also lays mosaics, makes clouds out of scotch tape, prints photographs and even builds 13-foot-tall clouds out of aluminum and fluorescent lights.

The latter structure is the most striking in the gallery, both for its sheer size and its unique appearance. The piece, called “Open Cloud (64 Ways of Looking at a Storm Cloud, after Constable)” is made of welded aluminum. It is covered in colored lights and looks like a hollow Lego figure — one Finch referred to as a “space alien.” The construction sits on wheels to emphasize the ever-changing nature of clouds, Finch said. Those wheels also make transportation easier; the work stands taller than the doors to the room where it is displayed, so it comes apart into several pieces.

Spencer Finch’s “My Business, With the Cloud” will be on display until Jan. 23. The museum has also scheduled a series of educator workshops in the coming months to coincide with the display of Finch’s work.

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