Difficult Topics


Our little girl is adopted. More than that, she was adopted recently and was not a baby, so she comes to America with little understanding of her new home’s culture and history.

Living in Washington, DC, there are so many reminders of how problematic that history can be.

We visited Mount Vernon, the home of our first president, George Washington. Having been on a bit of a Jefferson kick lately, my recent reading has focused on the Revolutionary  War and early days of the United States – all of which has served to reinforce how vital he was to our founding. No, he was not a particularly good general, but his gravitas and dedication to some of the best ideals of our founding made this country possible. And then we talked by the slave quarters. How do you talk about these aspects of the man to a young child who knows little English and even less about our national origins? If she were younger, we might ignore it or gloss over it, but she is old enough, that you cannot.

More recently, her mother showed her the 14,000 shoes made into a temporary monument to the child shot since Sandy Hook.

There are so many things like this, that need talking about, but which are hard to talk about. I want her to know this a great country, founded on groundbreaking ideas emerging from the fermentations of the Enlightenment. But I can’t ignore slavery, Jim Crow, school shootings, nor the genocidal treatment and effect of Europeans on Native Americans.

And Lord knows, I have fallen down on these conversations, because they are so hard. They are hard in practical terms, because of the language barrier, but also in finding ways to talk about them with a young, but not so young, child.

So I end with no solutions, but feeling overwhelmed by all that we have to teach her about and the need to be honest, but not despairing.

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Gun, Candle, School


Leaving aside, if you will, the incongruity of my little girl posing before this starkly disturbing site piece, the work by Krzysztof Wodiczko was created for the Hirshhorn Museum thirty years (after another school shooting, I believe). The Parkland massacre resulted in its (re)projection being delayed, but there’s no doubt it remains incredibly offputting.

The little details, like the wedding ring on the left hand and the four different styles of microphone and the ‘Dirty Harry’ style of the silvery revolver, are powerful and disconcerting.

My girl, of course, understood none of that, but I want her to see contemporary art as part of her life and environment and something worth making into a special trip. But not as much as I want Congress to do something so we don’t have to worry about an enraged white man with a gun marching into her school with something capable of firing fifteen or more rounds without reloading.

Books In The Field


That was the title and subject of an exhibition (now closed – I caught it on its penultimate day) at the Society of the Cincinnati, housed in the Anderson House, near Dupont Circle. The Society focuses on Revolutionary War history (Cincinnati comes from the Roman general, Cincinnatus, who you can look up on your own, but which connects to George Washington both resigning his commission and also only serving two terms). The books in question are the books used by Continental Army soldiers and officers during the war against Britain – mostly, as you might expect, books on military strategy and exercises and on medical/surgical techniques.

I am a sucker for exhibitions about books. I love looking at old books.

I will admit, it was a struggle to really linger over the volumes because my little one, unsurprisingly, is less enthralled by such exhibits than her father. I didn’t even try to complete a tour of the house later. But I hope to go back some day and see it all (the next exhibit is on Alexander Hamilton who is, of course, having a bit of a moment).

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?

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.