We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Back in 1968, when art historian Linda Nochlin organized the “Realism Now” show at Vassar College, she brought together artists from both coasts of the U.S. who had all independently begun practicing a curious kind of painting. In the wake of Pop Art, artists like Robert Bechtle, Chuck Close, and Richard Estes began creating flat, affectless, meticulously detailed images of modern life. Eventually dubbed photorealists, these artists looked outside the history of their own medium, choosing instead to borrow the offbeat compositions and arbitrary cropping of street photography. Among this first wave of photorealist painters, Richard Estes developed a distinctive hall-of-mirrors approach to the urban landscape. His images of glass and chrome office block facades reflecting, fragmenting, and distorting the city around them became icons of labor and consumption in an era of economic decline. By the 1980s, photorealism fell out of fashion in the art world. Estes has been particularly neglected—his last full retrospective happened in 1978. Yet over the years the artist has maintained his fierce work ethic, and continues to produce new pieces in his trademark rigorous style. Opening Oct. 10 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, “Richard Estes’ Realism” offers 46 paintings representing the roughly fifty-year span of his career. The show not only highlights Estes’ excursions to foreign cities like London, Paris, and Tokyo, but also features unexpected paintings of natural environments with nary a bit of chrome or glass in them. Oct. 10–Feb. 8 at Smithsonian American Art Museum. Free. “