The Florida Highwaymen


There is a house in Florida called the Florida House. It is advertised as the only state ’embassy’ in DC. It’s right behind the Supreme Court and catty corner from the Library of Congress (and also just down the street from my first job in DC, at a now defunct nonprofit called the Population Institute, whose main claim to fame is having introduced me to some of my best friends).

As an aside, it was privately funded, but is decorated like an official arm of the state, but is more semi-official. In fact, I have no idea what it even does, really, besides host some meetings.

It also has a nice collection of paintings by the Florida Highwaymen, which fact is not even mentioned on their website.

I made a mini-pilgrimage there (the only difficulty was the hours of the Florida House do not mesh well with working hours, if you don’t work close enough to walk there during lunch).

Sadly, the person who showed me around had no idea who the Florida Highwaymen were, so finding their paintings became an annoying scavenger hunt.

I jotted this post down because of seeing this article about them, so you can read that to get a better idea and, if you so desire, go further down the rabbit hole. It’s not my job to decide for you and I cannot be solely responsible for your cultural education, so take some responsibility for your philistinism or lack thereof, will you?

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Edmonia Lewis’ ‘The Death Of Cleopatra’


I came across this article about Edmonia Lewis, an African-American sculpture who achieved success in the nineteenth century. It’s a neat article, it’s not that long, so just take a moment and read it.

Ok.

One of the statues pictured look awfully familiar to me: The Death of Cleopatra.

I swore that I’d seen in the Luce Gallery. When we took our daughter to participate in one of the Luce’s many family friendly events (this one a ‘color-in’) I made a point to find it and snap a picture.

All the world is all around you, if you just take a moment to put the pieces together.

DC Artist Anne Truitt


Ok. I hadn’t actually heard of her until I read a (positive) review of the exhibit in the Washington Post. But I did go see her in the tower gallery at the East Wing of the National of Art. And I liked her.

It helps that she was a DC artist. Not just someone from DC (and technically, she was born in Baltimore) who then moved away, but someone who lived and worked in DC for most of her career. Thank you. We are an artsy city and unless your name is New York or Paris, we can probably kick your butt, arts-wise.

Her minimalist work, spaced out in the large, high ceilinged, and vaguely trapezoidal gallery, gave the space the feeling of a secular temple (maybe like the Rothko Chapel, to which I’ve never been). Which made it so disappointing that there was only one small bench, set off to the side were you really couldn’t see much of the art very well. This exhibit was just begging for a couple of rows of pews, where people could pray or meditate in a setting that really called for an appreciation of art as a spiritual practice.

Jackson Pollock’s Mural


I apologize for the distortion cause by my effort to use the ‘panorama’ function on my iphone

I am only slightly ashamed to admit that I first learned about this mural from the Ed Harris biopic, Pollock (which also helped to promote the apparently misguided belief that Pollock painted the massive work nearly overnight – the exhibit makes clear that he had been working and making progress on it for a period of at least several weeks).

So it was awesome to finally see it in person… and disappointing.

This is the first time the mural has ever been displayed in DC. The decision was made to pair it with one of my favorite paintings from the National Gallery’s permanent collection, Number 1, 1950, better known as Lavender Mist.

I first encountered Lavender Mist in a college art textbook, but without seeing it’s scale (it’s extremely large, but less than enormous), it’s impossible to fully appreciate. Sometimes, I will visit the National Gallery for the sole purpose of spending twenty minutes sitting in front of it. I’ve done that at least a dozen times (besides shorter visits, or visits focused on other works) and I’ve never grown tired of the work.

And… Lavender Mist is better than Mural. It just is. And it kind of ruined Mural for me. I wish I could have seen it on it’s own. Surely it’s important enough to be placed where one can soak it in, undistracted by other large works?

Bad call, curator. Bad call.

 

Vermeer And The Masters Of Genre Painting (At The National Gallery Of Art)


I have never been a tremendous Vermeer fan; I appreciate him, but do not love him nor seek him out. Overall, I was as enthralled by his featured contemporaries as I was by the master himself.

But I was deeply struck by a tiny aspect of a Vermeer. Woman with a Lute featured metal studs securing the leather covering a chair that ‘popped’ so dramatically that I had to stop, because in that first moment, I would have sworn they were three dimensional. I looked for some kind of painterly trick, but there was none. And it’s not like the studs were (to my amateur eye, at least) something of thematic or compositional importance. They were (presumably) a representation of the same plain (brass, I would guess) studs on the chair that was the model for this chair. But, wow.

Woman with a Lute

I saw a similar effect in the gold decorations on the sleeve of a woman in another Vermeer, Young Woman Seated at a Virginal.

But I can’t help but feel like that, if I were given sixty seconds to grab one from off the wall and make a run for it, I would not go for Vermeer (assuming we are thinking about keeping the painting and now trying to pawn it; in which case, Vermeer would have more value). His moralizing feels too stern and off putting, like a white evangelical church in Appalachian hill country that forbids dancing.

The exhibition (as the curators note) is heavy on images of women. It might almost be called feminist. So it felt a little sad that my favorite painting is actually one that features no women at all. But I have always been drawn to representations of writing and books and maybe I am looking for myself in these.

Man Writing a Letter, by Gabriel Metsu

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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