Saturday, June 29, 2019

Have No Fear

Where: Hirshhorn Museum

When: closing July 24, 2019

This show is a combination of Thai cooking (the title is a reference both to Thai political groups and to types of curry) and protest art.  Since this would have been the first food/art combination I've visited, I was disappointed that the food part wasn't in operation when I turned up.  Perhaps I was there too early; I went at noon.  It's also possible the food portion isn't operating every day.  Whatever the timing issues, I was left with only the art.

The first room, the one with the cooking stations, have drawings of protesters and political situations on the walls.  And when I say "on the walls," I mean directly painted on the walls - not hung in frames.  In fact, two people were working on more drawings as I walked around.  I noticed lots of U.S. imagery, as well as pictures that I am assuming were from Thai news stories.  So, if you go, don't worry that you won't understand any of the art.

The second and third rooms contained videos - a series of documentary shorts that I believe are shown on a rotating basis.  I didn't have a very strong reaction to either of them, as I can't remember much about them now...

Verdict: Since the point of this exhibit is to combine food and art, I feel as if I missed a lot by not scheduling my visit for the curry service.  Check the website to see when the food will be available!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Mixing Cooking and Civil Rights

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: closing June 30, 2019

Leah Chase was not only the "Queen of Creole Cuisine."  She was also the owner of a gathering place for leaders of the civil right movement.  Martin Luther King and other activists ate and planned strategy in her restaurant.

In her later years, Chase became an advocate for the arts, and the art displayed in her restaurant is considered by many to be the finest collection of African American art in New Orleans.

The portrait on display is by Gustave Blanche III, part of a series of paintings depicting people at work.

Verdict: It's worth a trip all on its own, and if you're in the museum to see a show, be sure to stop by.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

An Architect I Grew to Appeciate

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: closing June 16, 2019 (although I have my doubts)

Something I've noticed about the "In Memoriam" space at the NPG is that a portrait is only guaranteed to remain up for its originally allotted time if no one else dies.  Since I see from the Smithsonian website that a portrait of Leah Chase is now on display, I'm not sure this one of I.M. Pei is still up.  Not to be morbid, but perhaps they should have two spaces for the recently deceased?

Pei's work is something I've developed an appreciation for over the years.  The Kennedy Library is phenomenal - the feeling you get when you see the sailboat out on the lawn through the window - I can't really put it into words.  My visit there many years ago taught me that architecture can be emotional.

Those glass pyramids in the courtyard of the Louvre look weird from the outside, but bring in so much light when you're inside.  And as much as I've never been a fan of the National Gallery of Art East Building, it's the best possible home for the modern art collection.  None of it belongs in the West Building.

As for the portrait itself, I like that he's standing in a doorway, as if to welcome the viewer into his world.  And the photographer?  Our old friend, Yousuf Karsh.  And wasn't I filled with self-satisfaction when I saw that name and recognized it!

Verdict: If it's still up, take a few minutes to see it.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Votes for Women

Where: National Archives

When: closing January 3, 2021

So I'm really getting ahead of myself with this show on women's suffrage - it's not closing for another year and a half (give or take), so you've got PLENTY of time to go see it.

This was my first trip to see a display at the National Archives.  I'm not sure exactly why I haven't gone before; I think I've seen the long lines and thought it would take too long to get in.  But I breezed in last Monday; I've spent more time waiting in line at Air and Space, for sure.  I'm adding the National Archives to my list of venues, so look for more reviews of their exhibits in future.

I went with a friend of mine, which was great fun.  We used to work together, and now that we're no longer at the same firm, we rely largely on email to keep in touch.  Seeing her "in person" was marvelous, although I admit I spent a lot of time catching up and chatting, rather than being completely devoted to the show.

It's an excellent survey of the history of women's suffrage in the United States.  Eye-rolling predictions of the fall of American civilization if women could vote, and inspiring stories of those who spent their lives working to make voting equality a reality sit side-by-side.  My favorite example of the former was a cartoon of a woman off to vote, leaving her (useless) husband with a screaming baby and broken crockery.  It's hilarious, until you ponder the fact that many people would have seen this as a real reason not to let women have any say in government.

Many years ago, I was part of a group that put on a display about the Seneca Falls Convention and the history of women's right to vote at the library where I then worked.  Many of the images used in the show were familiar to me from that project, and it was fun to see them again and reminisce.  I'll say that our recreation of a suffrage banner that we hung in the library's main atrium was pretty impressive.

Verdict: Make some time to see this show - the gallery is on the second floor of the National Archives.  A look at the "founding documents" would give you a nice half-day's trip, if you wanted to go beyond a lunchtime visit.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

All that Glitters...

Where: Museum of African Art

When: closing on September 29, 2019

The "golden arts" of Senegal are less well known than those of their neighbors, but the country has been a hub of fashion for many years, and continues to be one today.  This show focuses on jewelry, which in Senegalese culture (and in most countries, probably) is a signifier of power and prestige.  If you can afford to wear lots of gold jewelry, you obviously have money beyond what's needed for basic subsistence.

Marion Ashby Johnson was a collector and scholar of jewelry, and she donated her collection to the Smithsonian.  Most of what's on display here is from her gift.  Although many works in the museum's collection are very old, jewelry dating before the middle of the 20th century is actually quite rare.  The oldest item on display is from the early 20th century.  Usually, older pieces were melted down to create new, more fashionable pieces.  I suppose that's similar to people having a family ring reset.

There is a word used in Senegal, sanse, which comes from the French word changer (to change).  It has a variety of meanings,  but generally refers to dressing for success, a sign of money, status and importance.  It's different from and more complex than fashion, as it also involves ethical choices, as well as outer appearance.  Jewelry is a big part of sanse.

I confess, it was difficult for me to relate to this idea, as I don't really care that much about fashion or style.  I own jewelry and buy it from time to time, but it's mostly pendants that I switch out on a few chains.  I don't even have pierced ears, let alone anything else.  Fancy clothes are something I've arranged my life to avoid. Not that some of the pieces weren't lovely.  I saw a butterfly necklace and bracelet set that I liked very much, for example.

Verdict: If you're fascinated by fashion, give this a look.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Whole Lot of Groaning Going On

Where: Hirshhorn Museum

When: closing September 2, 2019

This is one of those weird Hirshhorn exhibits that I just don't understand.  According to the wall notes, Enrico David's work is an exploration of the human form through a variety of techniques.  And I suppose that's true.  The figures are generally human or human-like, and he does use a variety of different methods in his work.  So far, so good.  My problem is that I'm just not feeling anything when I look at this stuff, and (again, according to the wall notes) I'm meant to feel empathy.

Many of the works are of people grimacing, as if in physical pain or in some sort of horrible existential angst.  And that would move me to pity, if they were actual living beings, but they're not, so it just seems gruesome.

The first piece is a revolving set of wooden figures, and they reminded me of the Beatles (their hair is moptop-ish, and I'm guessing that's why).  As I stood there, others came into the space and also mentioned the Beatles, so it wasn't just me.  They just turn around on a small platform, so they're not awful.  The woman pictured here in the pink and black twist doesn't appear miserable either, so again, not awful.

Most of the rest of it is a big silent wail.  Yeesh, the best thing I can say is that it's in the inner ring of the 2nd floor, so it's smaller than an outer ring show.  Oh, and did I mention that most of the works are "Untitled" - sigh.

Verdict: If you like looking at misery, run right over.  Otherwise, feel free to walk on by.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Spending a Little Time with Frederick Douglass

Where: National Gallery of Art Library, East Building

When: closing June 14, 2019

Selected items from Frederick Douglass' family are currently on display in the National Gallery's library.  There are photographs, an original typescript of a speech he gave and a variety of letters, many of them with lovely penmanship.

Along with the display is a brochure, but no other notes.  I've seen this before, and it find it less than helpful.  I don't really need a full brochure, but I would like a bit of explanation of what I'm seeing.  A little stand with maybe three paragraphs of text would be ideal.

That having been said, it's a nice display, as all of the library displays are, and if you're interested in Frederick Douglass, I can see that this would be something you wouldn't want to miss.

Verdict: Fine for Douglass enthusiasts, but everyone else can probably give this a miss.