Friday, January 18, 2013

DC doins', MAD, Chano D & "Barbara"

The next time you find yourself in DC, you must visit the National Portrait Gallery (@ 8th & F Streets, NW; tel. 202/633-8300) especially if you’ve never done so before. The Gallery, of course, is a major Smithsonian partner institution where fabulous, frequently rotated exhibits – and a permanent portrait collection – await your discovery. (If you go now, you will want to see the new portrait of President Obama, by Chuck Close, recently completed & just placed on display.)

Eastman Johnson, 1872
Two highly worthwhile shows are currently on view. The first, a collection of Civil War era art entitled, simply & unceremoniously, The Civil War & American Art (portraits, paintings, photographs), an exhibit that is part of the Smithsonian/National Gallery’s “Civil War – 150” celebration (through April 28th, 2013).  

Gettysburg Address, 1863
The art on display is varied, expansive, rich, poetic, profound, at times profoundly troubling, haunting, realistic, impressionistic … showcasing works by many painters & photographers (there are at least seven or eight by Winslow Homer, notably “Home Sweet Home,” circa 1863, in oil) and including a striking wall-size facsimile of Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” (1863) … compelling one to remain standing & still in front of the document – entranced by the well-known but idiosyncratic Lincoln “calligraphy” & well-wrought prose – and to read through the passages, silently, from beginning to end.

Robert Creeley
Langston Hughes
The second must-see exhibit (and there are more than two shows worth one’s attention!) is entitled Poetic Likeness: Modern American Poets” (also through April 28th).  This show is just a fabulous display of photos, portraits, and (some) related artifacts & memorabilia celebrating just about all (!) of our great modern American poets, beginning with Walt Whitman; you name the poet and he or she appears on display here, supplemented with snippets of their verse, and even sculpture “portraits,” in some instances.  One room alone features Ezra Pound, Robert Frost, Marianne Moore, Langston Hughes & Whitman.  There are great photos of William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Stanley Kunitz, Sylvia Plath, Denise Levertov, several of Pound (including a “golden” brass [?] sculpture), many of Whitman, one each of Auden & Eliot, Robert Lowell, Hilda Doolittle (HD), Amy Clampitt, Claude McKay, James Merrill, e. e. cummings, Gertrude Stein, Adrienne Rich, Frank O’Hara, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Howard Nemerov, Charles Olson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Randall Jarrell, May Swenson, Allen Ginsberg (early & late photos & images), and many more.    
Ezra Pound
Sylvia Plath
The photos & paintings are charming, dazzling, realistic, stoical, emphatic, memorable portraits of the poets by various photographers & painters and all are coupled with biographical information and, most important, with key lines from a notable poem, letter, or critical statement. One curious omission, for whatever reason, is John Berryman(!) … unless I somehow happened to overlook his photo on display somewhere in one of the galleries or in the long hall of photos bisecting the exhibit space.

If you get hungry, and you surely will, after your visit to the National Gallery, I’d recommend two restos we have sampled & enjoyed in the immediate vicinity that provide interesting lunch options daily, Monday – Friday:  Oya, a pan-Asian gem (@ 777 9th St., NW, near “H” St.), offering a very tasty, diverse, serious & sophisticated 3-course prix fixe menu at $20. AND Cuba Libre (@  801 9th St., the corner of “H”), featuring a wide variety of small “tasting” plates at, on average, $8.-10. & a “Cuban Bento Box,” with 2 Cuba Libre lunch special favorites & a dessert included … “served simultaneously,” at $16.50.  Both of these “downtown” DC restos are customer-friendly, inviting establishments, and both have full bar service with fairly reasonable pricing on bottle or draft beer & wines by-the-glass. If you visit Oya, you would do well to try the grilled tenderloin with garlic nori crust, along with a wasabi potato puree & asparagus; or, alternatively, the Atlantic salmon, with
Atlantic salmon - Oya
sweet miso ginger glaze, potato puree & lined with baby bok choy. Both of these enticing, well-prepared items are available on the prix fixe lunch menu; and, I submit, you will be pleased with either of these mains coupled with any one of the appetizers you select! Finally, don’t fail to sample the banana bread pudding for dessert … 

MAD exterior

Back in New York, we recently paid a visit to the Museum of Art & Design (MAD) located on the south side of Columbus Circle (entrance at 2 Columbus Circle).  By New York standards, MAD is a new, relatively small but unique museum that ought to be better known & more regularly frequented by New Yorkers & tourists alike.  At the moment, there are four very interesting – very circumscribed – shows to attend to running on various floors of the 9-story edifice. We began with “The Art of Scent, 1889-2012” (on through February 24th), an exhibition my wife had been wanting to, well, inhale since it opened in late November. 

Birth of a scent - "Spicebomb"
The exhibit presents 12 scents each considered to be “masterworks in their own right” – fromJicky” (1889; France), created by Aime Guerlain, and identified as “one of the first true works of olfactory art …” toUntitled” (2010; Germany), designed “solely for pleasure” by Daniela Andrier and, she claims, inspiring “a mixture of excitement and unease” while suggesting “the violence of nature.”  Each of the 12 major scents on display – ready to be sniffed carefully, one after the other – is, according to the show’s accompanying mini-catalogue, “capable of delighting, pleasing, and even shocking.”  And scent, like all art, or so the show’s curator reminds us, is entirely capable of changing “the way we perceive the world.”

Of course “L’Interdit” (1957; France), created by Francis Fabron – and representing the transformation of “nature in an abstraction” – is on display as is “Chanel No. 5” (France), a “traditional floral scent” encapsulated in a distinctly modern form in 1921 by Ernest Beaux. But the scents my wife and I enjoyed the most, found to be both fresh & refreshing, and thought the most distinct & unique were Pierre Wargnye’s “Drakkar Noir” (1982; France), through whose own creation he violated the “strict line between ‘fine’ and ‘functional’ fragrances,” and “L’Eau d’Issey“ (1992; France), a “breakthrough minimalist work,” by Jacques Cavallier, and inspired by the Japanese designer Issey Miyake, who together “fundamentally reconceptualized the medium of scent” in rendering “the concept of water through a work that was [is] pure, simple, and clear” … recalling for us “the unvarying scent of Japanese incense.”

Shangri La
One of the other highly absorbing & colorful (in every respect!) exhibits MAD is currently showing is “Doris Duke’s Shangri La:  Architecture(through February 17th).  The exhibit focuses on Doris Duke (philanthropist & art collector, 1912-1993) and the Hawaiian Island estate & Honolulu home (now a museum of Islamic art & culture) – Shangri La – which she and her husband constructed in the mid-1930s … a huge palatial structure along the island’s coast, replete with large swimming pool; landscaped, terraced ponds; an entire “community” of rooms, anterooms,  passageways & gardens filled with Islamic art, artifacts & items of every imaginable (luxuriously) aesthetic provenance & (effete) utilitarian variety – from rugs, to floor lamps & lighting fixtures, to sculpture, ceramics, furniture, draperies, and all sorts of Islamic props & wares. The structure is truly bold, magnificent, and, surprisingly, extraordinarily well-integrated & harmonious in terms of its contents (building materials, art & artifacts from Syria, India, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey), topology & location, overall impression & impact. Indeed, it is difficult to leave the floor on which this exhibit – full of period photos, journals, transcribed journal entries, press & personal clippings – has been so elegantly housed; but leave one must, in any case, as other things intrude on this veritable Shangri La.

Turquoise Panel  -  Shangri La
An addendum / a note:  The building(s) comprising the Duke estate in Hawaii – still known as Shangri La – are now open to the public, under the aegis of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, and there one can view these works of art & artifacts (some 2,500 objects in all) in their original, “regal,” setting along the felicitous, palm-tree lined Hawaiian coast.

Daniel Brush -
 Blue Steel Gold Light
Clifford Rainey - Glass & metal
The two other shows currently running at MAD are:  Playing with Fire: 50 Years of Contemporary Glass (through April 7th) celebrating the 50th anniversary of the birth of the American Studio Glass movement & showcasing more than 100 works of varied (in size, shape, colors, textures, media) glass pieces from MAD’s permanent collection & on loan; ANDDaniel Brush: Blue Steel Gold Light (through February 24th) which “brings together for the first time works from throughout Brush’s career, including examples of his poetic paintings and drawings, a selection of his most significant steel and gold wall sculptures … [and] jewelry made from plastic, aluminum, steel, and precious gems.” Indeed, both of these shows are well worth a look!

MAD's resto
And while you’re looking, take the elevator to the 9th floor of the museum and have a look, too, at Robert, the MAD bar-restaurant with a striking & expansive view out over Columbus Circle, Central Park & beyond. If you arrive between 3:00 & 5:30 (daily), you can take advantage of the Sunset menu featuring a variety of small items, including roasted beet salad, blue bay mussels, foie gras mousse & tuna carpaccio pizza. Robert is also open (daily) for lunch, tea service & dinner, serving contemporary American fare with Mediterranean influences … on a menu created by chef Luisa Fernandes.
Visiting Dizzy's

Just across Columbus Circle, veering northwest as you exit MAD, you will find, at 2 Warner Center (an upscale, mall-like tower), the elevator & entrance to Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola (a venue associated with Jazz at Lincoln Center).  A commodious & pleasant space for jazz, with yet another impressive view out over mid-town Manhattan, Dizzy’s runs two shows nightly at 7:30 & 9:30 (plus a late-night show on Fridays at 11:30).  Comfy seats in the broad bar area will cost you $35./person ($45. if you reserve a table) and the club offers an extensive New Orleans inflected menu, a good selection of draft & bottle beer, as well as wines-by-the-glass and all sorts of contemporary (trendy?) mixed drinks. All seats – at tables & bar area, alike – permit a direct & unobstructed view of the proceedings and easy proximity to the stage.  And, on the night we ventured to Dizzy’s, just a week, or so, ago we found – and, of course we knew we’d find – the Grammy nominated Latino-flamenco, “post-bop” jazz pianist, Chano Domínguez, on stage with his quartet.  

My wife had reserved our seats on this occasion as she had (weeks ago) been “blown away,” as they say, by the Chano Dominguez CD “Flamenco  Sketches,” the Blue Note disk commissioned by the Barcelona Jazz Festival & recorded live at the Jazz Standard in Manhattan a couple of years ago (in 2009). The performance by Chano and his quartet at Dizzy’s was vibrant, rich, rhythmic & colorful, but the live CD is a truly dazzling piece of work – magnetically fusing flamenco music (culture & voice) with the signature Miles Davis period sound – all in celebration of the 50th anniversary of “Kind of Blue” (also on Blue Note). Just for your reference, the 7-track Grammy-nominated CD contains all of the “Kind of Blue” tunes supplemented by two of Davis’s most popular compositions, “Nardis” (noteworthy owing to the original Bill Evans interpretation) and “Serpent’s Tooth” (a pre-“Kind-of-Blue” tune that was part of the Miles Davis 50s songbook).

(If the Chano Dominguez CD – and his “Flamenco Sketches” – fails to win the Best Latin Jazz Album at the upcoming 55th Grammy Awards ceremony, I’ve promised to, yep, eat my hat!)

Nina Hoss - Barbara
One other, final cultural note:  You simply must take yourself to see Barbara (2012; in German), the new dramatic film – Germany’s entry for Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar (it failed somehow, amazingly to my mind, to make the final shortlist!) – sensitively directed by Christian Petzold. The narrative focuses on a talented & perspicacious physician, Barbara (Nina Hoss; an extremely talented actor), living in East Germany in the mid-1980s, who has been transferred to a small hospital in the boondocks for, manifestly, expressing her desire to leave the GDR. Barbara is forced to leave her assignment at a prestigious hospital in East Berlin because of her request & her unacceptable politics. 

The film slowly & graphically explores Barbara's daily working life (her new “career”), her “romantic” attachment(s), and the constant persecution of her by the Stasi, the indefatigable East German secret police. The chief physician at the hospital, one Dr. Andre Reiser, gently (even endearingly) played by Ronald Zehrfeld, must act, for only partially articulated reasons, in accord with the Stasi demands to simultaneously “woo” her & spy on her even as she is slowly introduced to, and accepted by, the hospital work team Andre leads. The film is carefully, even painstakingly, structured and presents a depressed and depressing society, in whole cloth, as it existed in East Germany not long ago. This is a moving & disturbing film, in many respects, with finely etched & complex characterizations, full of socio-political & personal ambiguity. Although the film wasn’t chosen by the Academy as an Oscar nominee, you would do well to choose it:  it is, indeed, a “contender” you should seek out & see as soon as you can!

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