Sunday, May 27, 2018

'Women House' closes doors at the Women's Museum

Birgit Jürgenssen, Austrian (1949-2003), Hausfrau.Housewife, 1973, c. Estate of Birgit Jürgenssen, The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

Pictured here are a few of the provocative images of the works in Women House, ending its display Monday at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the only venue in the U.S. for the show, organized by La Monnaie de Paris.

Penny Slinger (b. 1947, London),  Ganesh House (Money House), 1977, courtesy of the artist/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Money which Ms. Slinger collected from around the world decorates this house. Ganesh is the Hindu god of fortune and enlightenment. The display illustrates the power of money to make or break you, if you let it.
Rachel Whiteread (b. 1963, London), Modern Chess Set, 2005, courtesy of the artist/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Rachel Whiteread (b. 1963, London), close-up of Modern Chess Set, 2005, courtesy of the artist/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Miriam Schapiro (1923, Toronto-2015, New York), Dollhouse, 1972, Smithsonian American Art Museum/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Dollhouse was an original piece in the 1972 exhibition, Womanhouse, by one of the founders of the landmark show, Miriam Schapiro. The house describes Ms. Schapiro's conflicts as a mother, a wife, and an artist  and contains items Ms. Schapiro collected from women throughout the U.S.
Miriam Schapiro (1923, Toronto-2015, New York), close-up of Dollhouse, 1972, Smithsonian American Art Museum/Photo by Patricia Leslie

In the window are men in coats, ties, and hats staring at the viewer as if to say:  What are you doing?
Miriam Schapiro (1923, Toronto-2015, New York), close-up of Dollhouse, 1972, Smithsonian American Art Museum/Photo by Patricia Leslie

You can see the spider, can't you?  And the unfriendly bear in the window?  Do you think they mean her house is dirty? Or that she needs to escape as quickly as possible to save her life?  The latter occurred to me after the "dirty house" thought, and it makes more sense.  Caution: Don't blow up the bear's face as I did or you may have bad dreams.  Or, maybe need to escape.  The contents of the chair are a conglomeration of ...?
Birgit Jürgenssen, Austrian (1949-2003), Bodenschrubben (Scrubbing the Floor), 1975, c. Estate of Birgit Jürgenssen, The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

Look at their facial expressions.  I see boredom, anger, complacency, and surprise.  What do you see?  How do you interpret this?
Birgit Jürgenssen, Austrian (1949-2003), Hausfrauenarbeit (Housewives Working), 1975, c. Estate of Birgit Jürgenssen, Courtesy of Galerie Hubert Winter, Vienna

Above the woman irons a male figure right to the ironing board. Is she ironing that man right out of her life?
Birgit Jürgenssen, Austrian (1949-2003), Fensterputzen (Window Cleaning), 1975, c. Estate of Birgit Jürgenssen, Courtesy of Galerie Hubert Winter, Vienna

Erasing haunting memories?
Birgit Jürgenssen, Austrian (1949-2003), Hausfrauen Kuchenschurze (Housewives--Kitchen Apron), 1975-2003, c. Estate of Birgit Jürgenssen, Courtesy of Galerie Hubert Winter, Vienna

These are self portraits which Ms. Jürgenssen made to show how women focus on the needs of others.

Louise Bourgeois (1911, Paris -2010, New York), Femme Maison, 1994, Collection of Louise Bourgeois Trust/Photo by Patricia Leslie

A locked-up, faceless woman confined to the home. What is your interpretation?
In the center is Femme Maison, 2001, by Louise Bourgeois (1911, Paris-2010, New York), Collection of The Easton Foundation/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Nil Yalter (b. 1938, Cairo), Topak Ev, 1973, Vehbi Koc Foundation, Contemporary Art Collection/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The curator for the exhibition is pictured above with a home for a future bride, made to resemble an Anatolian yurt which can be an enclosed world or a safe house.  Visitors are invited to step inside and experience tomb-like oppression.

"Provocative" is too conservative for some of the pieces which depict in video, sculpture, installation, photography, and painting, the states of contemporary, repressed women, their mothers and grandmothers. (I am not sure younger women can relate.) Overall, a sobering, depressing show which illustrates the sorry mental and emotional state of women for thousands of years. For younger women, a pictorial social history of the frustrations and pentup anger their foremothers tolerated and lived, an awakening and appreciation for the groundwork laid.

The exhibition is the second chapter of the 1972 show in Los Angeles, Womanhouse, by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro which represented women's relationship to the home and was the first "female-centered art installation to appear in the Western world," says NMWA.

Thirty-six artists from around the world have pieces in this show, some artists with several, like Birgit Jürgenssen of Vienna, Austria (1949-2003). Her renderings captured my imagination, and I photographed more by her than any other artist in the exhibition, without realizing they were all by the same person, however, the styles are similar.  The subjects and how she drew them are what attracted my attention for longer study than the other works in the show.

A catalogue is available. 

Monnaie de Paris, a government-owned institution,  was founded in 864 and produces France's euro coins.

What: Women House

When: Now through May 28, 2018. The National Museum for Women in the Arts is open 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 each month. NMWA is a Blue Star Museum with free admission for all active-duty military members and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day, 2018. Otherwise, fees are $10, adults; $8, seniors and students; and 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.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Olney deals a powerful 'Invisible Hand'

Thomas Keegan, left, and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Nick Bright and Bashir in The Invisible Hand at Olney Theatre Center/Photo by Stan Barouh

Once you see The Invisible Hand now on stage at the Olney Theatre Center, you'll understand why performances are selling out. The acting alone is worth the cost of a ticket. 

For regular theatregoers, it's another must see!

The story is about an American kidnap victim, Nick Bright,  a savvy financier, imprisoned in a dreary, grey cell in Pakistan, a developing country which, Nick's captors claim, has been ravaged by plundering Americans and
the "American Way"  (i.e., capitalism).

Nick's going to pay the price, or is he?

Perhaps his sharp financial skills can be put to the test, and serve dual purposes: If he can earn $10 million on shorts, puts, and sell orders trading on the web, he can save his own skin, and the money can be put to good use helping impoverished Pakistanis. 

Get Nick a laptop and the internet. Can he do it?  Anything is possible.

From initial confidence, Nick's slow demise is expertly delivered by Thomas Keegan under the skilful tutelage of director Michael Bloom.

From scene to scene in the single set cell (which never becomes tiresome, thanks to Luciana Steconni's design), Nick plummets physically and emotionally as he begs permission to phone home and save his life.   

He cries, he sweats, he implores God and loses self-control. Nick is human. Nick is us as we are swept up in the drama until we become one with him, fighting for life.
The cool and collected
"Bashir" (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh)      is the heavyweight captor who commands most of the action. He follows the Iman, the religious and community leader, adroitly performed by Mueen Jahan who determines the beneficiaries of Nick's earnings. 

Rounding out the four-member cast is "Dar" (Ahmad Kamal), in the beginning, a sympathetic guard who conveys empathy for Nick and soothes fears. Alas, Dar's mental comforts are shortlived. 

The play takes an unexpected turn when Pakistani colleagues upend loyalties. The actors' conversions quickly convince the audience of new personalities and goals.

Who do you trust? 

Applause to the sound designer, Roc Lee, whose electronic musical additions between frequent scenes usher in the emotions of the moment. Dogs bark, helicopters hover, and drones strike, contributing to the overall effect of the place of last existence.

In this case, it's is an excellently crafted cell with concrete brick walls and an iron grate for a ceiling. Jesse Belsky's eerie lighting from the side window and nighttime effects heighten the mood of cell life.  

That the playwright Ayad Akhtar reads the Wall Street Journal every day will come as no surprise (his dad bribed him with a subscription for years), but a hedge fund manager’s knowledge is not necessary to understand the dialogue. The words are defined for the Pakistani jailers (and the audience), and it's easy to follow the jargon (a tribute to the playwright).
The Invisible Hand is a term from economist Adam Smith (1723-1790), the author of the Wealth of Nations, who wrote that the pursuit of self- interests is more beneficial to society that interests pursued to benefit society (?), in other words, self-interest (guided by an “invisible hand”) has a better outcome than interests dictated and regulated by government (free trade v. restricted trade).

The grave of economist Adam Smith at Canongate Kirkyard, Edinburgh, Scotland which reads "Here are deposited the remains of Adam Smith Author of the Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations  He was born 5th June, 1723 and he died 17th July, 1790/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Mr. Akhtar's Disgraced won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and The Invisible Hand is one of seven compositions by Mr. Akhtar about Muslim-Americans. For the 2015-16 season, no other playwright in the U.S. had as many works produced.  

Olney's artistic director, Jason Loewith, told me that it had taken him since 2014 to secure rights to The Invisible Handthis its D.C. area debut. When you see it, you'll understand why Mr. Loewith worked so hard.

Other creative team members are Zach Campion, dialects coach; Robb Hunter, fight choreographer; Ivania Stack, costumes; and Elisabeth Ribar
, stage manager. 

What: The Invisible Hand by Ayad Akhtar

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

When: Now through June 10, 2018, Wednesday through Saturdays at 7:45 p.m., weekend matinees at 1:45 p.m., a 1:45 p.m. on Wednesday, May 30, and a sign-interpreted performance on Thursday, June 7, at 7:45 p.m. 
On June 5, a free seminar, Fundamentals of Sustainable and Impact Investment, will be presented in the Mulitz-Guldesky Theatre Lab from 7:30 - 9:00 p.m.

Tickets: Begin at $54 with discounts for groups, seniors, military, and students.

Ages: Recommended for ages 16+ due to violence, mature themes, and adult language. Contains live gunshots and fake blood. The Olney rates it "R."

Duration: 90 minutes and one 15 minute intermission.

Refreshments: Available and may be taken to seats

Parking: Free and plentiful on-site

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


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sylvia Plath's last day at the National Portrait Gallery is today

 Rollie McKenna, 1918-2003, Sylvia Plath, 1959, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Sylvia Plath's Girl Scout uniform, 1943-1948, on loan from Smith College. Ms. Plath earned 20 Girl Scout badges, at least five of them related to reading and writing. She turned in 30 book reports for one of her badges while working at the same time on stories, poems, and essays; collecting stamps; and taking viola, piano, and art lessons/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Sylvia Plath, Self-Portrait in Semi-Abstract Style, 1946-1952, Estate of Robert Hittel
To write The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath used portions from her college journal, 1950-1953, on loan for the exhibition from Smith College, her alma mater where she graduated summa cum laude in 1955. (The white circles at the bottom of the photograph are reflections of ceiling lights on protective glass.)/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 On the wall at the National Portrait Gallery is Sylvia Plath's elm writing desk, loaned from Smith College for the exhibition/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Sylvia Plath, Collage, which she crafted from pages in the New Yorker and other magazines in July, 1960 after attending an antiwar, anti-patriarchy rally in Trafalgar Square, London, on loan from Smith College.
 From Sylvia Plath's last set of poems for the New Yorker, on loan from Smith College.
The typewriter Sylvia Plath used at Smith College, on loan from the college/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Jenny Olivia Johnson, b.1978, Glass Heart (Bells for Sylvia Plath) with audio, 2013/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Today is the last day to see objects belonging to or made by Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery which are on view together for the first time.

The materials come from the collections at Indiana University and Smith College which has loaned them for
One Life: Sylvia Plath found in the Guenther and Siewchin Yong Sommer Gallery.

The one room gallery showcases photographs and objects from Ms. Plath's life as a girl, college student, poet and writer, wife and mother, her roles cut short by her suicide in a gas oven when her children were one and three years old.  

When her son, Nicholas, was 47, he, too, committed suicide, suffering depression, as did his mother when she died at age 30.

Dorothy Moss from the Portrait Gallery and Karen Kukil from Smith College curated the show which provides glimpses of Ms. Plath's background, perspective, and presents some of the tools she used to write.

What: One Life: Sylvia Plath

When: Closing today, May 20, 2018.  The National Portrait Gallery is open daily from 11:30 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Where: Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F streets, N. W., Washington, D.C. 20001

How much: No charge

For more information: 202-633-8300 or visit the website

Metro station: Gallery Place-Chinatown or walk 10 minutes from Metro Center


Saturday, May 19, 2018

For film archives: 'After Auschwitz'

In a new chapter of the wrenching Holocaust story comes a sad and remarkable documentary, After Auschwitz, by Jon Kean about six women who survived Nazi death camps to cross the Atlantic, marry, and become successful American citizens.

After release by American and Russian soldiers into the woods and on the streets of Germany at the close of World War II, these women struggled at times with new found freedoms, but eventually, in gradual transformations, could claim victory over fear, brutality, and starvation.

Testaments to their miracles of human perseverance, persistence, and sheer drive are understated descriptions of these pioneers.
Without giving the contents much thought in advance, I anticipated a quarter of the film to be scenes before and after the concentration camps, but I was wrong.  Gruesome visuals filled far more than 25 percent, no pictures or videos which I recognized.  This is not for the weak.

That the movie was a long time in production is not surprising given the years the directors/producers/researchers must have spent  searching for film to match the ladies' stories, and they found them!

After you get out of prison and are set free, where do you go to look for your parents? Or your brother? Or cousins or old friends?

One woman made it back to her home town on foot to find her family's house occupied by a new family who wore her family's clothing.

About 75 percent of Holocaust victims who lived were the only members of their families to survive.

One of the women cautions at the end: It can happen again, and it is happening, in Sudan and other places. Large numbers of skeptics deny the existence of the Holocaust. Violence, intolerance, and discrimination against those who may differ from you and from me are found every day in the news.

At Rotten Tomatoes the film's score is 100%.

Photographs and brief biographical sketches of the film's six women, some of whom are deceased, may be found at the movie's website here.

They are:

Eva (Schick) Beckmann, born in Prague, Czechoslovakia

Rena (Honigman) Drexler,
born in Sosnowiec, Poland

Renee (Weinfeld) Firestone, born in Uzhorod, Czechoslovakia

Erika (Engel) Jacoby, born in Miscolc, Hungary

Lili (Nutkowicz) Majzner
, born in Lodz, Poland

Linda (Scheffer) Sherman,
born in Amsterdam, Holland

Saturday, May 12, 2018

'Outliers' leave Sunday

 Pedro Cervantes, 1914-1987, Los Privados, 1937, Smithsonian American Art Museum

What will Mother think on Mother's Day?

If ever there were a better word to describe the huge eclectic mix of homespun art (and more) now at the National Gallery of Art, than “outliers,what might that be?
Nine rooms, spread over "acres" it seems, contain many variable pieces of art in all forms of media.
John B. Flannagan, 1895-1942, Dragon, 1932-1933, Whitney Museum of American Art, and, in background, William Edmondson, 1874-1951, Noah's Ark, c. 1930, Robert M. Greenberg Collection/Photo by Patricia Leslie

I welcome opportunities to see the ways artists interpret their surroundings and life, and bring to viewers and themselves, that which stuns and sometimes stimulates, not all for the good

A mix of overlooked artists and those treated with disdain by the arts community over the last 100 years, is presented in this exhibition with more established names, like Marsden Hartley, Henri Rousseau, Edward Hicks, James Benning, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and Jacob Lawrence.
 William Edmondson, 1874-1951, Angel, 1931, Robert M. Greenberg Collection/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Some of it is disturbing and painful, like certain pieces by Forrest Bess (1911-1977), a paranoid schizophrenic who developed a cult following in the 1980s and conducted experiments on himself (with photographs) in his quest to become a hermaphrodite.

Many renderings document mental conditions, illnesses, and family backgrounds. Optimism is missing, a reflection of the time which the exhibition unfolds in three separate periods of turmoil, fast change, and revolution:  1924-1943, 1968-1992, and 1998-2013. 
William Edmondson, 1874-1951, Tombstone with Bird,  1934-1941, Newark Museum/Photo by Patricia Leslie

The first period leads up to and includes the Second World War; the second, the anti-war movement and worldwide revolution, and the third blends the unschooled and schooled where difference is not a disadvantage but more traditional materials and practices balance the cosmos.
I must start with works by sculptor William Edmondson (1874-1951) from Nashville, my former home, and the growing reputation he has earned as his works continue to capture collectors' admiration.

 William Edmondson, 1874-1951, Jack Johnson, 1934-1941, Newark Museum/Photo by Patricia Leslie

In January, 2016, at Christie's Mr. Edmondson's Boxer set a world auction record for a piece of outsider art, selling for $785,000, a price perhaps since exceeded

I well remember the press and accolades his sculptures received at a 1981 exhibition at the Tennessee State Museum, one of the first institutions to honor him, preceded in 1937 by the Museum of Modern Art when Mr. Edmondson became the first black artist to have a solo show.

His birth date is uncertain due to a fire which destroyed the family Bible where important events were keptCensus records reveal that Mr. Edmondson, the son of slaves, was likely born in 1874.

He worked at various jobs and sold vegetables he grew in his backyard when, in 1934, a vision from God told Mr. Edmondson to begin sculpting a tombstone which he did, and kept going, using discarded limestone from old buildings to make decorative yard art, religious pieces, and more cemetery markers.
He never enjoyed much of a reputation while he was living, but public exposure was not a goal. He was driven by his heart to make godly things.
 Sister Gertrude Morgan, 1900-1980, Revelation 7 chap., c. 1970, The Museum of Everything, London
A photo of Sister Gertrude Morgan in 1974 by Joshua Horwitz

The show's catalog is about as big as the show itself with essays, excellent biographical sketches of all 80 artists, full color plates of their 280 pieces in the exhibition, and a handy checklist at the rear with names, titles, and dates. Once the catalog is opened, it is difficult to close. 
 Florine Stettheimer, 1871-1944, Father Hoff, 1928, University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
Edward Hicks, 1780-1849, The Cornell Farm, 1848, National Gallery of Art, Washington
Joseph Pickett, 1848-1918, Coryell's Ferry 1776, c. 1914-1918, Whitney Museum of American Art
 William H. Johnson, 1901-1970, John Brown Legend, c. 1945, Smithsonian American Art Museum
 David Butler, 1898-1997, Untitled (Windmill with Rooster), c. 1950, American Folk Art Museum, New York
Eugene von Bruechehein, 1910-1983, both titled Crown, upper, 1940s, Lewis and Jean Greenblatt, and lower, no date, Philadelphia Museum of Art/Photo by Patricia Leslie

The show moves next to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, June 24–September 30, 2018, and then, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, November 18, 2018–March 18, 2019

The exhibition has something for everyone. No one will be bored. Especially not Mama on Mother's Day.  I can't wait to get back!

Besides those listed above, other artists represented are: Morton Bartlett, Mary Lee Bendolph, Anonymous, Steve Ashby, Henry Bannarn, Patrociño Barela, Camille Bombois, Roger Brown, James Castle, Bruce Conner, Henry Darger,  Roy De Forest, Sam  Doyle, Louis Michel Eilshemius, and Howard Finster.

Also, The Gansevoort Limner, Lee Godie, Palmer Hayden, Mary Heilmann, Morris Hirshfield, Lonnie Holley, Jesse Howard, Index of American Design, Malvin Gray Johnson, John Kane,  Greer Lankton, Lawrence Lebduska, Zoe Leonard, José Dolores López, Séraphine Louis, Al Loving,

And, Matt Mullican, Elie (Eliasz) Nadelman, Senga Nengudi,
Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, John Outterbridge,

Dominique-Paul Peyronnet, Elijah Pierce, Howardena Pindell, Horace Pippin, Noah Purifoy, Christina Ramberg,
Martín Ramírez, Barbara Rossi, Betye Saar, Judith Scott,
Nancy Shaver, Charles Sheeler, and Cindy Sherman.

Alan Shields, Lorna Simpson, Drossos P. Skyllas, Janet Sobel, Jessica Stockholder, Patrick J. Sullivan, James “Son Ford” Thomas, Edgar Tolson, Rosie Lee Tompkins, Bill Traylor,Type 42 (Anonymous), Kara Walker, P. M. Wentworth, H. C. Westermann, William T. Wiley, Joseph E. Yoakum, Annie Mae Young, and William Zorach

What: Outliers and American Vanguard Art

When: The National Gallery of Art is open 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday. The exhibition closes Sunday, May 13, 2018.

Where: East Building, the National Gallery of Art, between Third and Ninth streets at Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. On the Mall.

Admission charge: Never at the National Gallery of Art.

Metro stations:
Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives or L'Enfant Plaza

For more information: 202-737-4215

Prices for the nearly 400 paged catalog in soft and hard cover start at $29.95 but a 20% discount with online orders over $100 may be obtained at this link.