Wednesday, November 30, 2011

15th century tapestries portray military history at the National Gallery of Art

The entrance to the Pastrana Tapestries exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, framed by Alexander Calder's Model for East Building Mobile (1972)/Patricia Leslie

               The Pastrana Tapestries exhibition opening/Patricia Leslie

King Afonso V and his son, Prince Joao, prepare for battle

                A mother escapes a battleworn city with her three children

 Moth damage before restoration of the tapestries by the Royal Manufacturers De Wit of Mechlin, Belgium
               After restoration by the Royal Manufacturers De Wit of Mechlin, Belgium
                               A 15th century weapon of mass destruction

                    A timeline of 15th century Portuguese history/Patricia Leslie

Whether or not you are a fan of military history, a visual feast awaits you and your family in the East Building of the National Gallery of Art where a stunning display of four 15th century Gothic tapestries never seen together in the United States hang floor-to-ceiling in two galleries.
When the show first went up, no less than the ambassadors from Belgium, Portugal, and Spain came for the briefing to praise the artistry, each other, and the National Gallery of Art in the joint effort to produce The Invention of Glory:  Afonso V and the Pastrana Tapestries. (If they had taken a side trip up to Capitol Hill, they might have imparted their wisdom about cooperation and a common goal to members of the U.S. Congress. Alas.)
The tapestries of wool and silk threads tell the story of the 1471 advent of Portuguese King Afonso V (1432-1481) to the African coast with his son, Prince Joao, age 16, to successfully wage battle against Muslims in Asilah and Tangier at a time when Portugal and Spain vied to control the region.
If your sons are anything like mine, they will be awestruck by the action, the weapons, the armor and the art, and the huge numbers of soldiers designed and sewn by Flemish artisans who knew little about Africa but gave the Moroccan cities a dash of Belgian flavor with European urban scenes and some monkeys thrown in for good measure.
Standing in the galleries and with just a tiny imagination, a visitor can hear the sounds of battle, the horns and shouts, the clashing of swords and spears, the stomping of horses' hooves and soldiers' boots.
Where is King Afonso? See if you can find him and his son in ceremonial battle garb more than once. Can you find the mother with her three children? Well-written labels will guide you, should you need any help.
In the second gallery is an excellent timeline which spans almost an entire wall and lays out important dates of Portuguese history.  Also, photographs of "before" and "after" the restoration of the tapestries funded by Spain's Fundacion Carlos de Amberes produce more admiration for the talented artisans of 500 years ago and for those of today, as well.
The tapestries measure about 12' x 36' and weigh approximately 135 pounds each.  They are among the rarest and earliest examples of illustrated history for the vast majority of those period tapestries portrayed allegorical or religious subjects.
They are named the Pastrana Tapestries for Pastrana, Spain, 50 miles from Madrid where the works have been located in a church since the 17th century. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), they received special protection.
From the National Gallery, the exhibition will travel to Dallas, San Diego, and Indianapolis.  A handsome color catalogue with cloth covering is available for purchase.
On December 6 and December 8 at 12 p.m. the National Gallery's Julia Burke and Diane Arkin will speak about the tapestries, and the public is invited.  (For location, ask at the East Building information desk.) 
On December 18 at 4 p.m. and December 21 at 12:30 p.m. the 2010 film of 270 minutes (with intermission) by Raul Ruiz, Mysteries of Lisbon, which is based on the 1854 novel by Portuguese novelist Camilo Castelo Branco, will be screened in the East Building Auditorium.
What: The Invention of Glory: Afonso V and the Pastrana Tapestries
When: Now through January 8, 2012, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday excepting Christmas Day and New Year's Day when the National Gallery of Art is closed
Where: National Gallery of Art, East Building, between Third and Fourth streets on Constitution Avenue, NW
How much: No charge. Admission to the National Gallery of Art is always free.
Metro stations: Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives, Judiciary Square or ride the Circulator
For more information: 202-737-4215  

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Patti Smith's 'Just Kids' is one terrific book

If I hadn't gone to NYC, if Stacie hadn't recommended the Chelsea, then Claire would not have told me about Just Kids, a must-read if you like good writing and memoirs and, especially if you stay at the Chelsea. (Why it wasn't for sale in the lobby is beyond me.) It's no wonder Patti Smith's book won the National Book Award for non-fiction in 2010; it is marvelous.
It's all about her advent to the Big Apple on just pennies a day and her meeting up with Robert Mapplethorpe and their fantastic relationship with each other, friends, and the city in the 1970s, through common ups and downs, and how they eventually achieved stardom which is told as a postscript.

One of my favorite passages:

"Robert, Harry, and I often went together [to eat at the Automat], and getting the fellows under way could take a lot more time than eating.
I have to fetch Harry. He can't find his keys. I search the floor and locate them under some esoteric volume. He starts reading it and it reminds him of another book he needs to find. Harry rolls a joint while I look for the second book. Robert arrives and has a smoke with Harry. I know then it's curtains for me. When they have a smoke it takes them an hour to accomplish a ten-minute thing. Then Robert decides to wear the denim vest he made by cutting the sleeves off his jacket and goes back to our room. Harry thinks my black velvet dress is too bleak for daytime. Robert comes up on the elevator as we go down the stairs, frantic comings and going like playing out the verses of 'Taffy Was a Welshman.'"
Writing masterfully, Patti tells the story in modest, unassuming terms. At the end you'll be very happy for her, that she "made it." You will seek out Wikipedia to find out more of their details than what is shed in the book.

It can't be true that perseverance conquers failure every time. We only hear the success stories. Where are the stories from the unrelenting that never get told? Are those persistent souls still at it?  They'll tell their stories, too, after they have succeeded? If you abandon your quest, then you gave up too soon?  If you die before you reach your goal, well, it's n'ermore.

Don't miss the cover story about Patti Smith in the October 16, 2011 issue of the NYT Style Magazine. You'll become her fan if you're not already.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Goethe-Institut opens new photo show

The opening of 'On the Lakeshore...and Other Stories' at the Goethe-Institut/Patricia Leslie

A photograph by Kaitlin Jensco, a featured artist at the Goethe-Institut

A photograph by Sara Winston, a featured artist at the Goethe-Institut

A photograph by Iris Janke, one of the featured artists at the Goethe-Institut

       Visitors admire the photographs of Sara Winston at the Goethe-Institut/Patricia Leslie

At the opening of the Goethe-Institut's new photo show/Patricia Leslie

An exhibit of everyday European and American household and family scenes opened last week at the photo gallery at Goethe-Institut, and features works by Germany's Iris Janke and two American photographers, Sara Winston and Kaitlin Jensco. Children, including some of the same children pictured in different poses, are the subjects of many of the photographs which are mounted with handwritten labels on walls.
According to information at the Goethe, the exhibit is intended to enrich conversation, sparked by the artists who collaborated on "dialogue on a common topic: self-identity." Examples of Ms. Jensco's rural upbringing in Southern Maryland are quite evident in her photographs.
Sara Winston grew up in Orange County, New York and is a graduate of the Corcoran College of Art and Design where Ms. Jensco is a student. Ms. Janke's work has been exhibited in several galleries in Europe and included in many publications.
The opening day of the exhibit was timed to coincide with the just-ended DC FotoWeek.
What: "On the Lakeshore ... and Other Stories"
When: Now through January 27, 2012: 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Friday
Where: Goethe-Institut, 812 Seventh Street, NW
Admission: No charge
Metro Stations: Gallery Place-Chinatown (1/2 block away), Metro Center, or Navy Memorial-Archives
Bike racks: Available
For more information: 202-289-1200 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Degas and dancers at The Phillips

The entrance to the Phillips's 90th birthday party/Patricia Leslie

Students from the Kirov Academy of Ballet at The Phillips/Patricia Leslie

Edgar Degas Self-Portrait 1855/Musee d'Orsay, Paris, Wikimedia Commons

A few came for the free Degas show at The Phillips/Patricia Leslie

A birthday party at The Phillips with guest artist, Edgar Degas/Patricia Leslie

Birthday dancing at The Phillips/Patricia Leslie

At The Phillips/Patricia Leslie

A week+ late? C'est la vie!

Whoever thought a public 90th birthday party with a major guest artist would be anything but crowded needs to see another doctor.

The Phillips was just as packed for its free birthday fete as anyone might have imagined, and more. When I arrived about 1:30 p.m., I somehow and fortunately missed the lines and slipped in, and, about an hour later, overcome by crowds, elbows, docents, and students saying "please, do not...," discovered about 70 persons standing outside on a lovely fall day, awaiting admission.

In addition to breathtaking and romantic pieces of art which make up the exhibition, the people found inside, tiny but real teen-aged ballerinas in full costume from Washington's Kirov Academy of Ballet School slowly dancing to taped music. Like porcelain dolls in an expensive music box, the ballerinas could have been models themselves for Degas who, a label said, made more than 1,500 works about dancing. Thirty of them are in the show.  Whoever had the Kirov idea deserves special kudos.

Yes, the Degas (1834-1917) show is definitely worth seeing, and yes! The price to see it ($10 or $12)

with generally unobstructed views (one may imagine) is definitely a good value. (Or join the Phillips for $60 (on up) and pay nothing extra for special shows.)
What: Degas’s Dancers at the Barre: Point and Counterpoint
When: Now through January 8, 2012, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday with extended hours on Thursday until 8:30 p.m., and 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday
Where: The Phillips Collection, 1600 21st Avenue, NW (near Q and 21st)
How much: $12 (adults) and $10 (seniors and students). Free for members and children under age 18.
Metro stop: Dupont Circle (Q Street exit)
For more information: 202-387-2151

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Washingtonians loved the European Jazz Motion at the Embassy of Austria

European Jazz Motion in concert at the Embassy of Austria/Patricia Leslie

Antti Kujanpaa on piano and Angela Trondle, European Jazz Motion/Patricia Leslie

Angela Trondle, Mattia Magatelli, and Tobias Meier, European Jazz Motion/Patricia Leslie

Give me jazz, any jazz, day or night, and I'll be there. Like at the almost "sold out" performance last week at the Austrian Embassy where the European Jazz Motion (aka New European Jazz) came to play.

The young group evolved after one week of collaboration in 2008 where they initially gathered in Riga, Latvia as "Group A" at an international music school.
Only one of the performers at the embassy was Austrian (Angela Trondle, the stellar vocalist), but the group's international flavor is a great mix. Tobias Meier from Switzerland played alto sax and alto clarinet; Marek Talts, Estonia, guitar; Antti Kujanpaa, Finland, piano; Mattia Magatelli, Italy, bass; and Christian Windfeld, Denmark, was on drums.
The beginning music of the first piece came from a melancholy, slow piano, joined later by heartbeats of the bass and then, drums, followed by a solo sax.
The voice of Ms. Trondle, who exhibited her distinctive scat talents during the concert, often sounded like a worthy solo musical instrument of its own. The evening featured, quite naturally, contemporary selections, many composed by group members, and many which were quite short. Not than anyone had objection to their length, for the audience came to hear modern sounds, and no one left disappointed.
That the group is only three years old makes for great expectations.
Event sponsor was the Austrian Cultural Forum whose website lists future events:
Now through Nov. 22, 2011 at the American Film Institute Silver Spring Theatre, the films, Michael and Breathing
Nov. 15: Little World, 6:30 p.m. at West End Cinema ($11 and $9). Call 202-419-3456 for information.
Nov. 16 Six short silent movies with live piano, 7:30 p.m. at the Embassy of Austria. Free admission, but RSVP required: 202-895-6776 or click here.
Nov. 18: Die Sklavenkonigin/The Moon of Israel with live piano, 7:30 p.m. at the Embassy of Austria. Free admission but RSVP required: 202-895-6776 or click here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Airmen of Note, Kirk Whalum, and Paige Martin charm Lisner audience

Paige Martin, Kirk Whalum and the Airmen of Note perform at Lisner Auditorium

Attention, Super Bowl Half-Time Planning Committee: You could do no better than to hire the jazz ensemble, the U.S. Air Force's Airmen of Note, singer Paige Martin, and saxophonist Kirk Whalum to perform "God Bless America."
Last week the house was full at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium when the band of horns, saxes, guitar, bass, piano, and percussion performed with Grammy winner Whalum and the Air Force's Martin, truly stunning in the free performance.
(With closed eyes, the loud applause and whoops of joy almost carried one away to Verizon Center where the Caps had just won another overtime game, or so it seemed, and I exaggerate (a little, but not much).)
If Whalum played one crowd favorite, he played all crowd favorites, including John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" and the memorable, "Soweto," performed with his longtime piano partner, John Stoddart.
When a woman in the audience cried out "thank you" after Whalum said he composed "Desperately" for his girlfriend, it took the performer a nano-second to gather his wits and identify his girlfriend of 31 years to be his wife. The audience loved it all.
The show lasted 15 minutes short of two hours with no intermission and total solid entertainment. The energetic and contagious big band sounds echoed throughout the place, but no one danced in the aisles. (Because there was no room!)
When Whalum wasn't on stage the always popular Dick Golden was emcee.
In the audience was Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD) who was recognized twice.
Whalum lives in Memphis where he got his gospel roots and where he is still heavily involved in ministry. In the Bluff City he is president and CEO of STAX Music Academy, a school for "young, aspiring musicians," according to program notes. He has been nominated for 11 Grammys.
It was the second of the Airmen's Jazz Heritage Series which ends November 18 when trumpeter Doc Severinsen comes to town for a free performance at Lisner.
Attention, Lisner: Is there any place to seat latecomers besides ushering them as much as one hour late to auditorium seats where they interrupt the enjoyment of those who got there on time? (Sniff) The Caps don't seat latecomers during "the action."
Who: Doc Severinsen
What: The U.S. Air Force's Airmen of Note and the Jazz Heritage Series

8:00 p.m., November 18, 2011
Where: Lisner Auditorium, 21st and H streets NW, 730 21st Street, NW
Cost: It's free!
Metro station: Foggy Bottom (3 blocks) or Farragut West (more blocks)
For more information: 202-994-6800

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bike the Mt. Vernon Trail

It's one of the prettiest trails in the area.
Ride beside rolling water along curves amidst pine trees and green grass with an occasional statue to grasp your view and you won't even notice the lull of the vehicles motoring on the nearby George Washington Parkway.
Be mindful of children on uncertain paths and their parents on the trail, and the speeding pros who'll run you down faster than Herman Cain can break out in song. And watch the overheads for the airplanes landing at National Airport.
Take your hammock for some easy stretching and some shut-eye in between your rides. The trail stretches about 18 miles from Theodore Roosevelt Island to George Washington's home at Mt. Vernon and can be crowded at times.
If you're coming by car, you may park for free at Gravelly Point (can be hard to find a space) or the Washington Sailing Marina just beyond the airport where you'll find almost-clean restrooms, a great bike shop with rentals at nominal prices and a nice attendant who may put air in your tires without charge, and two waterfront restaurants (one fancy, Indigo Landing, and the other, a café with sandwiches and the critical menu item, beer).

All this loveliness is captured (in variation) by thoughts of William Wordsworth's poem, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," probably better known as "The Daffodils," inspired by a April 15, 1802 scene found by Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy.

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a trail,

Whose beauty is unmatched for real,

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Cyclers were racing in the breeze.

Continuous as the men who whine

on Capitol Hill they often say

The bikers stretched in a long line

along the margin of the bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

riding their bikes in sprightly dance.

The aeroplanes above them flew; the bikers

Oblivious in their wheeling spree,

A walker could not but be gay,

in such a jocund company:

I gazed - and gazed - but little thought

what wealth the bikers to me had brought:

For not enough on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the soul of solitude;

And then some thoughts of bliss are stirred,

When I recall the happy bicyclers.