Sunday, October 2, 2011

Modern Lab: The Found Alphabet

Where: National Gallery of Art, East Building

When: through November 13, 2011

The Modern Lab is a small room within the Modern Art Collection on the Upper Level of the East Building.  It's not quite the slog that the Tower is, but it's close.  Again, I find myself rolling my eyes at the things they exhibit here, and I think the effort I've made to get here plays a role.

This exhibit focuses on pieces that incorporate the alphabet.  Letters are "found objects" in that the artist does not create them, but uses them as part of the artistic work.  There are paintings here, as well as a piece of string on a block of wood and various scribbles - when I think of the number of notebooks I doodled in during dull classes and the art contained therein, I wish I had them back to sell!

A piece by Kim Rugg, entitled "No More Dry Runs" is a page from the Financial Times, with all the letters rearranged alphabetically; Robert Cumming's offering is "Shaving Cream Alphabet," which is exactly what you think it is - an alphabet written with shaving cream and then photographed.

Verdict: I'd give this a miss - there's not much to see and it takes quite a bit of wandering through the Modern Art collection to find it.

Black Box: Nira Pereg

Where: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

When: through November 13, 2011

As much as I dislike the Hirshhorn, I am a fan of their Black Box series of videos.  My favorite so far is "Floating McDonalds,"  but all of them have been at least somewhat interesting.  This latest offering, entitled "67 Bows" by Nira Pereg is a worthy addition to the series.

The video is of the flamingo exhibit in the Karlsruhe Zoo in Germany, and it shows them going about their day, conducting whatever business it is that flamingos conduct.  Every so often, you hear what sounds like gunshots, and the flamingos duck their heads in unison.  Have no fear, the flamingos are in no danger - the audio has been overlaid on the video, and it's Pereg's work that has made the sounds sync up with the movements.

I'm not sure exactly what message the film is supposed to convey - perhaps that you can't always believe what you hear, anymore than you can always believe what you read?  Especially in the age of image manipulation, things are not always what they seem.

Verdict: Go see this film, for the flamingo video, if for nothing else.  They're lovely birds, and their movements are well worth watching, even without the slightly creepy audio.

Perspectives: Hale Tenger

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through November 6, 2011

This very short film is on display in the main lobby of the Sackler, so if you're going on your lunch hour, you can see something else as well.  There are a couple of special exhibits going on now, and the permanent collection is wonderful too.

That's one thing about going to see all the special exhibits that are on - I don't often get to see the permanent collections.  I keep thinking that when I run out of limited time shows, I'll work on the rest of the Smithsonian's offerings, but of course, that never happens - there's just too much new stuff to see!  A wonderful problem to have, I know.

This short film is of the Saint Georges Hotel in Beirut.  The hotel was nearly destroyed in the Lebanese civil war of the 1970s and was further damaged by the explosion of a nearby car bomb in 2005.  Sadly, it has never been restored.  My father traveled extensively in the Middle East, and when the civil war raged in Beirut, he frequently commented on the destruction of some of his favorite hotels.  It is unfortunate that conditions in that country have not allowed it to regain its former reputation as the Paris of the Middle East.

Most of the film shows the hotel in daylight.  When you first look at it, you see the curtains floating in the breeze, and you might think you're looking at a beach resort, where the windows are open to catch the salt air.  Pleasant music plays in the background, as if you're looking at a carefree summer day.  Gradually, you notice the tattered condition of the curtains, and the scene turns abruptly to night, and the music is replaced by alarms and gunshots.  For a film lasting less than five minutes, it packs quite a punch.

Verdict:  Go see this film - it's easy to add on to a visit to the Sackler to see another show, or on its own, if you're short of time.