Sunday, April 24, 2016

Updating the Victorians

Where: National Gallery of Art

When: through August 7, 2016

I've been to the National Gallery probably hundreds of times, but I'm still not familiar with every nook and cranny of the place.  This week, I went into a room I've never visited before, in search of some photographs by Tom Hunter.

This room is on the Concourse level, just before you turn to walk into the area with the big gift shop and the cafeteria.  It's so tucked away that, even though I've walked past it countless times, I had no idea it existed.

The exhibit is five photographs, each a reworking of an iconic Victorian painting.  The location for all the works is Hackney, a working class area in England.  Apparently, it's gentrifying now, but when these photos were taken it was still a bit gritty.  Each photograph has a small picture of the original painting next to it, so you can see the reference.  I like this idea and hope the NGA will do more of it.

The one pictured here is based on a painting that was part of the National Gallery's 2013 Pre-Raphaelite show - I recognized it right away, with its lush greenery, and floating woman.  The original was of Ophelia, the character from Hamlet.  This photograph is a representation of a woman who fell into a canal after a late night and drowned.  As I said earlier, a bit gritty.

Verdict: Worth a look, especially if you like photography or Victorian painting.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

More Musicians at American History

Where: American History Museum

When: through July 1, 2016

If you're interested in musicians, now's the time to visit the American History Museum.  In addition to the displays on Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles I discussed earlier, the Archives Center on the first floor has devoted their cases to photographs by Francis Wolff, a co-founder and the official photographer of Blue Note Records, an important American jazz label.

Wolff and his co-founder, Alfred Lion, first heard jazz in their native Berlin, and after they moved to the United States, they made a career of producing jazz albums.

The display consists of Wolff's gorgeous photographs and album covers that feature his images.  Even though I'm pretty ignorant of jazz and its history, I could still appreciate the talent behind the pictures.

Verdict: If you are interested in jazz history or photography, have a look at this display.  You could see it and the Sinatra and Charles displays in a lunch hour very easily.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Atticus Finch as I Prefer to Think of Him

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through April 10, 2016

If you want to see a piece that's part of the Portrait Gallery's "Celebrate" series, you have to hop right to it.  The art comes and goes quickly.  It's nice that there's always something new to see, but you run the risk of missing things.  This portrait of actor Gregory Peck is only up for ten days, so if you're a fan, you need to hurry over there, or you'll miss out.

Like the picture of Nancy Reagan that was in this space previously, this representation of an actual person is getting nothing like the attention afforded to Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood.  I've discussed this phenomenon earlier, so won't travel the same ground again.

Peck's "quiet strength [and] resolve" come through in this painting, which was done in 1991, portraying him in his later years.  Peck, in addition to his many acting roles, was also a strong advocate of gun control and protested against the Vietnam War.

This portrait has an unfinished feel to it - Peck's face is complete, but his jacket and the painting's background look a bit slapdash to me.  Perhaps it's meant to show Peck as the controlled man rising out of the chaos around him?

Verdict: A fine portrait that reminds me of the movie "To Kill a Mockingbird," and not of the book Go Set a Watchman.

Musicians at the American History Museum

Where: American History Museum

When: Charles through June 26; Sinatra through June 30, 2016

On the first and second floors of the American History Museum, there are large glass cases in the main entrance halls.  It's easy to pass by these without seeing what they contain, and that's what most visitors seem to do.  They are worth a look however, as they are full of interesting objects, which change from time to time. Two displays currently on offer showcase items associated with Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles.

Frank Sinatra was born in 1915, and the museum is marking the 100th anniversary of his birth with a sampling of his recordings, sheet music and clothing worn by the singer-actor.  Sinatra was perhaps the quintessential American popular singer, who managed to combine crooning with jazz.  The Smithsonian calls his work "America's finest body of recorded songs."  The small exhibit shows Sinatra's transformation from fresh-faced kid to Vegas headliner; in a way, he's a microcosm of America itself, all wide-eyed innocence in the 1940s, and more worldly-wise in the 1970s.

My one complaint about this display?  They mention "Anchors Aweigh," but they don't point you in the direction of the George Sidney exhibit at the Archives.  Blockbusters can attract people by virtue of their size; small shows need to help each other out!

Ray Charles also gets some space, in the cases on the second floor.  He managed to overcome racism, poverty and blindness to become a fantastically successful singer.  Even one of these obstacles would be a challenge, never mind all three.  He managed to combine many genres of singing over the course of his career; he can't be pigeon-holed into one type of sound.  He was also a very smart businessman, who was one of the first singers to negotiate the rights to his own master recordings.  Among other artifacts is a customized braille keyboard - it's interesting to see that technology up close.

Verdict: If you're at American History, be sure to allow a few extra minutes for these display cases.