Saturday, November 25, 2017

Women's Museum celebrates black female art

 Mavis Pusey (b. 1928), Dejygea, 1970. Courtesy of Brock and Co. This piece debuted at the 1971 "Contemporary Black Artists in America" exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. It illustrates Ms. Pusey's embrace of old, dilapidated New York structures and their architecture.  The museum label notes that early on, Ms. Pusey's work was frequently mischaracterized by museum curators as about "self" rather than the artist's environment she chose.

Looking for an indoor place to take your brood over the holidays?  Children (and adults) will be intrigued by what lies in front of them at the National Museum of Women in the Arts' new show, Magnetic Fields:  Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today.  There discussions may be piqued by renderings which can trigger emotions and senses to include, but not limited to, humor, sadness, awareness, contemporary times, and whatever else one can detect and extract.  

I guarantee you no one will find it "boring," not the young, not the "don't bother me" teenager, nor the dragged-along Uncle George who doesn't want to go anywhere or do anything. 

With representations by 21 contemporary black female artists, the museum is proud to present the first U.S. exhibition by abstract artists of this genre.  Reading the labels and hearing the voices of the women who describe their backgrounds and experiences make attempted comprehension much more enjoyable.  

The artists' lives span 90 years, from 1891 to 1981, and several of the works are on public view for the first time.

They are "under-recognized" and "marginalized," says museum literature. The museum director, Susan Fisher Sterling, writes: "This exhibition shifts our attention to key practitioners who have not received their due" and are important to contemporary art history.

Named after Mildred Thompson's Magnetic Fields (in the show), a November 28 event will present two of the artists, Susan Snowden and Shinique Smith in public discussion. (See below.)
 Maren Hassinger (b. 1947), Wrenching News, 2008, courtesy of the artist. Twisted and torn pieces of the New York Times convey the artist's representation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and its aftereffects which evoke "the poignant sociopolitical issues exposed in the wake of this natural disaster." Call 202-747-3417 and dial 205# to hear the artist speak about it/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A close-up of Maren Hassinger's Wrenching News, 2008, above/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 Howardena Pindell (b. 1943), Autobiography: Japan (Shisen-do, Kyoto), 1982, courtesy of the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York. Using paint, collage elements, and hole-punched paper, the artist depicts her seven-month sojourn in Japan on a "friendship grant" and her attempts to save her memory after a serious car accident in 1979. Call 202-747-3417 and dial 209# to hear her/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A close-up of Howardena Pindell's Autobiography: Japan (Shisen-do, Kyoto), 1982, above/Photo by Patricia Leslie
From left Chakaia Booker, El Gato;  Mavis Pusey, Dejydea; and Abigail Deville, Harlem Flag/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 Abigail Deville (b. 1981), Harlem Flag, 2014, courtesy of the artist. Made from objects the artist found in Harlem and arranged to contrast and compare parallels between past and present/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 Chakaia Booker (b. 1953), El Gato, 2001, collection of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Since the early 1990s, Ms. Booker has used rubber tires which represent travel, industry, ecology, skin and muscle as her primary medium.  Here the "regal pose and aura of a feline" is depicted in The Cat. The artist sculpts herself daily with wearable art/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The name of Barbara Chase-Riboud (b. 1939), Zanzibar/Black, 1974-75, may be better known as a poet and author who wrote Sally Hemings, 1979. This is courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery and "exemplifies the artist's interest in developing monuments dedicated to transformative individuals and places."/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Sylvia Snowden (b. 1942), June 12, 1992 is the wedding anniversary of Ms. Snowden's parents who, with Howard University, the artist credits for helping her succeed in the art world.  This was part of a series which was on exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in 1992 and is hung courtesy of the artist. Call 202-747-3417 and dial 214# to hear Ms. Snowden speak of this work/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 Shinique Smith (b. 1971), Bale Variant No. 0017, 2009, Denver Art Museum Collection.  Fabric, wood, ink, twine and ribbon comprise the sculpture. The artist weaves her own clothing and pieces she finds "to visualize the tension of accumulation and consumption."/Photo by Patricia Leslie

At the exhibition's opening Virginia Treanor, NMWA associate curator, called the museum "a natural platform for an exhibit like this." Several of the artists were born in Washington and Baltimore where some reside. Some graduated from Howard University.

"This is not a survey," Ms. Treanor emphasized in her opening remarks, or "meant to be comprehensive."

Curators were Melissa Messina and Erin Dziedzic, director of curatorial affairs at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri. 

In conjunction with the show, Sylvia Snowden and Shinique Smith will speak at the museum November 28 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Guests pay $25 ($15, members, seniors, and students) to mingle with the artists, see the exhibition and other collections, and enjoy food and beverages. It is close to a sellout. Make required reservations here.

A 144-paged illustrated catalogue is available in the museum gift shop and online.

Other artists in the show are Candida Alvarez, Betty Blayton, Lilian Thomas Burwell, Nanette Carter, Deborah Dancy, Mary Lovelace O'Neal, Gilda Snowden, Kianja Strobert, Jennie C. Jones, Evangeline "EJ" Montgomery, Alma Woodsey Thomas, and Brenna Youngblood.

What: Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today

When:  Now through January 21, 2018. Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Sundays, 12 - 5 p.m. 

Where:  The National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005

Admission: Free on the first Sunday of the month (December 3, 2017 and January 7, 2018 for this show) or $10, adults; $8, seniors and students; and always free for members and children, 18 and under.

For more information: 202-783-5000

Metro station: Metro Center. Exit at 13th Street and walk two blocks north.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Movie review: 'Faces Places' is a total bore

So much for Rotten Tomatoes and its "100 percent" approval rating.

Agnes Varda may be the greatest filmmaker out of Belgium since, since...(who?) but that still doesn't make her 2017 documentary of rural France any better.  Zzzzzzzzz.....

Faces Places is a constant refrain of frame after frame after frame of Ms. Varda, 89, traveling around France in a big van with a "mysterious" photographer, "JR" (that's all), 33, who together take pictures, blow them up, and paste them to barns, trains, walls, whatever is handy.  Cool!

Ta da!  That's it!  No plot, no drama, no upbeat to this tune except he wears dark sunglasses at night and all the time!  

About a third of the way through, I thought about leaving.  About half the way through, I thought more about leaving. At the end it was too late. 
It's one of those movies you keep telling yourself it's going to pick up, pick up, pick up, but it never does, and lies flat like the train tracks. (The next time I tell myself that, I'll know it's the signal to VAMOOSE.)

Faces Places is 89 minutes long which matches Ms. Varda's age! Imagine! About 80 minutes too many.  

Dullsville, lacklustre, you catch my drift. It would make a good drugless sleep aide since it works wonders in about 10 minutes. 

Take my words for it and save your time and money and forget about Rotten Tomatoes!  You know critics:  They like films like that lifeless, depressing cat movie of 2014
arty-farty films which earn zero return because they are public flops. But the producers don't make them for the money.  Oh, no:  They do it for the art!  Yeah, right. And Donald Trump doesn't tweet. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

'Our Town,' a play to see before you die

Jon Hudson Odom in Our Town at Olney Theatre Center/Photo by Stan Barouh

You can see it now through November 12 at the Olney Theatre Center.

Its message is simple but strong, and I am happy to note that Goodreads agrees with me, including Our Town in its "Top 100 Stage Plays," and ditto, Buzzfeed (32 to Read Before You Die), and the list goes on.

Olney Theatre is nothing short of sophistication and utmost professionalism in its presentations, and Thornton Wilder's play fits the missive exactly, especially with Our Town under the baton of the esteemed Aaron Posner, director of more than 250 plays and winner of five Helen Hayes Awards.
From left, Megan Anderson, Jon Hudson Odom, a puppet, and Andrea Harris Smith in Our Town at Olney Theatre Center/Photo by Stan Barouh

But the results of Posner's choice to use puppets for 21 of the roles at the Olney are unsatisfying, leaving me practically void of emotion and feeling, well, like a puppet.  Fortunately, my experience did not mirror those around me since on my left, a 60- somethings man sobbed, and on my right, a girl, age 9, cried, too, at the end. (Come to think of it, on my first showing I was probably as emotional.)
The stage is set tennis court style, another disadvantage, with audience members facing each other in the shadows, somewhat distracting. It's a clever arrangement for theatre types, but I doubt most members of the paying audience favor the approach.

When a puppet hollers from an upstairs window on one end of the stage but its voice emanates from an actor on the other end and on a different level, my eyes floated from side to side, tracking the source, an interruption which subtracts from the message (which is, in a few words: carpe diem and tempus fugit).

The program notes that a minimalist set (by Misha Kachman) is what Doctor Wilder ordered for his show and minimalism is what you get to focus attention on what's important (not the puppets).

Sound by Sarah O'Halloran is excellent, made visible by the actors on stage.

The puppet designer, Aaron Cromie, is due much applause for creations which reflect today's population diversity, but it's exceedingly doubtful that diversity existed in a small town like Grover's Corners, New Hampshire 100 years ago (so why not place the current production in this century?).

Wilder (1897-1975) is the only Pulitzer Prize winner for both fiction (The Bridge of San Luis Rey) and drama (Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth).  Over its 80 years, this is the first time Olney has presented the play.

The actors led by Helen Hayes winner, Jon Hudson Odom, as narrator or stage manager (a role often played by Mr. Wilder himself), are nothing less than superbMegan Anderson is Mrs. Gibbs; Tony Nam, Dr. Gibbs; Andrea Harris Smith, Mrs. Webb; Todd Scofield, Mr. Webb Cindy de la Cruz, Emily Webb; and William Vaughan, George Gibbs,  Mr. Vaughan notably realistic as the boy. The chemistry flowing between him and Ms. de la Cruz conveys badly needed authenticity to the show. Ms. Anderson will have you believing you are a member of the cast, too.

Other creative team members are Helen Q. Huang, costumes; Thom Weaver, lights; Hope Villanueva, production stage manager; Debbie Ellinghaus, managing director; Jason Loewith, artistic director; Dennis A. Blackledge, production; and Jason King Jones, senior associate artistic director.
What: Our Town

Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832

When: Now through November 12, 2017, Wednesday through Saturdays at 7:45 p.m., and weekend matinees at 1:45 p.m.

Tickets: Begin at $47 with discounts for groups, seniors, military, and students. 

Ages: Recommended for ages 10 and up due to themes

Duration: 2.5 hours with two intermissions

Refreshments: Available and may be taken to seats

Parking: Free, nearby, and plentiful on-site

For more information: 301-924-3400 for the box office or 301-924-4485