July 9, 2013 - The Corcoran Gallery of Art - Ellen Harvey
July 9, 2013

Ellen Harvey

Ellen Harvey, Alien Souvenir Stand, 2013. Oil on
aluminum, watercolor and latex paint on clayboard,
wood, aluminum sheeting, propane tanks, and velcro, 10 x 17 x 5 feet. Photo: Etienne Frossard.

Ellen Harvey
The Alien’s Guide to the Ruins of Washington, D.C.
July 3—October 6, 2013

The Corcoran Gallery of Art
Corcoran College of Art + Design
500 Seventeenth Street NW
Washington, DC 20006


This summer, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design will present Ellen Harvey: The Alien’s Guide to the Ruins of Washington, D.C.. The new, site-specific project is the latest in the NOW at the Corcoran series.

Harvey’s exhibition is a glimpse into the world of the distant future. Human civilization having long since come to an end, the Earth is populated only by ruins, ripe for archeological interpretation by visitors from another planet. Most striking to these extraterrestrials are the remains of classical and neo-classical buildings that seem to have taken root in every corner of the globe. Attempting to make sense of what they find, Harvey’s aliens mine the potential of one of the greatest neo-classical cities—Washington, D.C.—as a tourist destination.

The Alien’s Guide to the Ruins of Washington, D.C. is the result. In this tour of America’s capital through alien eyes, the visitors imagine the city to have been populated by peaceable, telepathic, and water-dwelling humans (referred to as “Pillar Builders”). The exhibition’s centerpiece is a self-guided map of Washington’s landmarks. Available for pick-up at the Corcoran’s Alien Souvenir Stand and locations throughout the city, The Alien’s Guide contains reconstructions and interpretations of such sites as the White House, the World War II Memorial, and the U.S. Capitol.

As Harvey explains: “Neoclassical architecture is far and away the most successful and widely adopted architectural style. For over 2,000 years, civilization after civilization has succumbed to its infectious charms. Why would extraterrestrials be immune?”

The rest of the exhibition documents the aliens’ efforts to make sense of the remains of the civilization around them. The Pillar-Builder Archive is a vast trove of postcards that documents humanity’s love affair with the style, following its roots as a symbol of democracy in ancient Greece to its subsequent use in the service of empire builders, fascists, Stalinists, museums, banks, and post offices. Seduced by the architecture’s power themselves, the aliens have erected a neo-classical rocket ship, “the latest in Pillar-Builder Space Travel,” on view in the Corcoran’s Rotunda.

The Alien’s Guide to the Ruins of Washington, D.C. is an investigation into the abiding influence of classicism, the dissemination of style, and the language of power.  Humorous, unexpected, and eye-opening, it sheds light on a world at once familiar and strange.

Visitors—alien and otherwise—have the opportunity to visit the exhibition for free on Saturdays between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend as part of the Corcoran’s Free Summer Saturdays promotion. For information about the exhibition, visit our website.

About the artist
Ellen Harvey was born in the United Kingdom and lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She is a graduate of the Whitney Independent Study Program and holds degrees from Harvard University and Yale Law School.

Well-known projects include New York Beautification Project (1999–2001) for which she illegally “tagged” New York City streets with small, Hudson River-style landscape paintings, and A Whitney for the Whitney (2003), for which she laboriously repainted every work in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, creating a purposefully inadequate stand-in for the museum.

NOW at the Corcoran is funded in part by Altria Group and the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s 1869 Society.

Rachel Cothran, Director of Public Relations:
rcothran [​at​] corcoran.org / T (202) 639 1833

The Corcoran Gallery of Art
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