The Grand Re-Opening Of The Freer/Sackler Galleries; Or ‘Illuminasia’

The Smithsonian Museum of Asian Art, also know as the Freer/Sackler, is one of my favorite museums. Not only is it directly by the Smithsonian metro station, but it is less crowded than many other museums on the National Mall and has some of the best spots for quiet contemplation you are likely to find.

After almost two years closed for renovations, the galleries are finally open. The grand celebration was called Illuminasia. Lots of cool stuff for the kids and some lovely music and some frustratingly long lines for food (the bao was excellent, but not worth the thirty minute wait).

There’s a nice exhibit on cats in ancient Egypt and a genuinely inspiring exhibit called ‘Encountering the Buddha’ that I can’t wait to see again (it does well with a complicated subject, without ‘dumbing’ things down; it’s a great exhibit for an audience that is not a specialist in the subject, but is reasonably educated).

The first video is of a member of the Silk Road Ensemble performing in a room of Indian Buddhas. The second is of a group of Tuvan throat singers and musicians (Tuva is a Central Asian Republic; don’t feel bad, because I had to google it, too).


What To Do With Periodicals

I also get Foreign Affairs and the weekend Washington Post.

Leaving the WaPo aside for the moment, I often don’t feel sure what to do with my other periodicals after I’ve read them. They all have wonderful staying power. Who would object to going back and reading some of the great articles published in the New York Review of Books down the road? But, conversely, who does want to risk being that person whose home is stacked with piles of  moldering newspapers, becoming the subject of a sad human interest story after the fire department has to bust down the door once your sad, lonely, and malodorous corpse becomes decayed enough to alert the neighbors?

I have kept the Poetry issues because they are small and fit easily on bookshelves. Sadly, I have decided that Brooklyn Rail, for example, is more likely to become a testament to my own cluttered nature than a source of continued enlightenment through the years. So I toss them in the recycling.

Mentally Stuck In The Library

civic-center-library-01The Scottsdale, Arizona library has a justly famous sculpture outside. My mother’s most vivid memories of me in Arizona are of me climbing on the pieces that make it up (it was allowed, I gather; and by the way, I am not talking about the ‘LOVE’ sculpture because that wasn’t there during my early childhood days in the southwest).

My most prominent memory of that library is actually of what felt like a terrible failure.

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The Kreeger Museum

The Kreeger Museum

I first read about the Kreeger in an article about dubious private museums. Two DC area institutions were mentioned: the Kreeger Museum in DC proper and the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland (which, if you only from the Real Housewives of  Potomac, you will not realize is actually rich, white, and equestrian). The dubiousness came from the possibility that the museums mainly existed as vehicles for tax mitigation.

Naturally, I had to visit them. Eventually.

Several years after reading the article, we finally made it to the Kreeger, in the Palisades neighborhood of DC. A low slung building of elegant, off white stone, the museum itself was designed by my favorite architect, Philip Johnson. It rather resembles a building wide expansion of the wing he designed for another DC museum, Dumbarton Oaks, to hold its Pre-Columbian collection.

The Kreeger, despite some excellent Southeast Asian sculptures, is primarily about pre-WWII European art. But darn, if it doesn’t have some great pieces.

Seven or eight Picassos. One from the sixties, but the rest from his early days through his peak in the thirties. Seven or eight Monets (a mixture of Giverny landscapes and marine paintings). Two Van Goghs. A Chagall. Two Gorkys. Some excellent, small Rodins. A couple of Miros. A Kandinsky. A Pissaro. There were even two very early Mondrians, which were deeply confusing because they were fairly straightforward, representationalist pieces.

All of them, really excellent.

The outside of building, once you got beyond a terrace filled with at least one Jean Arp and other pieces that looked relatively contemporary to him (they were poorly identified, if I have a criticism of the museum), with the rest of the grounds scattered with contemporary pieces.

It’s shameless, rich man exceptionalism at its worst. But well worth seeing.

The nearest one is called “Quill” and is part of a whole courtyard devoted to DC artist, John Dreyfuss

Monet, of course


Rather creepy, but cool

What a great Picasso, right?

Rainer Lagemann’s “Sean, Sara, Jess”

A Kandinsky, believe it or not, partly done with sand!

‘Chardin And Rembrandt’ By Marcel Proust

It was pretty exciting when this was published in English. It’s a little padded, to make it the length of a long chapbook, but that’s okay.

Chardin and Rembrandt opens with a description of a young man (clearly upper middle class, at least), looking around the dining room table and is disgusted. The half eaten food. The meats laying out. The ash strewn fireplace. In retrospect, it reminds me of the reactions of the narrator of Sartre’s Le Nausee.

But then he says to go to the Louvre and check out the still life paintings of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. By doing so, you will see the sublime in the quotidien. You don’t have to be a scholar nor even to have read Proust’s masterpiece to see the comparison to the episode of the madeleine or, really to the whole damn book to know that.

As for Rembrandt… he starts to write about Rembrandt representing something more traditionally sublime, but then he trails off. Literally. It ends with “…”

This is not a mature book, by any means. Proust is famous for his long sentences, but he also has a certain economy. This is more… florid. A younger man’s essay.

Why Is The Entire Staff Of ‘Brooklyn Rail’ Leaving?

Staff and Board Members Leave Brooklyn Rail En Masse‘ read the headline from Hyperallergic, an arts blog that I regularly read.

It caught my eye because I subscribe to Brooklyn Rail. It was happenstance (I got it concurrent with a subscription to Poetry; I’m always on the look out for deals on periodical subscriptions) that I did, but I enjoy reading it. It’s rather like reading The New Yorker when you don’t live in New York. There’s a lot to get from it, regardless of personal geography, but at it’s heart, it is a regional publication (even more true of Brooklyn Rail than its glossier cousin).

The Hyperallergic article doesn’t give any insight into why everyone is leaving (because no one involved will say), but it feels sad. Journalists are already such a precarious damn place. Arts journalists, more so. Does your local paper have a full time arts reporter? Or book reviewer? Much less an arts editor? Probably not.

For this revolt of thine methinks is like/Another fall of man.
– Henry V by William Shakespeare