ICYMI: Highlights from the week that was May 28 – June 3, 2017

No one can keep up with everything, so let us do it for you. We’ll gather the top Smithsonian stories from across the country and around the world each week so you’ll never be at a loss for conversation around the water cooler.

In a week darkened by stark reminders of racism and the galactic danger of black holes, we were cheered by an immigrant vintner’s success story. Have another glass of wine!


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After Outcry From the Dakota Nation, the Walker Art Center May Dismantle a ‘Traumatizing’ Gallows Sculpture by Sam Durant

Artnet, May 30

wooden scaffold

Sam Durant, “Scaffold.” Courtesy of the artist, Blum & Poe, Paula Cooper Gallery, Praz-Delavallade and Sadie Coles HQ. Photo by Rosa Maria Ruehling.

Minnesotans will have to wait a little longer to once again enjoy the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, closed for over a year for renovations and expansion. The Walker Art Center has announced that the planned June 3 reopening will be pushed back to June 10 following the eruption of controversy in the local Native American community over Sam Durant’s Scaffold (2012).

The piece, first shown at Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany in 2012, is a wooden structure based on the gallows used in seven high-profile executions in US history, including the hangings of abolitionist leader John Brown in 1859 and deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in 2006. Read more from Sarah Cascone for Artnet.

Ravenous Supermassive Black Holes May Sterilize Nearby Planets

A new study sheds light on how damaging black holes can be to the habitability of planets throughout the Milky Way and the universe

Scientific American, May 30

Artists rendering of black hole

This artist’s conception of a distant quasar shows how luminous they can be—an effect that would wreak havoc on nearby life. Credit: ESO / M. Kornmesser Credit: M. Kornmesser ESO

The center of any galaxy is a hazardous home. There, supernovae explosions shower nearby planets with x-rays, gamma rays and ultraviolet photons that obliterate any ozone layer present. Gamma-ray bursts hurtle even more damaging shock waves, blasting any biosphere into oblivion. Even encounters with nearby stars knock planets around, driving them out of their habitable zones. “We don’t expect life to be easy within the inner kiloparsec of the Milky Way,” says Abraham Loeb from the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. But now we can add one more menace to the list that tops the rest: supermassive black holes. Read more from Shannon Hall for Scientific American.

Noose found hanging from tree outside Hirshhorn Museum

The Washington Post, May 27

A noose was found hanging from a tree outside the Hirshhorn Museum around 6:30 p.m. Friday evening, a spokeswoman said.

The museum had been closed for about an hour when a security guard discovered the noose — historically a racist symbol — and called the U.S. Park Police.

“The Smithsonian is committed to be a welcoming, inclusive, and safe place for all,” Smithsonian Secretary David J. Skorton wrote in an email to his staff. “I know you join me in deploring this act.”

Skorton noted that “a criminal investigation is underway.” A Park Police spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.

Anyone with information about the incident has been asked to call the police at (202) 610-8737.

Mexican migrant workers came to California to pick grapes. Now they own wineries.

The Washington Post, May 30

Three people pose in front of wood paneled wall

Reynaldo Robledo, center, came to California in 1968 to work in the fields of Napa Valley. Nearly 50 years later, he runs his own vineyard with the help of his children. Lazaro Robledo, one of Reynaldo’s seven sons, manages the tasting room at Robledo Family Winery. Also pictured is Reynaldo Robledo’s girlfriend, Leticia Trejo. (Photo by Marvin Joseph for The Washignton Post)

Outside Robledo Family Winery, south of Sonoma, on a cool April Sunday, the U.S. and Mexican flags whipped a stiff salute in the wind blowing off the San Pablo Bay. A third banner bore the winery logo. The flags represent three themes central to the lives of Reynaldo Robledo and many other Mexican migrant workers who have helped shape California’s wine industry: heritage, opportunity and family.

In February 1968, when family duty called Reynaldo, then 16, to the migrant labor camps of Napa Valley, he was not satisfied pruning vines for the Christian Brothers winery for 10 hours a day, six days a week, earning $1.10 an hour. “I needed to help the family,” he says. “And I wanted to be the boss, so I worked extra hours without pay so I could learn everything.” Read more from Dave McIntyre for The Washington Post.

Down the garden path: A new show tracks America’s love affair with plants

The Washington Post, May 31

Garden plots with ampitheater and city streets in background

New York’s DeWitt Clinton Park in 1909, where the children of immigrants grew food. (Archives of American Gardens/Thomas Warren Sears Photography Collection)

Is it possible to pour the entire well of American garden history into 10 glass cases? Probably not, but the Smithsonian has made a valiant effort with a new exhibition at the American History Museum.

The show inhabits a small gallery on the museum’s ground floor; if you see a silver, three-eyed Tucker automobile, you’ve gone too far. Make a U-turn and pop into “Cultivating America’s Gardens.” Grouped more by theme than chronology, the show is modest in size but not in scope. It gives a sense of how all the threads of gardening — and these include botany, horticulture, landscape design, agriculture and commerce — are woven into the fabric of the nation’s history. Read more from Adrian Higgins for The Washington Post.

Opinion: Our ugly racism’s newest artifact: The noose left at the African American Museum

The Washington Post, June 1

Emmet Till's casket

Mamie Till Mobley weeps at her son’s funeral on Sept. 6, 1955, in Chicago. The casket is now on display in the African American museum. (Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

On Wednesday, as yellow buses disgorged flocks of school groups and multigenerational visitors pushed wheelchairs and strollers into the Smithsonian’s compelling National Museum of African American History and Culture, something entered the building with them:


Sometime in the afternoon, in the gallery on segregation, someone placed the vile instrument of our country’s history of lynching — a noose — inside the museum. It was the second time this week one was found on Smithsonian grounds. A noose was found hanging from a tree near the Hirshhorn Museum four days earlier. Read more from Petula Dvorak for The Washington Post.

Opinion: What to do with the noose left at the African American Museum? Make it part of the collection.

The Washington Post, June 1

African American Museum at sunset

(Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Leaving a noose in the segregation galleries of the National Museum of African American History and Culture is an example of what might be called asymmetrical symbolism.

With a small amount of effort, someone managed to send an extraordinary message of hatred with the rope when it was discovered inside the museum Wednesday. Like terrorism, asymmetrical symbolism can’t be fought with conventional means. It presents us with a paradox and few good options for response. To ignore it is to accept a world in which this kind of ugliness becomes normal and more frequent. But there is also the risk of unintentionally dignifying it. The good work, the message, the historical wisdom embodied in the galleries where the noose was left can’t be undone by such a small-minded and grotesque gesture. Read more from Phillip Kennicott for the Washington Post.


Tweet from Erin Blasco showing support for NMAAHC

Is he or isn’t he an abstract painter? Two museums differ.

The Washington Post, June 2

Formally dressed bearded man standing in a cornfield

Artist Markus Lüpertz. (Photo by Andrea Stappert)

Collaboration between large Washington arts institutions is painfully rare. When the National Gallery of Art presented an exhibition devoted to Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes in 2013, the Kennedy Center remained mostly indifferent to the fact that one of the greatest chapters in music and dance history was being explored less than three miles away.

So it’s good news that the Phillips Collection and the Hirshhorn Museum have pulled together a joint exhibition of the paintings of Markus Lüpertz, an important postwar German artist who has never been the subject of a major museum survey in the United States. Even better than the collaboration itself is the distinct difference in approach taken by each museum, which highlights two distinctly different ways of approaching the artist. Read more from Phillip Kennicut for The Washington Post.

Posted: 9 June 2017
About the Author:

Alex di Giovanni has been editing The Torch since August 2006. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, she worked as a writer and editor for the National Geographic Society, Plexus Scientific, The Nature Conservancy, The National Foreign Language Center and St. Martin’s Press, among others. She has the best job in the world.