Rae Armantrout At The Phillips Collection

February 23, 2015 § Leave a comment


For the last six years, one of the poetry readings in the Folger’s poetry series is held at the Phillips Collection, a private museum in DC. It bills itself (and I don’t doubt it) as the first modern art museum in America (it was founded in the twenties).

Rae Armantrout read in dialogue with an exhibit of Man Ray’s work entitled, Human Equations.

I got into the museum about twenty minutes early, so did a quick stroll through the Man Rays and also their permanent collection.

My father and I had just been talking about smaller, regional museums and their acquisition struggles. It is often a choice between buying first rate pieces by second rate artists or second rate pieces by first rate artists (the Phillips doesn’t have this problem – it’s got a first rate collection, through and through). Specifically, we talked about the Montgomery Museum of Art in Montgomery, Alabama. They have an excellent Hopper (my father noted) and a very good Rothko (I mentioned; though the Hopper is better).

Well, I’m strolling and what do I see but nearly half a dozen very fine Hoppers (though smaller than the one in Montgomery). A moment later, I walk by a sign for the ‘Rothko Room.’ Inside were four, good sized Rothkos (do you ever see a small Rothko? I don’t think I have). However, save one, they had color or color combinations that I found almost physically repulsive (that yellow!). I usually enjoy his work but… eewww.

Armantrout, it turns out, for me anyway, is better read on the page.

She admitted to not having a massive interest in art and having not had any particular interest in nor experience of Man Ray before being invited. Her comments about the pieces were shallow and the connections between her chosen poems and the art were flimsy and unconvincing. I can understand reservations about Man Ray, but she radiated a palpable disdain for the man and his work. I actually asked a question that came down to: Do you like Man Ray’s work? She said yes, but I am not persuaded.

Guy Raz from NPR moderated the conversation and it’s clear he know little about poetry. His questions were of a high school variety – variations on ‘how do you write a poem?’

Even though, once she’d signed my book, I still have forty-five minutes left to further peruse the museum (they’ve got a great De Kooning), I was so turned off by the event that I just left.

‘Mary Stuart’ (The Book)

February 19, 2015 § Leave a comment


In addition to going to see Mary Stuart performed at the Folger, I also have a copy of the play and I’ve been reading it.

There was no good way to do this: either I’m spoiling a play I’m about to see or else I’m rehashing in book form a play that I just saw. I went for the latter.

It’s good, but also reinforces something that nags at the brain.

It’s not as good as Shakespeare.

Well… duh. Neither is Edward Albee, yet we can mostly agree that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is pretty darn good. So what’s up?

Oswald deliberately uses iambic pentameter and the play itself actually takes place in Shakespeare’s lifetime, so the comparisons cannot be avoided. And some of the themes of power, nobility, loyalty, as well as the wonderful little plots and conspiracies are very much out of the Bard’s history plays. And it can’t stand up to the (admittedly, unfair) comparison.

‘Mary Stuart’

February 13, 2015 § Leave a comment


Mary StuartI saw Mary Stuart at the Folger the other day. It was a Peter Oswald translation of a Friedrich Schiller play that nicely combined the language Shakespearean style classicism and (also Shakespearean style) timelessness. He kept iambic pentameter rhythms and that certainly helped. Not the humanity spanning scale of Shakespeare, but good, nonetheless.

The set piece, as it were, was a meeting between Elizabeth and Mary, arranged so as to appear a chance meeting – with Elizabeth hunting near the castle where Mary was under lock and key and Mary, unusually, allowed some small taste of well guarded freedom in the outdoors.

In a way, the set piece was a let down. I was led to expect some showdown between the two that Mary’s wit, charm and inner nobility would win. Elizabeth, during part of Mary’s big speech, was looking up and to her right – directly towards where I was sitting. Her expression wonderfully captured a sense of contempt for Mary’s posturing.

Leicester was a wonderfully deceitful, semi-villain and Mary was great, but I was more impressed by Elizabeth – and not just that one moment. Her vanity and her fickle choice of favorites were well captured, but without sacrificing her realpolitik. It was all well and good to be high and mighty about royal prerogatives, but Elizabeth actually ruled, which came with as many compromises as powers.

‘The Dangerous Logic Of Wooing’ By Ernesto Neto

February 3, 2015 § Leave a comment


This isn’t a book, it’s large-ish art installation at the Hirshhorn Museum that particularly struck me a week or two ago.

Without knowing the title or reading the blurb, you could see that this was… not sexual, but reproductive. Organic.  The words and images that come to mind make it sound horribly unappealing and almost grotesque – pendulous testicles and breasts. But the work is not. It’s more primal, like an ancient fertility goddess with unnaturally wide hips and large, sagging breasts which is not intended to be a modern depiction of beauty, but rather of a certain kind of immortality of the human race, the ability to continue the species.

Forgive my terrible photography.

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More ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’

January 21, 2015 § Leave a comment


So, I watched episodes three and four at the Hill Center on Thursday.

With Netflix and a million television stations and streaming things, it’s easy to forget the pleasure of watching something with other people in a theater-like environment. I had a wonderful experience several years when we saw Casablanca on the big screen in a crowded theater. And don’t even get me started on watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show outside of its natural habitat – a midnight movie theater.

There is something about the shared experience that connects you with strangers.

And did you know that Patrick Stewart was in the old BBC series? Yup. He plays uber spymaster Karla, head of ‘Moscow Center.’ He has no dialogue. None. But he’s very good. He keeps totally impassive, ignoring Alec Guiness’ Smiley, but then showing delicate touches to indicate that he was actually filing away everything Smiley said – and also taking the lighter (if you haven’t read the book or seen this or the more recent, you will have no idea what I’m talking about and I’m not going to explain it to you – either read the book, see the movie, or just cheat and google it). He was only in his late thirties, but already completely bald on top. Not even a wisp, really. And already his hair with iron gray with some touches of black. He has a very distinctive (though also handsome) skull.

Rafael Campo At The Folger

January 14, 2015 § Leave a comment


9780822339601Rafael Campo read a wonderful lecture on Emily Dickinson and her relationship to science and medicine, interspersed with readings from Dickinson and his own poetry. Of course, I would have preferred less reading from a prepared lecture and more speaking. Among other things, the inevitably monotony of the reading voice sometimes made it hard to distinguish when he had left the realm of ‘discourse about Dickinson’ and started reading a poem by himself or Dickinson.

I bought a collection by Campo called The Enemy that was far better to read than I would have guessed by his earnest, but uncharismatic style behind the podium.

I wasn’t sure about Campo as the designated reader on a day honoring Emily Dickinson. I didn’t know much about him, but what I did know seemed far from Dickinson’s aesthetic. But he explained that he studied in Amherst and the Dickinson house was a source of poetry inspiration and solace to him, so all is forgiven! The collection even has a poem about reading Dickinson on the quad in college and the solace that she (along with Coleridge) provided.

As for Campo’s poetry, it is mixed.

There is a section about a trip to Paris which is beautiful and often haunting, with subtle politics, usually touching on issues around AIDS and its effect on America’s gay community. But there are also less subtle political poems in other section which comes across as heavy handed and too pat in their sentiments.

In general, he is very good when his poems are driven by place – or rather by memory of place. Provincetown, for example, appears often and is used to think about current loves, past loves, and how relationships have changed – for good and for ill – over time.

Ensemble Galilei At The National Gallery

January 7, 2015 § Leave a comment


I used to regularly attend the Sunday concerts at the National Gallery of Art. Usually they were some small group – a quartet or a duo (piano and voice; flute and guitar; harpsichord and violin; etc) – playing a mixture of older classics and some modern composers or off the beaten track.

This one was lured me in because it mentioned Marais, who was a great seventeenth and eighteenth century composer for the viol de gamba. But though they played a piece by Marais (and it was, of course, fantastic), they mostly played Scottish and northern European pieces and the combination was… eclectic. Frankly, I unsatisfied. I didn’t cohere for me. The mixture of Shetland reels, Greensleeves, and French composers from the Baroque was like a poorly curated exhibit, especially because little effort was made to explain to us (the audience) how the pieces made up a single program, beyond the simply fact of just being played together.

On the other hand, they have a nice exhibit of El Greco paintings. Mostly, they are paintings from the National Gallery’s permanent collection and some paintings from nearby museums (Dumbarton Oaks in DC and the Walter in Baltimore). Nothing spectacular, curation wise, but it’s just nice to see a bunch in one place.

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