Saturday, July 28, 2012

Photography exhibit exposes seven decades of urban faces

Walker Evans, Subway Portraits 1938-41, National Gallery of Art, Washington, gift of Kent and Marcia Minichiello/copyright, Walker Evans Archives, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The contemporary photographs on view in the photo galleries at the National Gallery of Art show bleak subjects. They are not inspiring or uplifting, but they are proof of the talents and ingenuity of six modern photographers and the faces they captured beginning in 1938.

Most of the individuals reflect a state of unease and unhappiness, at least when they are alone. Bruce Davidson's subway scenes present more than one person who may be at odds with another.

Bruce Davidson, Subway 1980-81, Michael and Jane Wilson/copyright, Bruce Davidson

An exception to the exhibition's mood is the moving visual record created by Beat Streuli (b. 1957) who set up his camera in different locations in New York City to record the sounds and scenes of everyday life on the streets. The gentle humming (in New York City!) and human movements easily beguile a viewer into watching people flow by, much like seeing and hearing waves wash upon the shore. Perhaps because they are not alone but are moving in tandem with others and are not permanently recorded in the split second of a camera's flash, the subjects strike a more conciliatory tone with life.

The exhibit, arranged chronologically by artist, was curated by the Gallery’s Sarah Greenough who named it “I Spy: Photography and the Theater of the Street, 1938-2010.” Most of the pictures (with the exception of Davidson's) were taken without the subjects knowing they were the subjects.

Other photographers in the show are Harry Callahan (1912-1999), Walker Evans (1903-1975), Robert Frank (b. 1924), and Philip-Lorca diCorcia (b. 1951). Bruce Davidson (b. 1933) was on hand for the exhibition’s opening.

Curator Sarah Greenough talks about the photography exhibition at the National Gallery of Art/Patricia Leslie

Walker Evans took his famous subway pictures from a camera hidden inside his coat. Frank took photographs of people on the streets in New York in 1958 while he was riding a bus. DiCorcia sheds light in spectacular fashion upon unsuspecting New Yorkers, the most striking to me, the businessman.

Davidson was the only artist who asked his subjects for permission to be photographed, and the responses were not altogether positive but gruff and unfriendly at times. 

But it is Callahan’s singular shots of women’s faces which are the most upsetting.  There in black and white taken on the streets of Chicago in 1950 are the women who walk by, not knowing they are the center of the camera's attention, not inclined to reveal a different demeanor from what they felt inside, showing in their honesty and unconscious appearances, the repression, unhappiness and trepidation they lived during that lonely decade. The few near smiles are stilted and wan. Pain is evident.

Harry Callahan, Chicago, 1950, collection of Randi and Bob Fisher, copyright, The Estate of Harry Callahan/Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

Nothing was staged or rehearsed for this show. Evans wanted his subjects to be unconscious of the camera, and he waited 20 years before he published his pictures, concerned about the invasion of privacy.

They are us. In solitude, this is how it is? And how we are? There is something to be said about the loneliness of the individual and how unnatural a state it is.

The exhibition is made possible through the support of The Ryna and Melvin Cohen Family Foundation and the Trellis Fund. Tru Vue provided in-kind support.

What: I Spy: Photography and the Theater of the Street, 1938-2010

When: Now through August 5, 2012, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building, Washington, D.C., between Fourth and Seventh streets at Constitution Avenue, NW

How much: No charge

For more information: 202-737-4215 or

Metro stations: Judiciary Square, Navy Memorial-Archives, or the Smithsonian

Friday, July 27, 2012

'Saturday Night Fever' is always hot

John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney in Paramount Pictures' Saturday Night Fever/Paramount Pictures

How many times have you read a book or seen a movie for the second time, and it's just not the same? Somehow, the allure, the magic, the whatever spell it cast upon you to memorialize it in the first place have vanished.  "The second time around" just doesn't...quite...capture "it." 

Maybe it was the rose-colored eyes of youth, alas, which tinted the reception and dulled the later experience, similar to what the adults found (or didn't find) in the Polar Express.  Sigh.

John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney in Paramount Pictures' Saturday Night Fever/Paramount Pictures

I am pleased to disprove the foregoing observation.  I am pleased to report a better reception the second time around.  I am pleased to report that years have not reduced the enjoyment one gets from watching Saturday Night Fever again. Yay and whoa! 

I had forgotten what a heckuva good time this movie is, with a story which extends far beyond the dance contest and all the numbers, which are about all I could remember.  It actually has a plot, a very good one, and the acting, yes, by John Travolta and many others, is exceptionally good.  The family scenes!  And you thought your family was dysfunctional?  

Right out of the gate, it takes off like a rocket, and never loses power, soaring from the ground shots of Tony's clicking and clacking shoes along New York City's sidewalks, to "let's be friends" at the end. The music still plays in my mind days later.  The Bee Gees.  Who can forget? 

Thanks to the Smithsonian's American Art Museum, a free screening of the film was shown last weekend as part of a dance double-feature with 2010's Black Swan (another one I loved) shown earlier in the day. 

On the way to town on the Metro packed with tourists, I had asked myself more than once:  You are going downtown to see a 40-year old movie?  You are electing to ride Metro on the weekend to do what? 

It was one of those times when I knew a good reason would present itself, and they did.  Not only was the film thoroughly fantastic, but I got to see the National Portrait Gallery's Amelia Earhart exhibition and faces in the "Recent Acquisitions" gallery like Hillary Clinton's by Chuck Close, Bill Clinton's, Barbara Bush's, and a painting of Grandma Moses.

But, back to the movie:  I had forgotten about all the obscenities (and the polyester) and think that what I saw the first time was the edited, PG version, which, truly, does not have the power of the real thing. 

John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney in Paramount Pictures' Saturday Night Fever/Paramount Pictures

If you haven't seen it, or even if you have, two hours of solid entertainment are what it's all about, moviegoers, and there's no getting around Travolta's dancing. He knew (knows?) some steps.  Makes you want to get up and out on the dance floor and move your feet and hips and swing those arms around and expel some creepy calories. You know the kind that come with age.  Sigh.  Michelle Obama would approve.

Saturday Night Fever was nominated for only one Academy Award (Best Actor: Travolta), several Golden Globes and won... nothing.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Miro's 'Ladder' stands only at the National Gallery of Art

Joan Miro, The Hunter (Catalan Landscape) 1923-1924, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Purchase, 1936

Joan Miro: The Ladder of Escape at the National Gallery of Art is one of the few Miro exhibitions ever staged in Washington, D.C.

The show is big, filling seven galleries on two floors and ends on August 12. 

Many of the artworks by Miro (1893-1983) portray his responses to the horrors of the 20th century: World War I, World War II, and the Spanish Civil War when he lived in France and Spain and witnessed atrocities and their effects.

Unlike those who suffer aftermath of turmoil and destruction over which they have little or no control and are unable for varying reasons to act, Miro, by way of his art, was able to release his emotions and rage.  He defined an artist as "one who, amidst the silence of others, uses his voice to say something."

Joan Miro, Burnt Canvas 2, December 4 - 31, 1973, private collection

The National Gallery quotes him from 1937:  "We are living through a hideous drama that will leave deep marks in our mind."

The curator for the show, Harry Cooper, head of modern and contemporary art for the National Gallery, said the artist used a ladder figuratively as a bridge between Heaven and Earth, between imagination and reality, permitting him to climb up to fantasy and down and become “politically engaged at times."

Hanging at the entrance to Ladder is Alexander Calder’s large and colorful mobile, commissioned for the opening of the East Building in 1978, an appropriate introduction to Miro for the two artists were good friends who shared "an impish quality, a sense of play, a love of adventure," according to critic Stanley Meisler writing in the Los Angeles Times in 2004. 

Joan Miro, The Farm 1921-1922, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary Hemingway, 1987

Upon entering Ladder, visitors face The Farm (1921-22) purchased by Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) as a birthday gift for his first wife, Hadley, and given by his fourth wife, Mary, to the National Gallery of Art in 1987. (One account said Hemingway and Miro used to box together.)

Farm was “a resume of my entire life in the country,”  Miro said.  The complexity of the work and its components, like most of the works in the provocative show, may leave visitors wrestling with questions and meaning, excellent ingredients for discussions which Curator Cooper said he hoped would be one of the show's effects.  It is unlikely that any guest will not have opinions about the contents.  (Check out Object of Sunset.  If this doesn't trigger conversation, what will?  Ladder may be a good place for a blind date, if talk languishes.)

Joan Miro, Object of Sunset, 1936,  Centre Pompidou, Musee national d'arte moderne, Paris, Purchase, 1975

The National Gallery calls Miro’s art  a combination of cubism, abstractionism, and primitivism which resulted in his own style, sometimes called detailism. 

Complementing the exhibition is a film with D.C.'s own Duke Ellington starring in a brief scene in a 17-minute National Gallery production which runs continuously in the show.  The Duke visited Miro in 1966 in France where he composed the impromptu “
Blues for Miro.”

Also offered with the exhibition are talks, a catalogue, and a new Catalan menu created for the Gallery’s Garden Café by Chef José Andrés, the owner and chef at Jaleo.  It includes
escalivada catalana, a roasted vegetable dish with tomatoes which is so tasty it alone, as an export item, might be able to rescue Spain from its economic doldrums, but not to go overboard.  Chef Andres has other delicious treats in store for diners.  You will not want to miss the food (in the West Building) or the show.

The exhibition was made possible by the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation, Buffy and William Cafritz, and the Institut Ramon Llull.  The Tate Modern in London organized the exhibition in collaboration with Fundacio Joan Miro, Barcelona, and in association with the National Gallery of Art.

Gallery talks are scheduled on these dates:

Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape
July 31, August 1, 2, 8, 9 at 11:00 a.m.
by Diane Arkin, Adam Davies, David Gariff, or Sally Shelburne
East Building, Ground Level, Information Desk
(60 minutes)
What: Joan Miro: The Ladder of Escape

When: Now through August 12, 2012, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Where: National Gallery of Art, East Building, Washington, D.C., 4th Street at Constitution Avenue, NW

How much: No charge

For more information: 202-737-4215 or

Metro stations: Judiciary Square, Navy Memorial-Archives, or the Smithsonian

Thursday, July 19, 2012

President Obama fires up the troops

President Obama in Clifton, Virginia/Patricia Leslie

Last weekend in Clifton President Obama talked to several hundred of the faithful, the volunteers who will call, deliver, cook, drive, knock, walk, seal, fold, stamp, register, canvass, vote, smile, and talk to convince straddlers about the wisdom of re-electing their man.

It was a hot and muggy afternoon, and his supporters without complaint had waited outdoors a long time for admittance to the cool Centreville High School gymnasium, and once past security and inside, the wait was forgotten for smiles and joy adorned faces in anticipation. 

The smile to melt Iceland/Patricia Leslie

President Obama said the Republicans have only two ideas ("check out their website"): Cut taxes for the wealthy and cut taxes for polluters and credit card companies/Patricia Leslie
The same Republican ideas have been tested before, for about a decade when Republicans held the White House: "Guess what, Virginia," the president said to deafening cheers, "their ideas didn't work."/Patricia Leslie

President Obama said contrary to Republican Mitt Romney, he supports bottom-up economics and "in-sourcing," not out-sourcing. "I fight on behalf of the middle class, and that's why," he said amidst cheers and hands showing four fingers, "I am running for four more years."/Patricia Leslie

 "I believe women should make their own health care decisions" which "Romney wants to restrict."/Patricia Leslie

"In Virginia, immigration is a strength, not a weakness."/Patricia Leslie 
"We're Americans first before we're Republicans or Democrats."/Patricia Leslie

President Obama was the center of attention/Patricia Leslie

Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-11th District) preceded the president on stage. He said Congress was not totally lifeless: It had voted 33 times on the same thing: against health care for all/Patricia Leslie

To kickoff the event, she sang the "Star Spangled Banner."/Patricia Leslie

At the end of his remarks, President Obama descended the stage to shake hands with supporters/Patricia Leslie

Where is he?Patricia Leslie

Check out under the "I" in "Wildcats."/Patricia Leslie

Friday, July 13, 2012

Seal ignites Wolf Trap

Seal at Wolf Trap/Patricia Leslie

If you missed the fireworks last week on the Mall, there were more out at  Wolf Trap Tuesday night.

Yeah, he was that good.

And he had nice things to say about D.C., being that we don't hear too many nice things, infested with politicians and junkies like we are.

Seal at Wolf Trap/Patricia Leslie

"You are a great, great audience" he shouted repeatedly.  "I love to come here, because this region is so diverse! The nation’s capital!  Just look at you!"  he shouted to cheers.  “You’re a great mix!”

Seal at Wolf Trap/Patricia Leslie

The crowd of young, old, black, white was totally enraptured by Seal who performed straight for almost two hours without intermission, without any other singers breaking up his delivery.  Plus he knew exactly what to wear in Vienna, Virginia: solid black   (Like he might wear something else?) 


Seal at Wolf Trap/Patricia Leslie

He danced, hopped, skipped, gyrated, and jumped across the stage all night, up and down, across and back, putting the moves on the music and thrilling us all and frequently grasping the extended hands of the fans who hung on the stage rim, wanting to make permanent contact, but he pulled none of them up to join him like some expected, and that was quite all right.  He was Seal.

Sorry, honey, not tonight/Patricia Leslie

So many of the pieces he sang seemed devoted to Heidi, at least to the fans, and we probably thought of her more than he did, but he began the concert with "Tonight we're going to forget about whatever it is that's been dragging us down" because this is "the here and the now!" 

And later:  "The beginning of the year was not so good, but I am happy now!"  (New girlfriend?)

Seal at Wolf Trap/Patricia Leslie

He sang his biggies and some Al Green, too.  (Al's coming to Wolf Trap on August 24, and darecity we hope the president will come and sing a duet with Al? Please, please, please...)

Seal at Wolf Trap/Patricia Leslie

One thing is for certain:  Seal never has to worry about weight.  One woman said she just came to check him out and see what all the fuss is about.  "And he can sing, too?"  she gasped. 

Seal at Wolf Trap/Patricia Leslie

With those undulating movements he reminded another woman of a male stripper who keeps his clothes on.  Too bad.  I don't suppose the Wolf Trap neighborhood would dig a strip tease out in their neck of the woods too much.

Seal at Wolf Trap/Patricia Leslie

Macy Gray was the first act, and she started off the evening with that sultry voice just before 8 p.m. wooing the audience with her style and tunes.  She may be the most talkative entertainer to the audience there is, and there's nothing wrong with that.  One of her songs was like a slowly-spoken poem with a single instrument playing in the background, but aren't all songs poems? 

“This ain’t no library,” she bellowed.  “Get up and move!”  We did.

Macy Gray at Wolf Trap.  Her band wore lighted hats, ties, or jackets/Patricia Leslie

A back-up singer for Macy Gray, Shameka?/Patricia Leslie

Just before the concert began, a heavy, longlasting downpour drenched the yard folks and  many "in house," too, but the sheets of rain could not/would not dilute the crowd's pure enjoyment and enthusiasm, and no one left, but stayed to dance in the aisles, listen and sing and throw hands in the air and sway with the tunes.

It was a good time!  It was a great time.  You didn’t even need a date to bust a move and shake a tail feather. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?  Or why did you go?

After the concert a woman walked barefoot across the parking lot and when asked if she had lost her shoes during the storm on the hillside she said no.  She left her high wedges in the car, she said, after she realized she wouldn't be able to walk in them to the performance.  Despite sore feet, she was happy, grinning broadly, like everyone else going home after a night with a lightning streak at Wolf Trap. 

Seal's stage at Wolf Trap/Patricia Leslie

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Two Amelias star at the National Portrait Gallery

One of many occupations of women during the Civil War was that of spy.  Pictured is Belle Boyd of Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia) and Front Royal, Virginia who became a Confederate spy after a Union soldier denounced her mother. Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress

Was it coincidence that two "Amelias" opened at the National Portrait Gallery only days apart?

And “lost” persons are and were a central role in each?

There is One Life: Amelia Earhart now through May 27, 2013, and for one night only in the Gallery's Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium, there was Amelia: A Story of Abiding Love in the Civil War, a staged presentation about a woman in search of her husband, a Union soldier fighting somewhere between Pennsylvania and South Carolina in the 1860s.

According to the playwright, Alex Webb, who starred as the husband of Amelia, the play is based on the 400 to 500 women who impersonated soldiers during the war.

In commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the National Portrait Gallery seeks to examine the role of women during the period of which Amelia played a role.   

Shirleyann Kaladjian (Webb's real-time wife) was "Amelia" who wanders from Gettysburg to battlegrounds down South, in search of "Ethan" (Webb), ending her journey at Andersonville, Georgia, the site of the notorious Confederate prison.

Several themes run concurrently in the play:  The search for love, the audience education about women in the Civil War,  and the horrors of Andersonville, not unlike those at the Union prison in Elmira, New York, where about the same number of inmates died.   

It was the first fictitious production of the National Portrait Gallery's Cultures in Motion performing arts series, "designed to educate, entertain, and promote mutual understanding of [America's] diverse cultures" and undertaken for this production with the Washington Stage Guild.

Webb and Kaladjian delivered powerful performances over the 90-minute playing time, remarkable in content and effect, propelling some members of the audience to leap to their feet in eager applause at the end.

And the play may be entitled Amelia but the show was all about "Ethan," one of many characters Webb portrayed.

His metamorphosis on stage from person to person without costume or scene change was one for acting classes, nothing short of exceptional since every person he became was lifelike, due to Webb's uncanny ability to transform people, mannerisms, voices, and inflexions. 

From turning around in a bent position and suddenly becoming Amelia's frail mother or her limping dad in the same scene,  to a Confederate guard, a sashaying Northern belle in a "ball gown" with 15-foot circumference, to a doctor, an escaped slave, Rebel soldier, guard, and more, Webb effected the personalities with stunning skill.

The couple moved frequently around the stage against a minimal but strong set design (a fence post, a bench and chairs, by Carl F. Gudenius) and, in one scene, they walked along a path strewn through the audience, talking the whole time.

Flashing throughout the production as backdrop were actual
Civil War scenes of battlegrounds, soldiers, farm and social life.

Taped music from the era under the direction of Stowe Nelson added to the mood.

"Every woman has got to find a husband," Amelia's mother tells her daughter, a refrain I heard more than 100 years later from the lips of my own mother. 

I do declare, Miss Scarlett, times have changed. 

Andersonville today is a National Historic Site dedicated "to all American prisoners of war throughout the nation's history."

Bill Largess directed; Jewell Robinson produced; Michael Kramer served as technical director and stage manager; and Sigridur Johannesdottir was costume designer.

The National Portrait Gallery is located at Eighth and G, NW and is open from 11:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. daily, except Christmas Day.  The closest Metro station is Gallery Place/Chinatown, or one may walk from Metro Center, a few blocks away.  For more information, call 202-633-8300.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The 'Louvre' exits Washington on Sunday

Samuel F. B. Morse, Gallery of the Louvre, 1831–1833, oil on canvas, Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection


The Gallery of the Louvre is going to leave the National Gallery of Art on July 8 after a year's sojourn in Washington, alas.

Say it isn't so.  Can't it stay here forever?  The people love it and want it to remain in the West Building in that perfect gallery.

It is going to leave.  The Terra Foundation for American Art has been gracious to loan it to the National Gallery of Art where it has occupied prominent position, and there is only one day more to see it.

Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872), yes, the inventor (Morse code), painted Gallery of the Louvre between 1831-1833, and it is big.  He copied 38 masterpieces from the Louvre, and hung them in his Gallery of the Louvre's Salon Carre in desired arrangements that he favored. You may read more about it here

When I went over to the National Gallery at lunch to check out George Bellows again, I remembered the exit date for Louvre and swung around the corner for one last look. Sigh.

Have you ever heard of Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs?  You must not be from the South.  A modification of their hit "Stay" (1961) may be applied to the people's desire to re-arrange the location of Morse's Gallery.

Stay, ahhh
Just a little bit longer
Please, please, please, please, please
Tell me that you're going to

Now your owner won't mind
And the Gallery won't mind
If we have another look, ya
Just one more time

Oh, won't you stay
Just a little bit longer
Please let me hear you say
That you will

Say you will!

Oh ya, just a little bit longer
Please, please, please, please, please
Tell me your going to
Come on, come on, come on, stay
Come on, come on, come on, stay, oh la de da
Come on, come on, come on, stay, my, my, my, my
Come on, come on, come on , stay

What: Samuel Morse's Gallery of the Louvre

When: Now through July 8, 2012, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., Saturday, and from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m., Sunday

Where: West Building, National Gallery of Art, Fourth through Ninth streets, NW, on the Mall

Admission: No charge

Metro stations: Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives, L'Enfant Plaza, and/or ride the Circulator

For more information: 202-737-4215

(Update) A "must have" for Morse fans:  Samuel F. B. Morse's Gallery of the Louvre and the Art of Invention, edited by Peter John Brownlee, Terra Foundation for American Art, distributed by Yale University Press, 2014

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Crosby, Stills & Nash at Wolf Trap

Crosby, Stills & Nash at Wolf Trap/Patricia Leslie

The sold-out audience loved it all, every bit of the two+ hour show which began shortly after 8 p.m. when the stars came out to shine and were not preceded by an unknown group.


It was Crosby, Stills & Nash all night and none other.
Crosby, Stills & Nash at Wolf Trap/Patricia Leslie

They sang the old favorites and some new ones, too ("Love the One You're With," "Just a Song Before I Go," "Our House," "Name of Love," "Radio"), and the mostly 50+ white audience sang with them sometimes, and the second half was the best.
Crosby, Stills & Nash at Wolf Trap/Patricia Leslie
An occasional breeze cooled the sweaty throngs whose enjoyment was interrupted intermittently by lightning streaks which lasted most of the night. A harsh rainfall poured on the lawn crowd which fled to the overhangs at the beverage and food counters, but many stayed put on the grass, determined not to miss a note at Wolf Trap

When Graham Nash announced they were going to sing a song to Bradley Manning, scattered boos were heard from a few males in the crowd, and David Crosby shouted at them:  "You haven't even heard a f---ing word yet!  Talk about pre-judgment!"

Amen, brother

When "Almost Gone" ended, Nash screamed:  "The
f---ers who are responsible for killing millions are free, and he's in jail for telling the truth!" The people cheered and clapped, and no counter voices were heard, and those who sympathize with the soldier, who may have assisted in the release of documents which could have saved countless lives had they been released years earlier, were grateful.
Graham Nash at Wolf Trap/Patricia Leslie
Crosby, Stills & Nash have been around for 40+ years, but like fine, aging wine, their music has not weakened, and the people stood and wildly applauded the entertainers, happy to be present for celebrations of singular artistry and talent.

An usher said it was only the third sell-out of the season (Dolly Parton and Garrison Keillor were the others) and most Saturday nights at Wolf Trap have seats available since the "big" stars prefer larger venues for weekends.  He said the sound is actually better on the lawn.
Stephen Stills at Wolf Trap/Patricia Leslie
Another reason to spend a night in the grass at Wolf Trap and hear Seal on Tuesday night.

Attention, seniors:  If any tickets remain 30 minutes before show time, they are available for purchase at half price at Wolf Trap for you and you only, which may be the only advantage to moving up.  At least, at Wolf Trap.
Before the rain at Wolf Trap Tuesday night/Patricia Leslie
After the rain at Wolf Trap Tuesday night/Patricia Leslie