An Art Show in Washington That’s Out of This World

An Art Show in Washington That’s Out of This World
"Fluid Dynamics" by Tina York, 1995

DOUG JOHNSON: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson. On our program this week, we read some of your comments about our recent shows...

And we listen to music from two southern bands...

But first, a report on an art show that is out of this world...



DOUG JOHNSON: An art exhibit opened last week at the National Air and Space Museum building in Washington. The show documents fifty years of space exploration through painting, sculpture, and other media. Artists include Annie Leibovitz, Norman Rockwell, Nam June Paik and many others. Christopher Cruise takes us to the exhibition.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: In nineteen sixty-two, the head of America's space agency, NASA, had an unusual idea for documenting space exploration. Why not ask artists to capture the excitement of space exploration through paintings, drawings and sculpture? From that question, the National Aeronautics and Space Agency Arts Program was born. For almost fifty years, the space agency has requested and paid artists for their works.

The artists are given freedom of movement throughout many NASA facilities. For example, one of the early artists in the Arts Program, Franklin McMahon, spent hours in a NASA medical exam room. He studied the equipment and instruments doctors used to examine astronauts just after a flight. The exam room was on a ship that picked up the astronauts after they returned to Earth.

McMahon's drawing "Tilt" shows doctors inspecting Gemini astronaut Ed White on June seventh, nineteen sixty-five. The picture is extremely detailed. It provides as much information as a photograph.

Some art works are far less serious. Artist Clayton Pond provided a brightly colored silkscreen called "Strange Encounters for the First Time." The picture shows the space shuttle Enterprise and the U.S.S. Enterprise, the spacecraft from the television show "Star Trek." They are meeting in space. The image is funny. And there is debate at NASA about whether the shuttle was named because of the imaginary spacecraft.
"Moonwalk 1" 1987 silkscreen on paper

Another surprising image came from pop artist Andy Warhol. He produced "Moonwalk 1" in nineteen eighty-seven. The silkscreen on paper shows astronaut Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. However, the artist added a lot of bright color to the image. Neil Armstrong's white spacesuit is now hot pink. Part of his head cover is a sunny yellow. And the moon is blue.

Some of the art can produce strong emotions. A triptych toward the end of the show memorializes the space shuttle Colombia and its crew. In two thousand three, Columbia came apart as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere at the end of a flight. All seven crew members were killed.

Zigi Ben Haim created the triptych of mixed media. It contains images representing the crew, the flight and NASA. For example, flowers recall astronaut Laurel Clarke who was called Flora. There also is an image of a New York City street sign named for astronaut Kalpana Chawla. And there is the NASA symbol and an American flag.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Art Program is responsible for about three thousand works in all. Artists are given a small payment for each piece. When the program began artists received eight hundred fifty dollars. Now they get about twenty-five hundred. NASA now asks about one artist a year to add to its collection.

Some visitors to the National Air and Space Museum do not expect to find an art show there. Like Lori Hopkin of Vancouver, Canada.

LORI HOPKINS: "I was surprised that there was, like, paintings. I thought there'd be more photography. I was surprised."

Does she have a deeper understanding of the space program?

LORI HOPKINS: "Yeah, it was a different view on the whole thing. They did a good job."

Mike Stanfill of Adamsville, Tennessee said the art exhibit surprised him, too.

MIKE STANFILL: "I was just expecting a lot of old planes and spaceships."

He found some of the artwork extremely unusual, like the Andy Warhol piece.

MIKE STANFILL: "It was out of space, so to speak...I guess a sixties term, ‘way out.'

Becky Goins was visiting from Virginia Beach, Virginia. She thought art at the Air and Space Museum made perfect sense.

BECKY GOINS: "Every little boy draws spaceships and astronauts and men on the moon. So it's only one step further to think that they'd come up with some really good art that they would put out in a museum."

The show "NASA/Art: Fifty Years of Exploration" will continue at the Air and Space Museum through October Ninth.


Listener Comments

DOUG JOHNSON: This week, we read some of your comments from recent American Mosaic programs.

Our report about the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards brought much praise for young artist David Vo.

Dan W. of China called David Vo, "a very good model." And Shirley in the United States said David was an inspiration to all young people. She also praised him for creativity.

And, from Vietnam, Linh asks if the high school student is Vietnamese. Here is what the artist told us:

DAVID VO: "Both of my parents are from Vietnam. It just so happens that my mother is half-English, half-Vietnamese."

REPORTER: "You're first generation."

DAVID VO: "I'm first generation."

Noma of the Philippines agreed with the executive director of the awards program that art education was as important as math and science. Noma wrote, "It fosters one's mind to be creative and innovative."

Last week, we also told about the green card lottery. Mikhail of Russia wondered why some countries are barred from that Visa process. The State Department says the United States already has many immigrants from the countries that are not included. The Immigrant Diversity Program seeks a more balanced mix of immigrants.

Many writers expressed concern about the difficulties of legal emigration to the United States.

Lots of people wrote to us about our story "America Recycled." Adam Duong said he first thought it was strange that brothers would bicycle around America looking for community. But he changed his mind. He wrote, "I found that their work was so meaningful, sometimes we should think about it. There are some things lost in busy life in a city."

Finally, our story about a New York exhibition of the work of detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei brought conflicting comments. Most were from China. Some called the artist brave and hardworking. Another hoped that he would be released as soon as possible and reunited with his family. But others said the report was unfair. "America likes to judge other countries but ignore its own problems," wrote one listener. Another said Ai Weiwei should be thankful to China, which made him famous.

We welcome all your comments so keep them coming. Maybe you will hear your own words on a future program.


Two Bands

DOUG JOHNSON: Today we play music from a band new to us and we re-visit an old favorite. Both My Morning Jacket and White Denim released new albums this week. Faith Lapidus has more.


FAITH LAPIDUS: That is the title song from My Morning Jacket's new album "Circuital."


My Morning Jacket recorded the songs in their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. In Rolling Stone magazine, band leader Jim James called the process "old and dirty."

White Denim is a four member band from Texas. The group's sound is a mix of psychedelic rock, punk, jazz and blues. Past White Denim albums were made at a band member's home. But, the new one, "D," is a studio recording.

Here White Denim performs "Keys."


My Morning Jacket captures a sweet and sad experience in the song "Moving Away." The song talks of the promise of a new life without forgetting the one left behind.


We leave you with the fun, fast beat of "River to Consider" from White Denim's new album "D."


DOUG JOHNSON: I'm Doug Johnson. Our program was written and produced by Caty Weaver.

Join us again next week for music and more on AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.