‘Ex Machina’ & Ted Lieu

Ex Machina is an excellent, creepy, and faintly problematic movie. Ted Lieu is a congressman from Southern California. As a just meaningless side note and, arguably, a moment of pointless name dropping, I met him a dozen years ago when I canvassed for him when he ran in a special election for an open seat in the California General Assembly.

This was part of a series by a nonprofit called Future Tense. It’s one of many semi-political, semi-advocacy, vaguely but not quite thinktank-y orgs that exist all around DC.

Lieu spoke well and amusingly and amazingly non-partisanly about technology legislation around the hacking of driverless cars, cells, etc. But I’ve always liked him. He even mentioned universal basic income or UBI as something worth attaining.

This was the second time I’d seen Ex Machina and I was able to better appreciate parts of the performance, script, and direction better. Like watching a surprising mystery, it can be fun to go back and re-see things again, knowing what one knows. The manipulations of the sparse cast.

But… the nudity seems problematic. There’s not a lot, except, towards the very end, there is a scene with great deal of extended nudity (there was an earlier nude scene which felt less problematic, as well), all of women (and all, my better half noted, women of a certain body type). I can understand why the director did it, in one sense, and I can outline why, I expect, he felt needed and why he felt it was okay. The gaze was female, for example. It was about becoming a woman (and a human). More reasons, too. But even though it probably wasn’t more than a minute or two, it felt like it lingered and it’s hard to fully explain away voyeurism. I won’t truly condemn voyeurism (I’m a man who’s used the internet, so it would be disingenuous), but maybe this movie didn’t need it.


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!

The Rodin Museum & Joseph Fox Bookshop

We went to Philadelphia for a two day work thing that had the first day unexpectedly cancelled, so we found ourselves with an unexpected free day in Philly.

Living in DC spoils an art lover. Most of the city’s best museums (which are some of the finest in the world, I would argue) are free. You get used to not paying for access to great art. Which does bring up some interesting issues: by making it seem like creative works should be free, are we devaluing the labor of artists (as has already happened online, particularly with writing and journalism); or are we making the arts more available to underserved communities? Just to put my own thoughts into this, I would point to the model of the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, which is free to residents of the county wherein it resides (Wayne County, if you’re interested). While that wouldn’t apply to museums like the National Gallery of Art nor the Smithsonian, since they are treasures for the entire country, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be thinking about various models.

But my point was that it has made me cheap and I couldn’t help but notice that the Rodin Museum had only a ten dollar suggested donation (per adult), whereas most other museums were charging twenty. Also, a large selection of Rodins was not something I could readily see in DC, whereas a large selection of (for example) Impressionists is something I can see back home.

It’s not a large museum, but it’s in  classy, Art Noveau looking building and filled with interesting pieces and has a beautiful garden with some larger pieces – though it was raining cats and dogs all day long, so we weren’t in the best form to appreciate, for example, a large bronze of the Gates of Hell.

A little later, we trod through the rain to the Joseph Fox Bookshop. I knew nothing about it, except that the Yelp reviews sounded promising.

It’s a very small bookstore, but it makes up for that by being exceptionally well-curated and giving a lot of space to smaller presses to publish (drum roll, please)… good books.

For example, the NYRB and Pushkin Press were amazingly well-represented (those are two presses that you can buy almost any book they publish and be confident that it will be awesome).

Naturally, I bought something. In my case, a recently re-published in book form long essay by Marcel Proust: Chardin and Rembrandt.


Yayoi Kosuma


There were five rooms (or five self-contained installations, if you prefer) and we only got to visit three before being escorted out (the museum was closing; we weren’t misbehaving, though there was some temptation, on account of our understandable frustration at the long lines preventing us from seeing them all).

The documentation around it, filling up the spaces, was filled with absences. There was the tiny, pink haired octagenarian that Kosuma is now and the provacatrix of 1960s ‘happenings’ and various forms of installation and performance art, but nothing in between those two periods.

While almost certainly not the curators’ intentions, it makes a bit of conceptual sense. Rather than infinity, I saw smallness and absence. Mirrors hiding cramped spaces. It was a joyful exhibit, no doubt – don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t see infinity.

Simone De Beauvoir’s Office

Or a replication/re-creation thereof.

And a brilliant idea by the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The Second Sex is brilliant and I have read The Mandarins at least three times, but when I first read about this exhibition, I didn’t put two and two together and realize that it was right here in Washington, DC. It was just coincidence that we happened to visit the museum that day.

As you can see, I got a kick getting my picture taken while sitting at a re-creation of her desk.

While much of the stuff were merely examples of things from her study and not actual originals, there were two handwritten pages from The Second Sex, which is pretty awesome.

A friend is a security guard there and she took me to see a marble statue and when I looked at the name, it was by Sarah Bernhardt, the famous actress of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century stage – who was, apparently, a skillful sculptor in her spare time.

The museum is a beautiful building inside, to boot.

Happy Independent Bookstore Day!

Kensington Row Bookshop

A few highly recommended local bookstores (with the exception of some university bookstores that are run by Barnes & Noble, there are no chain bookstores in DC) around the area that you might want to consider visiting in honor of Independent Bookstore Day. If you live in the area. If you don’t live in the area… well, use your phone. You can do all sorts of things with your phone these days. Google something. Or Yelp it. Don’t make this my problem.

Politics & Prose: Kind of the godfather of local indie bookstores. It’s got a really nice poetry section; second only to Bridgestreet Books, in that respect. Also, go downstairs and check out the discounted books – walk down and make a sharp left.

Bridge Street Books: I already mentioned the poetry section, which is both large and well-curated (with an eye towards promoting contemporary and conceptual poetry). It’s also really big on leftist/critical theory type stuff, filling it’s current affairs, lit crit, philosophy, and politics shelves with books in that vein. Curation, really, is the key to what makes this place great.

Kramerbooks: It’s not my favorite, in terms of the selection (not a small selection, necessarily, just not always my cup of tea), but… c’mon. This place is an institution. Gotta love it.

Busyboys & Poets: Up there with Kramerbooks and P&P in its locally iconic status. Lots of stuff on grassroots organizing, race, immigration, economics, etc. Not just liberal, but activist in nature. Technically, it’s run by Politics & Prose. For years, it was run by an awesome nonprofit called Teaching for Change and I didn’t realize that had changed until I looked up the website for the bookstore. Now I’m feeling kind of bummed out.

Capitol Hill Books: This is my neighborhood bookstore. Quintessential, piles of books in danger of collapsing on the perusers. Funky and friendly. But don’t piss off the owner.

East City Bookshop: A relatively new bookstore with some really comfy places. A little mainstream for my taste, but some excellent curation in its small poetry section.

Upshur Street Books: This place is out of the way for me, but it’s worked really hard to be both a neighborhood and citywide cultural touchstone. A focus on works by writers of color and great symbiosis with the bar next door, which regularly holds book/author themed happy hours.  Selection is small, though.

Second Story Books: It’s almost big enough to get lost in and has lots of really (and sometimes pricey-ish) old tomes, as well as offering legitimately rare, antiquarian books.

Kensington Row Bookshop: Not actually in the District, but in the cool little antique row area of Kensington, Maryland. Lots of events and a great focus on kids.