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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Richard Avedon at the Corcoran Gallery of Art: Portraits of Power

It's a great show. Well worth the price of admission ($14; less for students, seniors and children under age 7).

The Avedon opening for members was crowded, but, at least, we were able to see the photographs standing not ten deep.

Rather than 9 p.m. (the announced closing), we left at 9:50 p.m. with no rush by the guards. (Obviously, not the Smithsonian guards who could give lessons to NASCAR.)

Anyway, the photographs! Many, stern, serious, few smiles. Most are quite unflattering. White backgrounds. Black and white. Severe. Large.

One of the few smiles is on Robert McNamara. Why is he smiling? He should never smile again.

Almost everyone looked far worse than you have them pictured mentally, except, John Kerry. In a picture taken in 2004 he's the only one who looked handsome and better than reality which is mean to most of the subjects.

(Henry Kissinger (in the second photo of him in the show) might have had the flu. The pain and agony on George Wallace's face (in the third picture of him) makes a viewer wince. If he had not died before Dick Cheney erected his Torture Chamber, he could have been sitting on boiling water at Guantanamo.)

Come to think of it, the show is pretty darned depressing overall.

Standouts in the crowd: Several shots of the Chicago 7, George Bush the First, Rudolph Nureyev, Jimmy Carter (was handsome), Barack Obama (in color), Dwight Eisenhower (with eyes seemingly rolling around his head), the Rosenberg boys. (Where are they now? Twice in the news in a week).

I cannot recall a more uncomely photograph of Ronald Reagan. Avedon easily (to a viewer) captures the arrogance of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Few women grace the exhibit. But the outrageous, the charming Dorothy Parker with her personality and wit flowing from the frame is there, contrasted with, a few galleries away, the eternally injured Vietnam woman who is too painful to look at for more than a second or two.

Richard Avedon died in 2004 from a cerebral hemorrhage.

I recently upgraded my membership to get invitations to the members' previews with wine and hors d'oeuvres, and the upgrade has been a splendid value.

Plentiful treats and drinks amidst seeing the shows without the hordes. Plus, additional benefits, like free admission to Mt. Vernon (expired at the end of July. Yes, I went.). Plus entrances without charge at other fee-based museums.

This coming Thursday night I return to the exhibit and to hear the curators, Frank Goodyear and Paul Roth, deliver a lecture about the show, another membership benefit. The exhibit ends January 25, 2009.

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