Friday, July 25, 2008

Classy Contemporary Art at Zenith's Alternative Gallery

By the Queen of Free

The new show, “Reincarnations,” which has opened in the lobby, the “Sculpture Space,” at 1111 Pennsylvania Avenue is not to be missed. So much to love!

Curated by Linda and Steven Krensky for Zenith Gallery, the show’s stated description is: "Mixed media works created from found objects” and recycled materials.

It is so much more than anticipated and entertaining in every way.

There's a full-scale woman with a school bus as part of her arm on a discarded bicycle, multiple glass lens from sunglasses which hang like wind chimes , rows of combs, lamps, sculptures, musical instruments. It is all marvelous and serves up much to an art lover on any scale to savor and admire the creativity and genius of the participating artists.

Caitlin Phillips made handbags from books. “Cleo,” the cat is made up of blue and gold ceramic pieces by SuAnne Lasher. A “room” at the entrance of the exhibit almost becomes part of the office building itself, until closer inspection from a distance (what ?) reveals old, recycled signs are its walls, providing enlightenment. (Sorry, I didn't get the artist's name! To add.)

Jane Pettit’s sculptures including a mermaid and three frogs made of mosaic tiles at the end of the space deserve to be moved out further in the gallery to allow visitors distance to more easily admire both sides.

Kristin Eager Killion, John Pack, Randall Cleaver, and Irma Spencer are some of the other 43 artists who participate.

At the crammed opening Wednesday evening, it was an “avant-garde” (or as much as one can be described in stuffy Washington, D.C.), mostly older Baby Boomer crowd who loved it all (or most of it anyway) and seeing old friends and artists in a welcoming venue, the lobby of an office building (or what appears to be a lobby). How refreshing to be around an "event" in D.C. where the majority of the crowd was older than 30. Anyway...

The show is open until September 28 on weekdays (office building hours from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., or “on weekends by appointment”; call 202-783-2963).

Prices for all pieces are listed. Were there any "NFS"? As usual, I found myself wishing that my income was much bigger so that I might buy a piece or two.

The press release says some of the artists are college-trained, and others, self-taught. Whatever! The pieces serve to pique the mind in wonderful ways. I shall return!

Smithsonian Class V: Christianity: Holy Pilgrimages

It is likely because I am a Christian and am more familiar with its “sacred sites” than the other religions, that I found the “Christianity” lecture to be the least interesting of the five presented by the
Smithsonian Associates in its "Sacred Spaces and Spiritual Journeys” series.

It was not that Anthony Tambasco, professor of theology at Georgetown University who gave the last lecture, was boring or tedious in any way. Far from it. My eagerness to learn a little about the Islamic faith and Buddhism were factors, and I was least attracted to Christianity. Anyway!

He showed class members 60 slides of sites and maps of the Christian faith, providing as much detail as 90 minutes (with questions) would allow. If you can’t go to these “sacred places,” seeing them in color photographs with a bit of their background explained by a renowned teacher is certainly a satisfactory substitute.

Professor Tambasco divided “Christian Pilgrimage” into segments: "Life As A Journey"; "Prayer, Petition, and Praise"; "Penance"; "Purification"; "Rededication"; and "Imitation."
With “prayer” Christians need to ask for healing, he said. “Penance” includes the hardships and choices Christians make during the “pilgrimage of life” while “purification” acknowledges sinfulness, confession, and renewal.

Byzantine Christians selected many of the Christian sites which lay atop former Byzantine churches, Professor Tambasco said. The size and scope of the land Jesus traveled was actually not that big. Professor Lambrusco pointed to a map of Jesus' travels from Galilee to Jerusalem to Golgotha off and on throughout his lecture.

The supposed site of Jesus' birth is now “very touristy,” and it is a difficult place to pray because of the numbers of people, yet the mountain of the “Sermon on the Mount” now managed by Italian nuns, is quite peaceful and better for prayer.

Locations where Jesus performed miracles (Capernaum, the Tomb of Lazarus) were shown. Each gospel describes a different itinerary for Jesus, Dr. Tambasco said. John’s writings tell of Jesus’ ministry over three years; the others, only 1.5 years.

It is amazing that so many sites, and/or portions of them, remain. Some, like the sites of the House of the Last Supper and the Garden of Olives are not certain, yet the supposed locations approximate the actual places, Professor Tambasco said.

The sepulcher where Jesus' body was placed is generally accepted as the right location.

Suggested readings Professor Tambusco listed were his own, In the Days of Jesus: The Jewish Background and Unique Teaching of Jesus, and The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor.

Would I sign up for the series again? Without a doubt. A new acquaintance said she and her husband would not, however, and she suggested an outline at the beginning of the series would have been helpful. Agreed.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mark Russell at the Omni

Mark Russell for $20 ($22 with tax).

Yes, he’s worth it, political aficionados.

At the Omni Shoreham Hotel on Calvert Street…two shows every Monday night, at 7 and at 9.

For about 75 minutes (show started promptly on time when we went) he regaled the crowd in the private, masculine (but don’t let that deter you, ladies; the crowd was half men and half women) bar named after him where he plays the piano while telling jokes and singing original lyrics to the tunes of familiar numbers.

No politician escapes, especially Joe Lieberman, featured the day we went on the front page of the New York Times, and the New Yorker for its non-satirical cover everyone was talking about.

Barbs were cast on both sides of the aisle.


“Where will John McCain place his hand to take the oath of office?
Atop the New Yorker.”

“When Democrats tell lies before Congress, it’s called ‘perjury’;
when Republicans tell lies before Congress, it’s called ‘State of the Union.’”

The baby boomers? Who cares about the likes of them? Everybody! What a nation of whiners, indeed! (Mark Russell, a baby boomer – NOT, complained about the lack of attention he’s received: “Nobody cared about me when I turned 60,” he boomed. Wikipedia says he is 75.)

As a sure sign that Buzh is OUT, there were few wisecracks made about him, but, lo, Hillary and Bill? Aplenty.

McCain’s age? Sure. Obama’s ‘flip-flops’? Yes.

An attentive waitstaff serves drinks ($$; it is the Omni), and there is plentiful (free) popcorn.

The night we originally wanted to go was sold out, and when we got a reservation a week later, the bar was about half filled with tourists and residents (he asked), ages from teens to 90-somethings. (True! One in my group, 90, could pass for 70-something.)

For a few bucks, it’s an evening’s pleasure to spend with your political friends in a beautiful setting, the Omni, and hear content which will make even the silent, howl.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rocking out with The Rev. Al Green !

If you like only two notes of Al Green's music, you won't be hurting to rush, rush to his nearest concert. What a stupendous, captivating, magnificent show The Rev. Green gave at Wolf Trap Tuesday night.

The Washington Post story by J. Freedom du Lac pretty well ignored the reaction of the crowd and the pure delight we experienced with nonstop dancing at our seats and in the aisles at what was likely a sold out show.

We rocked, we danced, we clapped, we swayed to the beat, we sang along, we threw our hands up in the air. Seats? Not needed.

The music! Goodness gracious! We sang along with most everything, and Al and the crowd didn’t seem to care since his voice was so loud and melodious it wiped ours out: “Love and Happiness,” “Let’s Stay Together,” "Here I Am," other big ones; a dash of Otis, the Four Tops, the Temptations, and some new ones from his latest album, “Lay It Down.” Oh, my.

The mood and sounds of the combination of the happy, enthusiastic crowd and The Rev. Green singing “Amazing Grace” is too difficult for me to describe. I’ve got to rush out and get his gospel recordings before they sell out.

If it can be believed, The Reverend's voice is better than decades ago, and he can still reach those way high notes and hold them forever.

A tuxedo, the Post said? Not the traditional tuxedo you might expect from the word but a fancy three-piece suit, with vest, lavender shirt and matching tie.

Throughout the evening, the Rev. Green frequently took off the jacket, only to put it right back on. He came out in long white (nylon?) gloves which he kept on for about a third of the performance before he threw them out to the crowd. He wore sunglasses which he never removed.

And the roses! Has anyone told you about the roses? All night he threw out long-stemmed red roses to the females close to the stage. And kissed some of the adoring women. (The terrific photo by Richard Lipski in the Post story is worth a look.)

His band included two female vocalists, three men on electric guitar, an organist, a pianist on electric keyboard, two horns, one sax player, and two percussionists. That this was an entourage from a minister was obvious since the females wore no skimpy, revealing costumes but dull suits with pants. You would have thought they were lively K Street types.

The two dancers on stage were young males who perfectly performed their choreography synchronistically and often changed outfits.

The Rev. Green frequently moped his brow, and the perspiration twinkled in the lights and in the night, much like the stars in abundance on the heavenly night.

The evening began right on time with a 45-minute set by jazz, blues, and folk guitarist and composer Amos Lee, a former elementary school teacher, who was interviewed this morning on NPR's Weekend Edition by Scott Simon.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Smithsonian Class IV: Buddhism and Bodh Gaya

Is a Buddhist an atheist?

A student in the fourth of the Smithsonian Associates’ series of classes, “Sacred Spaces and Spiritual Journeys,” wanted to know.

The lecturer, Robert DeCaroli, an associate professor of history and art history at George Mason University said “no”; however, some might term Buddhism an agnostic faith. The religion does not honor a single deity.

Wikipedia says estimates vary about the number of people calling themselves Buddhists: between 230 and 500 million.

Buddha was born a prince in what is generally accepted as Nepal in and around the fifth century BC. He was named Siddhartha, and his father, a king, wanted his son to follow in his footsteps but as life seldom goes according to the parent’s plan, the son chose otherwise, Dr. DeCaroli said.

His father created an idyllic compound for his son’s living quarters, wanting to shield him from life’s turmoils. Before Siddhartha was 30, a chariot driver took him outside the compound where, in the “real world" Siddhartha experienced the “Four Sights” which affected him deeply, giving rise to Buddhism.

He witnessed an old man suffering the culprits of aging; he saw disease and death, and he saw how a hermit lived. Siddhartha lived a hermit’s life for a while, realizing that his deprivations (hunger, suffering) made such heavy demands upon his body that he was not able to concentrate and bring about improvement.
He believed that life is suffering (anxiety, unrest, uncertainty) produced by desire which, if broken, can mean happiness.

To help overcome anxiety he adopted meditation and, at the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya in India, now a shrine, he received “enlightenment.”

It is almost certain that a portion of the tree with its roots remains in the tree which lives on the site today. The tree attracts Buddhists from around the world who come to the site and the nearby Mahabodhi Temple on pilgrimages.

The Temple is believed to have been built around the first century, and was rebuilt In the 1870s by Sir Alexander Cunningham, a British architect. A tree does not exist in photographs of the Cunningham period, Professor DeCaroli said.

Several Buddhist temples and monasteries built in style of the original Mahabodhi Temple may be found throughout Asia, many containing the famous Buddha statue.

Throughout his presentation Professor DeCaroli showed numerous pictures of the temple, the Buddha statue, and maps generating many questions from students. He said Bodh Gaya is “an international place.”

The series ended on July 16 with “Christianity: Holy Pilgrimages.”

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Party at the Phillips

Was there a party going on?

It sure seemed like it Thursday evening at the Phillips Collection, with a young lawyers association taking a private tour of the Jacob Lawrence Migration Series, the Brett Weston lecture in the auditorium, and the Gallery Talk on Vincent van Gogh's and Pierre Bonnard's paintings. Whew!

It was a race to get to all the places, paintings, and lectures I wanted to see and hear.

First off, the Brett Weston lecture, presented by the curator of the show, Stephen Bennett Phillips (any relation?), at 6:30 p.m. was delivered not only to a SRO crowd in the large, nice, new auditorium which seats 180, but also to a SRO crowd in a nearby overflow vestibule which heard the lecturer on remote and saw Weston's photographs on a large screen like the viewers saw them in the auditorium.

The Phillips' Brooke Rosenblatt wrote me the count was 197. Not bad for an art lecture in Washington, D.C. on a Thursday evening in July.

The retrospective show is entitled: "Brett Weston: Out of the Shadow" and will travel to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art after it ends at the Phillips September 7. Mr. Weston (1911-1993) was a photographer of the Southwest like his father, Edward Weston (1886-1958) who also has some art in the exhibit. It's interesting to compare the subjects and styles of father and son, black and white, stark photographs.

Edward Weston, whom Wikipedia calls one of the "greatest photographic artists" of the 20th century, was "almost" a manic depressive, Mr. Phillips said, and his illness is evident in some of his photographs (a dilapidated car, a chair). He was later struck by Parkinson's disease.

Brett Weston's photographs "pushed abstractionism" which Mr. Phillips mentioned several times. Brett Weston joined the Army in 1943, working in the Signal Corps as a photographer in New York City where he practiced and honed his art. On his way to a post in Texas, he was "transformed" by the white sands he saw, and some of his best shots are of contrasts in shadows, sand, and silhouettes. He loved California and the West Coast.

He wanted to shoot photographs of things "as they were," Mr. Phillips said. Many of his photos include sun and water and a empty, dark center. He was married four times, the longest marriage lasting four years, and his career, not surprisingly, took precedence over his wives.

When Mr. Phillips' presentation ended, I flew up three flights of stairs to find the “gallery talk” at 7 which took some doing since none of the five staff members I asked, knew where the group was. A new acquaintance, also hunting the gallery talk, and I were quite happy to eventually locate the talk already underway.

Standing in front of the first of three paintings of southern France and the Mediterranean which she described in the half hour talk, Lois Steinitz was engaging, informative, and delightful, and the crowd grew.

She began with Pierre Bonnard’s “The Open Window,” then his “The Palm,” and lastly, "The Road Menders" by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1880). Leading us from one painting to another, she contrasted the differences in the colors the painters selected: Bonnard’s bright and sunny scenes; Van Gogh’s, mute and practically monochromatic choices. Until she pointed them out, I was unaware of the "anthropomorphic" characteristics in the "Road Menders," and suddenly, the trees and lamppost came alive as people. The trees grew arms and legs, sometimes four, right before my eyes. (All it takes is an "awakening.")

Bonnard (1867-1947) inserted his wife in many of his paintings, and there she was: hidden in the right corner of “The Open Window” and standing, like a ghost holding an apple (suggesting Eve, Ms. Steinitz offered) at the front of the otherwise colorful “Palm.”

A truly captivating evening for art lovers and well worth a Phillips membership or single admission price. Did I mention the Diebenkorn show?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Play: 'Mamma Mia' at National Theatre

For sheer entertainment, really, what could be better? Singing, dancing, fun, frolics, and costuming. Who cares about a plot? It’s the songs of Abba and dancing we came to hear and see, mind you. Disappointments? What? Not here!

One test I administer to good productions: Would I see it again. Yes and yes! I saw it in D.C. when it was last here two (three?) years ago. Yes, I would have gone back the next night if money were no object. What more can I say? We got the “cheap” ($42.50) seats but were able to move up to the $71 seats at intermission. What price entertainment?

The movie is coming next week, and it is difficult to imagine Meryl Streep as Donna, but who cares? I can’t wait to see it! On Sunday the New York Times made the movie sound even better than I could have ever envisioned. Still, live and on stage…where it's been for years in New York, London, and in Las Vegas, the Times said.

It is hard to leave the theatre without dancing your way down (up) the aisles. Three days later and “Dancing Queen” continues to play joyfully in my mind.

My friend said the audiences in New York and Chicago sing along with the music and dance in the aisles. Alas! And sniff,…this is Washington, D.C., if you please, where self excitement is contained...usually.

And, besides, we moved…a little, especially at the end… when it occurred to me that we all, every last woman in that hall, were living in yesteryear, for one brief evening when we were 17, and I was a Dancing Queen:

Friday night and the lights are low
Looking out for the place to go
Where they play the right music,
getting in the swing
You come in to look for a king
Anybody could be that guy
Night is young and the music’s high
With a bit of rock music,
everything is fine

You’re in the mood for a dance
And when you get the

You are the dancing queen,
young and sweet, only seventeen
Dancing queen, feel the beat from the
You can dance, you can jive,
having the time of your life
See that girl, watch that scene,
dig in the dancing queen

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Live from a Pentagon Hill: Fireworks Fiasco on the Fourth

By the Queen of Free

From atop the hill behind the Pentagon, below the Air Force Memorial, we joined hundreds of others to see the Fourth of July fireworks display on the Mall Friday night.

We waited for what seemed like double the 45 minutes until the fireworks blasted away. The throng on the hill "oohed and aahed."

The chorus of sounds reacting to the sights from a distance didn't last long, however, for the fireworks were quickly engulfed by a huge mushrooming black cloud which immediately began to cover the show. Was it smoke from the fireworks? It grew bigger with each blast. Have you ever seen fireworks covered up? Nor had we.

Within minutes, the only thing to be seen was a bare periphery of the color and majesty. The sound of silence from the big crowd was stunning. A drizzle began and umbrellas went up. Before five minutes passed, hilltoppers packed up belongings and families, and headed away, down the hill, to drier spaces. What reason was left to stay?

Among those around us, we agreed that like everything else going wrong in our country, the big black cloud was certainly George Buzh's fault. It had to be. Didn't he ignore Kyoto and make fun of global warming? At least, until it affected an animal with which he is familiar: the polar bear. The black cloud was certainly related to global warming.

On the other hand, it could also be perceived as George Buzh's liftoff from Washington, D.C., and for that we are grateful. "So long, Buzh," we exclaimed, clapping "high fives" with our new friends on the hill. Next year, the cloud will be gone.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The 2008 Cowboy Census in D.C.

By the Queen of Free

Music, dancing, and fun galore at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall...

Never were there so many cowboy hats in one place in D.C.: 4.

The Washington stuffed shirts? Not there. And it's a good things, too, for this crowd was having too much fun to be slowed down by the likes of political sad sacks. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act? What? There's an election when?

At the Texas Dance Hall the audience was 95% tourist, all bedecked in their tourist apparel, dancing the evening away on Wednesday night to the likes of Texas musicians whoopin' it up big time.

Dance floor ages: six months to way beyond, all having a great time. Heads and feet of the chair sitters and those along the periphery, a bobbin’ in time with the blues music. The music crowd was bigger on Thursday night, but the dancin' music was not as inviting, what with Bhutan music, costumes, skeleton dances, and the talented, delightful Mariachi Los Arrieros to perform and play.

Kicking up those heels, guzzling beer (restricted to which areas?), listening to zydeco, the blues, all live, all entertainment. What more could a person ask? (Well, ahem, about those canned kidney beans, and, please, could we have limes next year with our Coronas?)

The thrill is not gone.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

"Uncle Tom's Cabin" Opens Briefly in Bethesda

By the Queen of Free

Thank goodness for Montgomery County’s Heritage Days.

Last weekend the annual festival offered a terrific opportunity to visit the officially unopened site of the setting for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” where Josiah Henson, “Uncle Tom” in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s bestselling novel of more than 150 years ago, lived and worked for 30 years (1795-1825) at the Riley house and farm on Old Georgetown Road.

Earnest, energetic tour guides from the Montgomery County Department of Parks conducted visitors throughout all parts of the home, answering questions and offering important known details, reading from index cards.

From a screened porch which served as the “holding room” for last weekend’s guests on the hot, muggy Sunday, visitors followed the guide into the air-conditioned house on 30-minute tours, stopping in each room to listen to descriptions of the history of the house, deplete of furniture (unless kitchen counters count).

My group, walking up and down the stairs, seemed humbled and awestruck to be inside the home with its unraveling history.

Telltale reminders of the modifications made in the mid 1930s by the owners at that time exist (wallpaper, bathroom, room sizes). A few descriptions and renderings of the possibilities of uses of the home during Mr. Henson’s life are posted here and there on the walls of the various rooms, and in the log addition which may have been the kitchen Mr. Henson described in his autobiography

Mrs. Stowe based her novel on Mr. Henson’s autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself which was published in 1849. The tour guide recommended both books which are quite different from each other, she said, and she read aloud small portions of Mr. Henson’s book to Sunday’s visitors including Mr. Henson's description of the deep wounds he saw on his father who suffered at the hands of a cruel slave owner who had also attacked Mr. Henson's mother.

Early in 2006 the Montgomery County Planning Board bought the house from private owners for $1 million, according to Wikipedia, and it will take until 2012, the guide said, before the house is restored and opened to the public.

Shouts and splashes from a nearby family’s swimming pool hidden mostly by trees in the back yard were reminders last weekend that the former 500-acre Riley farm had been reduced to a single acre, with life soon to return to the Riley house, too, and acquaint present day onlookers with glimpses of Mr. Henson's life 200 years ago.

Committees of historians, architects, landscapers, archivists, planners, and others are now conducting serious research in order to restore the property as authentically as possible to that of Mr. Henson’s lifetime. More than 550 artifacts have been uncovered in the minute investigation of the property. Tree rings and paint can reveal important information, the guide said.

If you "Google" "Uncle Tom's Cabin," another site comes up, too: In Dresden, Ontario, Canada where Mr. Henson and his family lived for many years after he fled his servitude in Maryland via the Underground Railroad in 1830.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Rush! Renwick Jewelry Show Closes July 6

By the Queen of Free

Ornament as Art: Avant-Garde Jewelry from the Helen Williams Drutt Collection organized by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston

More than 275 pieces created by artists from around the world are included in a glittering exhibit which is delightful in every way at the Renwick Gallery

Unless the wearer is a giant, I do not believe this is jewelry made to be worn but to admire and wonder about the artists’ perspectives and creativity.

From the “Conventional Weapons Necklace” (just imagine) by Nancy Worden to the brooch, “Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil” by Judy Onofrio, which includes a tiny colorful cameo of Abraham Lincoln and the three monkeys in common crouch with serpents intertwining the pin’s borders, this is an stunning show which entertains gloriously.

Many brooches, some necklaces, a ring stand, and a few bracelets (can you guess what the “Gold Finger” bracelet looks like?) are included in this show of contemporary adornments. I did not see any earrings or body piercings.

Some of the most fascinating necklaces are: “Sneak Necklace” of beads and thread by Joyce Scott, “Square Necklace” by Robert Smit, “Air Neckpiece” by Pierre Cavalan and one made of book paper by Janna Syvanoja.

Everything is absolutely incredible.

Since the gallery is open on the 4th, take your brood (the children will be almost as captivated as you) for a peak before you head to the Mall to see the fireworks show which will almost match the color and spark inside the Renwick.

You likely know the Renwick is a few steps from either Farragut Metro Stop, sits adjacent to the Blair and Lee houses on Pennsylvania Avenue at the intersection with 17th Street, N.W. down the street from the White House and Lafayette Park, and the show is free, mind you, free!

Another Smithsonian treasure. Hours are from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Monday – Sunday. You will love it.