News & Politics
Arena Stage Artistic Director Hana Sharif to Speak, March 21
Tayo Adenaike at the Parish Gallery
November 3, 2011•
Born in Southwestern Nigeria in 1954, Tayo Adenaike, whose show “Faces and Emotions” opens June 18th at the Parish Gallery, recalls the looks he would get from his mother: “Depending on the occasion, her look could mean “Don’t eat what you have been offered,” “Get up and let’s go,” “Say yes,” “Say no”, or “Keep quiet.” Every facial expression conveyed specific meaning and every visual admonition must be heeded. Failure on my part meant a long pull on my ear or strokes of the cane the minute we got back home.
“?jú róró ?a. I knew what it meant. These three simple Yoruba words translate as “Words come from the eyes,” “Words are embedded in the eyes,” “A face says it all,” or “A face never belies the truth.”…They all see some evocative strength in the expression. This interaction between my mother and me, made me realize how much more powerful facial expressions are, than loudly spoken words. Over time, I have also come to realize that facial expressions and unspoken words, can say a lot about the society we live in. Within these frames, I have tried to capture faces and the emotions – the unspoken words that they portray.”
In Adenaike’s work, the audience is privy to a surreal conversation unfolding on the canvas. The figures, vague, conjoined, defined simply by negative space, speak to each other in a language of reverberating expression.
A master watercolorist, Adenaike’s backgrounds are a hazy atmosphere of dissipated symbols, stars, and full constellations, speaking towards a rich cultural tradition, perhaps muddled by globalization and the loss of ancestral knowledge. The dynamic faces among the figures, varying in detail and abstraction, recall the detached, languid repose of de Chirico, while simultaneously drawing upon the geometric harmony of the faces on antiquated Nigerian stone carvings.
There is also a certain melancholy and sobriety to the work, and not without reason. The human condition, one could gather from these works, is one of reservation and reticence. Says Adenaike, “I am not unmindful of my environment and the faces I see around me, as my country is about to celebrate fifty years of independence. Perhaps I should have painted the hopeful faces of us, as flag-waving children of fifty years ago, and not the adult faces we have grown into, with guarded emotions and veiled expressions.”
It is a show with a strong voice. Adenaike is an artist with something to say, even if one can only hear him by using their eyes.
For more information contact the Parish Gallery, 1054 31st St., or visit www.parishgallery.com.
Spring 2010 Performance Preview
What does Washington’s performing arts scene have in store for the first spring of the decade? Our resident theater experts weigh in with their top picks.
Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Ladies,” Arena Stage at Lincoln Theatre
Maurice Hines, a legendary Broadway song and dance performer stars in and choreographs this production, which is a pure, atmospheric act of serendipity of the man (Duke Ellington), the place (The Lincoln Theatre, where Ellington first performed), and show (a stylish, spectacular showcase of the “beyond category” music of an American master and legend). (1215 U St., April 9 to May 30.)
“Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival,” Theater J
The third installment of the “Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival” is being staged by Theater J, this one focusing on “Voice of the Woman,” with six one-night events by female writers, including Hadar Galron’s “Mikveh.” For more information, go to www.theaterj.org. (1529 16th St., May 5 to June 7.)
“American Buffalo” and “Reasons To Be Pretty,” Studio Theatre
Two new productions of plays by two top American playwrights. “American Buffalo,” David Mamet’s classic, blunt, tough-talk tale of three Chicago grifters and thieves, will be directed by Joy Zinoman, the Studio’s founder and outgoing artistic director, but it also has the prime-time actor Ed Gero heading its cast. (May 5 to June 13). Neil Labute’s “Reasons to Be Pretty” is the third play in which the acerbic master observer of contemporary American life takes our fascination with how people look or don’t, the others being “The Shape of Things” and the hugely successful “Fat Pig,” all performed at Studio. (1501 14th St., March 24 to May 2.)
The Terrence McNally “Nights At The Opera” Festival, Kennedy Center
Three of McNally’s plays dealing with opera, including his latest, “Golden Age,” a bristling back-stage drama about the premiere of Bellini’s “I Puritani.” (Through April 4.) There’s also “The Lisbon Traviata,” about two men’s obsession with a Maria Callas recording of “La Traviata.” (Through April 11.) Finally, there’s a play about Callas herself in “Master Class,” starring Tyne Daly as Callas, no slouch in diva roles herself. (March 25 to April 8.) Visit www.kennedy-center.org for details on dates, times and theaters.
“Thurgood,” Kennedy Center
A new play about the pioneering civil rights giant and Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, starring Laurence Fishburne. The production was written by George Stevens, Jr., founder of the American Film Institute, film and television director, producer of the Kennedy Center honors, Georgetown resident, and author and son of Oscar-winning director George (“Shane”, “A Place in the Sun”) Stevens. (June 1 to 20.)
The Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, Kennedy Center
It’s the 15th time around for this landmark festival, with three nights of jazz focusing on women artists and musicians May 20-22 on the occasion of Williams’ 100th anniversary year of her birth. (May 20 to 22.)
“Clybourne Park,” Woolly Mammoth Theatre
The original and caustically sharp voice of playwright Bruce Norris is heard again in “Clybourne Park”, where Norris’ work has been performed before. This time, Artistic Director Howie Shalwitz directs this off-Broadway hit, in which a Chicago neighborhood suffers demographic and ethnic explosions several times. (Through April 11.)
“Hamlet,” Washington National Opera at The Kennedy Center
That would be the opera version, composed by Ambroise Thomas. “Hamlet” will close out the 2009-2010 WNO season, which includes a famous Ophelia mad scene, as it should. A Kansas City Lyric Opera production in French. (641 D St., May 19 to June 4.)
“Fiddler on the Roof,” National Theatre
The Jerome Robbins-created musical about a shtetl milkman named Tevye who cares about tradition has by now become a tradition itself, and this time it’s headed up by playwright-actor Harvey Fierstein (“Torch Song Trilogy”), who carries on a play-long debate with Jehovah, mostly in song. On the other hand, it’s a show that still works, it still has something to say (and sing) to contemporary audiences and it will do so. (1321 Pennsylvania Ave., April 13 to May 9.)
“Anoushka Shankar,” Sixth and I Historic Synagogue
The Washington Performing Arts Society is known for the world-wide, top-drawer musical and dance talent and groups that it brings to places like the Kennedy Center and the Music Center at Strathmore, but its footprints can also be increasingly found in smaller venues. This time it’s the downtown Sixth and I Synagogue, where the accomplished and high-pedigree sitar player and composer Anoushka Shankar, daughter of the renowned Ravi Shankar, will perform “Sudakshini,” a musical journey from North and South India with richly varied musical influences and sounds. (600 Eye St., April 17.) – Gary Tischler
Laura Benanti, Kennedy Center
Let her entertain you. Benanti won a Tony for her role as Louise in the most recent Broadway revival of “Gypsy,” and she’s part of the excellent Barbara Cook’s “Spotlight” series at the Kennedy Center. (Terrace Theatre, April 30.)
“Sycamore Trees,” Signature Theatre
Ricky Ian Gordon is one of the most interesting and prolific contemporary composers (he’s worked in genres from opera to musicals to ballet), and he’s a recipient of Signature Theatre’s American Musical Voices Project Award. His new work for the company, “Sycamore Trees,” has highly personal and bittersweet roots, as it follows his family from the Bronx to the suburbs in a search of a better life. (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, May 18 to June 20.)
“Genius3,” The Washington Ballet at Sidney Harman Hall
TWB’s “Genius3” program promises to live up to its name. Twyla Tharp’s giddy “Push Comes to Shove” and George Balanchine’s coolly modernist masterwork “The Four Temperaments” are about as far from each other in style as you can get, but each is a knockout in its own way. Add Mark Morris’s “Pacific” and Nacho Duato’s “Cor Perdut” and you’ve got the makings of a terrific evening of dance. (610 F St., May 19 to 23,)
“Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” Shakespeare Theatre Company at Sidney Harman Hall
Morality and money were two of George Bernard Shaw’s favorite triggers for drama, and the two clash in high style in “Mrs. Warren’s Profession.” The Shakespeare Theatre mounts the story of a young woman who discovers her education was paid for by her mother’s ill-gotten gains, and it’s a work that still has plenty to say about the choices we make — and their price. (610 F St., June 8 to July 11.)
“A Man of No Importance,” Keegan Theatre
You’ll enjoy this chamber-sized musical, based on the Albert Finney film, about a Dublin bus driver who yearns for beauty in both romance and the theatre. The show should be a good fit for the Irish-focused Keegan Theatre. (1742 Church St., June 10 to July 11.)
“Tempest,” Folger Consort
The stars have aligned for this production, a combination of Matthew Locke’s 17th-century music for the play with dramatic selections performed by actors, including Sir Derek Jacobi and Lynn Redgrave. Countertenor David Daniels is part of the ensemble. (Lutheran Church of the Reformation, 212 East Capitol St. N.E., June 10; Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, Bethesda, June 11.)
“Zaide” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” The Barns at Wolf Trap
The Wolf Trap Opera Company has a well-deserved reputation as the place to catch young American singers at the start of great careers, and the company’s choice of repertory always offers surprises. This year’s rarity is Mozart’s little-heard “Zaide” (with its shimmering aria, “Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben”), and it’s got a gimmick: audiences will choose an ending for this unfinished work. Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” received a beautiful and hypnotic staging a number of years ago, and we can look forward to the company’s new production this summer.
(1645 Trap Road, Vienna; “Zaide”: June 11, 13, 15, 19; “Dream”: August 13, 15, 17.)
“Babes in Arms,” American Century Theatre
“Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” “Babes in Arms” has one of Rodgers and Hart’s best scores (“Where or When,” “My Funny Valentine,” and “Johnny One Note” are among its many gems), but this 1937 tale of youngsters with show-biz dreams is rarely staged. American Century Theatre offers a series of concert performances of the classic musical — and they’re free. (2700 South Lang St., Arlington, June 24 to 27.) – Robert Sacheli
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Secrets of the Double White
At the Phillips Collection, there is a double feature of (almost) white painting with Richard Pousette-Dart and Robert Ryman occupying different floors within the museum (1600 21st St., through Sept. 12.) It is the differences between the two artists that enhance the choice of having both exhibitions at once. In conjunction with the show, Yasmina Reza’s “Art,” a play focused on how a white painting puts friendship to the test, will perform at the Phillips on July 1 at 6:30 p.m.
White is not a color often featured in Western painting before the 20th century. It usually is found in paintings in clouds with tints, on the highlights in objects and sometimes in snow. Here it stands alone, or almost alone. Robert Ryman’s show is the best Ryman show I have ever seen. This is possibly because of the small scale of the work that allows you to pay more attention to how the paintings are painted. One can focus on the edge that is painted, the threads that stick up from the frayed canvas, and the actual strokes that tell far more.
Here Ryman astutely contemplates painterly means, and he is sometimes lyrical in a fumbling manner. His small works have the dramatic tension of a stage whisper. For me it is the all-black Jasper Johns and Robert Motherwell (of the “Iberia” series) that mentor Ryman, especially in his early works. Ryman is closer to Johns in being emotionally deadpan. Motherwell had more range than Johns or Ryman. And unlike Johns or Motherwell, Ryman does have one of the all-time worst signatures in art — very junior-high-school. Nevertheless, Ryman has had a huge influence on the look of abstract painting of the last 40 years; you see his pokerfaced progeny everywhere.
Visiting these shows for the third time, it is Pousette-Dart’s work that holds repeated viewing. With Pousette-Dart there is real experimentation with technique and an openness of the possibilities of painting. His extensive drawing with graphite into the final, rather than the preliminary, aspect of painting was innovative. His few sculptures are worthy of inclusion, not just sidepieces. They have a direct relation to the paintings, though they are lighter hearted.
In Pousette-Dart’s sculpture and the painting, there is overt and covert figuration. One work is divided with a male and female figure splitting the canvas, yet meshing in the web of space. There are biomorphic forms in most of the paintings. Visible is the common heritage of abstract-surrealism derived from Picasso and Miró. But it is Pollock and his allover drip paintings from the late forties that inform the structure of some of the greatest of Pousette-Dart’s almost-white paintings. Somehow he could easily integrate Pollock’s great reckless expanses into his much more intimate quest.
Pousette-Dart’s line is deft and unlyric but weighted and incisive. His use of space is always dynamic and active and his pictures activate the space around them. A painting should have secrets, and these wry and sometimes quietly joyful pictures do contain enough to warrant real looking. [gallery ids="99152,102834,102829,102824,102843,102847,102851,102819,102855,102839" nav="thumbs"]
The Two Sides of Rich Bloch
Rich Bloch is a 60-something labor arbitration attorney, serving most notably as a neutral arbitrator for the National Football League and other professional sports organizations.
Rich Bloch is also a professional magician and a performer.
Both things are true. Bloch likes to keep the two things separate. He does not do magic tricks for 300-pound linemen and their agents.
Nor does he bill himself as a lawyer-magician when he’s performing at the Woolly Mammoth with his show “Best Kept Secrets,” where story-telling, humor and performance blend with Bloch’s finely honed magical abilities and, for want of a better phrase, bag of tricks, which includes card tricks, the famous Harry Anderson’s Last Monte, the world’s fastest tricks, and the assistance of his wife Susan, who is actually a Georgetown University law professor.
“To me, they’re two different worlds, they really are,” Bloch says. He and his wife live on Cathedral Avenue. He has two grown children, both of them attorneys. Also present are a number of pets, cats, a sheepdog, and a giant macaw who reportedly does card tricks.
“Both of the things I love to do — being an attorney, practicing the kind of law I do and being a magician — have enormous rewards, but you can also get frustrated. When that happens, you just pass through a door and go into the other world.
“I simply tell people that 80 percent of my professional life is being an attorney, and 80 percent is being a magician.”
Now that’s magic.
Bloch has been a practicing — and it takes enormous amount of practice, too — magician for several decades, and done well at it. He’s highly respected in a boundless community where magic and all the stuff that goes with it — tricks, equipment, professional secrets, show business and uniforms — are an important part of life. He’s performed on cruise ships, in Las Vegas and regularly at Hollywood’s Magic Castle, where he’s been a five-time nominee as Stage Magician of the Year.
Bloch first got interested when he was seven, which was in New Jersey in a time when cities and towns had magic shops. “I was seven, my father had passed away, and my mother, a remarkable woman, was on the road a lot as a traveling saleslady,” he said. “There was this shop on the corner, and it was a fascinating place, run by this old man, and, because it seemed I had to, I said to him you’ve got to hire me as an assistant. He said, ‘what kind of experience do you have?’ And I said, experience, I’m seven. But then, I remembered I had heard about a magician named Ted Collins, so I said my dad was Ted Collins. He said, ‘that’s impressive,’ and he hired me. And I was walking out, so I asked him his name, and he said, ‘Ted Collins.’
“It’s a very special world,” he said. “But it’s more than just tricks and mystery. That’s once reason I’ve been doing this hour and a half show, that’s what it is. And that’s a different world.”
The Woolly Mammoth Theater is known for its edgy new plays, and draws a very different sort of audience than might be found at magic shows. “It’s a challenge, but that’s what I wanted to do, to entertain, to perform, to involve people in the magic show,” he said. “I love the small space, the intimacy and how you can interact with the audience, make them part of the show. I don’t do huge illusions, you can’t, but I do a varied repertoire of magic. I have a lot of equipment, and I wear a white tuxedo suit, one with a lot more pockets than most suits.”
“It’s taking things to the next level for me, and I think the response has been really good,” he said. “Good for me. It’s not the same. It’s not just about tricks, but it is about magic and it is about magic and me.”
In conversation, Bloch is self-deprecating, funny, really smart about his two roles and about magic in culture. He’s given considerable thought and feeling to what he does, and what a magician does.
“There is a difference between tricking people, deceiving them, and in creating illusions, moments of make-believe that seems real because it is,” he said.
Bloch, one thinks, makes magic magical.
“Best Kept Secrets” will be performed at the Woolly Mammoth Laboratory Theater March 31, April 1-4 and June 9-13.
No Slowing Down for Denyce Graves
A week ago Tuesday, Denyce Graves was in a car, talking on the phone, heading toward Dulles International Airport to catch a plane that would take her to Turkey.
Graves, the mezzo-soprano superstar of the opera and recital world, had just left the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, where she would be doing a recital on June 13, singing everything from Schumann to Handel to Gershwin.
Meantime, she would be jetting to Turkey to appear in the Mersin Music Festival where, accompanied by the Bikent Symphony Orchestra on May 28, she would sing arias from operas by Bizet and Handel.
The weekend before, she had just completed a grueling three-performances-in-a-row stint in Nashville with the Nashville Symphony’s production of Bartok’s one-act opera “Bluebeard’s Castle,” a production that included sets by glass sculptor Dale Chihuly.
“It’s something I don’t usually do,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s exhausting, it’s hard on the voice. I’m used to a busy schedule, but you have to be careful, you really do.”
Graves, in mid-career at full voice, busy with recitals and opera roles, is as close to an international performing icon as the world of opera and classical music has right now. It’s not just that — she all but owns the leading roles in “Carmen” and “Samson and Delilah,” and is the go-to voice and singer for historic and state occasions, such as the recent funeral for the renowned civil rights leader Dr. Dorothy Height at Washington National Cathedral. Her meteoric rise from what’s been described as an “under-privileged neighborhood” in Southwest Washington still resonates as a shining example of dreams-that-come-true success stories.
She’s a triple threat — local D.C. girl makes good, wows them in her debut as at the Metropolitan Opera, travels constantly all over the world to perform at renowned and classic opera houses and concert halls. She’s the proud mother of five-year-old Ella, and last year married (for the third time) Dr. Robert Montgomery, a renowned John Hopkins heart surgeon, in a spectacular five-day wedding, preceded by a traditional Masai blessing ceremony in Kenya.
She has grown into her fame and status, something that wasn’t always easy to handle. Being a role model is in the mix too: young African Americans look up to her as a measure of just how high you can reach. “That’s important, certainly,” she said. “I remember looking up to Leontyne Price in just the same way, or thinking of Marian Anderson, and everything she had to go through to persevere. And I love working with young people, and make sure they can come and see my performances.”
Probably the biggest role model for Graves remains her mother, now the doting grandmother, who you could hear her talking in the background.
“My mom raised us (there were three children) by herself, our father left us, she worked at UDC, she was the single mother, let me tell you,” she said. “There was no chance of us straying from the straight and narrow. I was a bit of a loner, kind of awkward, I wasn’t what you would call a cool kid.”
But getting into Duke Ellington School for the Arts changed all that. She blossomed there, discovering the wide world of opera and classical music.
“Duke Ellington and Judith Grove, one of my teachers there, was and is a huge part of my success. I discovered myself there, I am eternally grateful for that school,” she said.
Part of the last year’s wedding celebration, in fact, was a day-after picnic on the school grounds in Georgetown. She and her husband live in Bethesda.
She still seems to relish and enjoy compliments, or if someone has a memory of her performances, like seeing her at Mayor Anthony Williams inauguration, Dr. Height’s funeral or a production of “Carmen” at the Washington National Opera last year, where she was a vivid, fiery presence.
Other people’s memories are even better. Here’s a Washington Post response to Graves when she sang at the 70th anniversary celebration at Marian Andersen’s historic 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial “Many of the tourists seemed oblivious to the operatic royalty in the midst. But Graves’ voice was so powerful it drew gasps from the audience as she sang.” She sang at the National Cathedral in a stirring and powerful rendition of “America the Beautiful” at a memorial service honoring the 9/11 dead, only three days after the event.
“Mom spoils my daughter rotten,” she said over the phone. “Yes, mother, where’s that drill sergeant we all experienced?” she laughed. “She is a remarkable woman.”
Her summer schedule is hectic. Following the June 13 recital at Strathmore, there’s the Cincinnati Opera 90th Anniversary Gala Concert (June 19), a performance of “Carmen” in Warsaw, Poland, (June 26), and in July there’s the Hohentwiel Festival in Baden-Wurttemberg in Germany, followed by another “Carmen.”
If you start looking over her list of accomplishments, performances, honors and pit stops- — she lived in Paris for a time — you’d think she could even think about resting on her laurels a bit. “No, no,” she said, shaking off the suggestion strongly. “Let me tell you, I’ve got a very big wish list of things I haven’t done, things I want to do, performance-wise, and many other ways too, roles, music to explore, life experience.”
We wrap up the conversation quickly. “I have to go,” she said. “We’re at the airport.”
Adam Lister Gallery
Think “alternative space” and your mind will conjure up concrete floors, unfinished walls, improvised lighting with wires dangling from the ceiling. Alternative spaces in the hip, art world sense are somewhat rare in D.C., but are even rarer outside D.C. itself, let alone outside the Beltway, as the Adam Lister Gallery (3995 Chain Bridge Road, Fairfax, VA) is. Adam Lister is a Fairfax native who recently returned from New York after studying at the School of Visual Arts. Like many artists in New York, he lived and worked in Brooklyn. While living there he was involved in organizing and participating in art exhibits within alternative spaces, as well as galleries in NYC and New Jersey. He’s even done a show in the back of a Ryder moving van!
Adam recalls, “We would drive all over the five boroughs of New York City, parking on streets and opening up our show in different neighborhoods. I also ran a studio space in the industrial section of East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The studio was in an old factory building, and we turned a raw 1000 square foot room into a six-studio ‘art lab’ for young emerging New York artists. I’m interested in the struggle and tension visible in young frustrated artists.”
The truth of alternative spaces is found in the rawness of its art. It is often more than a little unvarnished and with that famous edge, cutting or no. This is true of the Adam Lister Gallery, where many of the artists showing are still actually in graduate school. The work is inventive and searching. Its energy is undeniable. What it lacks in finesse is made up in earnestness, something often lacking in more “finished” work by artists further along. The urge to create here seems stronger, more palpable. There is more fumbling perhaps because more is being attempted.
One standout in the current show is Stephanie Rivers, the granddaughter of Larry Rivers, whose work fuses images from nature with graduated stripes. But the work in the show that is most magnetic, literally, is by Adam Lister, who uses magnets in surprising ways to create installation pieces as well as sculpture. His use of color is his own, and a pleasure for the eye. There are a number of pieces that incorporate mosaic, a technique Adam acquired while restoring New York subway stations.
With his gallery, Lister aims “to provide an environment and exhibition space for emerging artists at different levels in their careers. I currently have a rotating exhibition schedule and we’re in the process of setting up artist ‘labs’ for artists to have space to experiment, create, and have their work seen by the public. I would also like to create a space that offers rare and unique, quality artwork, in an area that craves a contemporary art space.” The gallery is currently doing an open call for a 2010 summer group exhibition. Submissions should be made online at www.adamlistergallery.com.
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Hirshhorn’s Homage to Josef Albers
At the Hirshhorn Museum, “Innovation and Inspiration” is a perfect title for the exhibition focusing on the work and teaching of Josef Albers. Albers is known for his work on color theory, and I for one have never felt color fits into any theory, as it is so subjective in effect. Nevertheless, Albers had and continues to have an enormous effect on the way color is perceived in everyday use. If you look at his color exercises you see the colors we see around us in everyday life, whether in the home, or office, or other public spaces. Albers is far more influential than Martha Stewart!
Albers’ dynamic early graphic work had nothing to do with squares within squares, and in the pieces on view he experimented with type usage. He also used work that implied dimension through linear perspective, something Albers would not wholly abandon. In addition a few landscape lithographs that are unremarkable represent his earliest work. There is also a self-portrait by Albers that is pure Kokoshka. It is surprising to see even a glimpse of expressionism in the exhibition!
Assemblages by Albers incorporating glass and metal/wire/paint/nails/mesh/imitation pearls from the ’20s look contemporary. “Window Picture” has beautiful, rich, expressive color. “Grid Mounted Squares” is glass/iron/wire and again uses deep color, quite unlike later Albers. Modestly sized, these works are like modern stained glass windows.
What follows of Albers work is mostly his endless “Homage to the Square.” I have been looking, and sometimes not been looking, at Albers for almost 50 years, and there is sometimes a surprise. Yet I often feel about the squares the way I feel about hearing someone playing scales on the piano. It’s useful, but rarely exciting.
There is no doubting Albers’ importance in his role as teacher. Albers was a Bauhaus member from 1920-1933. Fleeing Hitler and coming to the U.S. to the incredibly important art campus at Black Mountain College (North Carolina), Albers was a founding director. Some of the greatest figures in mid-century art in America found their way to Black Mountain, either teaching or in its student programs. By art, I mean those working in all disciplines: John Cage, Stefan Wolpe, Willem de Kooning, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson and many more. One of the most important schools of poetry is the U.S. is known as Black Mountain poetry. In 1950 Albers became chair of the Department of Design at Yale University.
Albers’ students, including Rauschenberg, Noland, Nevelson, Bolotowsky and Judd fill the last two galleries with paintings, constructions, and sculptures. I have never seen Kenneth Noland and Robert Rauschenberg hanging next to each other so amicably! Not to be missed are some wonderful works by Anni Albers, wife of Josef. (Through April 11.)
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In the Realm of the Buddha at the Sackler
At the Sackler Gallery, a wonderful exhibition of Tibetan art, “Lama, Patron, Artist: The Great Situ Panchen,” as well as a spectacular recreation of a Tibetan altar, have just opened. Situ Panchen was an 18th-century Tibetan version of the Abbé Suger, engendering the Encampment style that incorporated aspects of Chinese landscape and color. There are incredible paintings (thangkas) and bronzes in the show that have an amazing spiritual intensity. Though Tibetan Buddhist art is very much related to Chinese and Indian Buddhist art, it is somehow able to magnify its implosiveness.
Situ Panchen was an artist himself, and for that reason he was probably very interested in shaping the art that was produced for monasteries that were part of the Karma Kagyü sect he belonged to. Because Situ Panchen was a Rimpoche (reincarnated Lama), his life is chronicled, unlike most Tibetan artists. We know that Situ Panchen began to paint even before he had been schooled in painting. At the age of 15 he undertook instruction in iconometric proportions. One of the Karmapa Lamas, the leader of the Tibetan Buddhist sect that Situ Panchen belonged to, was also a noted painter.
The Encampment style of painting had emerged in central Tibet in the late 16th century. It was called by that name because the Karmapas lived in portable encampments, or moveable monasteries. There had subsequently been political problems that had resulted in the suspension of the style. Situ Panchen re-empowered the style.
Looking at Tibetan painting as a whole, the Encampment style stands out as being freer and having an extra element of fantasy. It also uses a sweeter and softer green and has some amazing landscapes, thanks to its Chinese infusion. In the midst of skies there are conjoined figures. It is symbolic, but at some level it is also sexual. Perhaps it is truly visionary sexuality.
In the show there are also some staggering sculptures of Lamas, some of the greatest portrait sculpture ever.
The Tibetan Shrine, with the contents of the Alice S. Kandell collection, makes an enormous impact. Though viewing individual works of art is preferable in the museum manner of the Situ Panchen show, the power of the actually quite-small chapel is possibly greater. I took students of mine, not well versed in art and not at all in Tibetan art, to see the show and chapel. They had a hard time looking long at anything. They stood and gazed into the fantastic array of Bodhisattvas and Demons and Lamas for many minutes, getting it. One student remarked it was just like his (Ethiopian) church. The chapel was truly enlightening. (Through July 18.)
In “Make Believe,” one of the classic songs from Show Boat, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II celebrate the power of imagination, as the show’s heroine professes, “Our dreams are more romantic than the world we see.” The world that audiences will see in Signature Theatre’s new version of the legendary 1927 musical will most likely be a startling one. Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer has stripped Show Boat of generations of gingerbread and ballyhoo to find a more realistic world at its heart, and in doing so hopes to make its characters and its theatricality more vibrant than ever.
The most startling fact may be that Signature is tackling Show Boat at all. Yet Signature and Schaeffer welcomed the challenge for more reasons than one. “It’s our 100th production and so we wanted to do something that was iconic,” said the director during a break in a recent rehearsal.
“It was also a show that we really felt was ready to be rediscovered.”
In an era of featherweight plots, Show Boat was the first musical making racial inequality one of its themes, and the show’s unflinching look at relations between whites and African Americans still “has a lot of important things to say.” The last major revival was directed by Hal Prince in 1993, so “it just felt like it was time” to see Show Boat on stage again, asserts Schaeffer.
Not only is the show laden with history (“It was ground-breaking in its form. It actually invented
the musical theatre.”), but it calls for a large orchestra and cast and elaborate sets. As fashioned for the 276-seat MAX Theatre, this Show Boat sails with 15 musicians and a new overture and orchestrations by longtime Sondheim collaborator Jonathan Tunick. Twenty-four actors inhabit James Kronzer’s evocative, multi-level unit set of blue-gray washed wood flanked by prop-laden wings. It’s a lovely visual metaphor for the interplay of theatrical “make believe” and often-grim reality that echoes through the lives of several generations of show folk.
Unlike most musicals, Show Boat has gone through a significant number of revisions since its premiere, and part of the problem is simply choosing which version to present. Working with the Rodgers & Hammerstein organization, Schaeffer solved that dilemma by creating a new adaptation, using the 1946 Broadway revival as the starting point and drawing material from both the 1927 original
and a version done by the Bern Opera in 2005.
“It’s like we’re doing a brand-new musical,” says Schaeffer. One major restoration is the song “Mis’ry’s Comin’ Round,” cut after the very first tryout performance. He also found a clue in the book that provided the basis for Kern and Hammerstein’s musical: “When you look at the Edna Ferber novel, it’s Magnolia’s story.” So the woman who grows from sheltered girl to wife of a gambler to Broadway star is the center of Signature’s production.
Schaeffer also addresses a lack of balance he finds in the existing versions of Show Boat in that its African American characters virtually disappear after the first act. He’s restored scenes for Joe and his wife, Queenie, the showboat’s cook. His direction, too, finds ways to keep a focus on the social journey of African Americans during the more than 40 years that the show spans.
The concept of change, as relentless as the Mississippi, is one of the Show Boat themes that Schaeffer emphasizes for both whites and African Americans. “I think how the show’s interpreted is really going to be new to people who have seen the old, grand productions that feel more like pageants. I think the show’s a lot more haunting than what people may think of Show Boat.”
Schaeffer knew from the start that his staging would not feature a grandly ornate Cotton
Blossom drifting in from the wings. (“It’s ‘No-Boat’,” he jokes.) “I just want people to be moved,” by this smaller-scaled, emotion-driven Show Boat, declares Schaeffer. In this production the interior of the floating theatre is suggested by a small footlit stage and a faded painted curtain. “I wanted it to be on a boat that’s breaking down,” he explains. “It’s much more interesting, because people are fighting for survival.”
Characters are also fighting prejudice. A racial epithet appears in the show’s dialogue, and the word still has the power to sting. In an early rehearsal, Schaeffer encouraged his cast to discuss
their feelings about the show’s language and racial attitudes, “and it was fantastic,” he says. “They were really passionate—and that’s exactly why I want to do this show,” since the conflicts in Show Boat are still with us.
“Yes, it’s going to offend some people,” he acknowledges. “Some people are going to get uncomfortable, but you’ve got to get people talking about it.”
“I just want people to be moved,” by this smaller-scaled, emotion-driven Show Boat, declares Schaeffer. Signature’s production has another goal: to reinvigorate one of the richest, if sometimes problematic, shows in American musical theatre. “The hope is that it will bring renewed life to the show. What’s so great about stripping it down is that you realize how important it is. You think, ‘I can’t believe this was written 82 years ago.’ It’s amazing!”
Show Boat plays at Arlington’s Signature Theatre through January 17, 2010. For ticket information
call 703-573-7328 or go to www.signature-theatre.org.
Spring 2010 Visual Arts Preview
Spring is finally in the works, which is good news for art galleries. After a showstopper of a winter, Susan Calloway of Susan Calloway Fine Arts recalls aborting two openings due to the torrential snowstorms. Now, optimistic from a successful show long since due, her gallery on Wisconsin Avenue has picked back up. “I sense a change in the market for fine art,” she says. Calloway has even seen an increase in business for the gallery’s archival framing services.
“I’m looking forward to the coming months with great enthusiasm,” says Norman Parish of Parish Gallery. The Parish Gallery has long helped make Canal Square a Georgetown destination. “Spring is here and with its beauty a breath of new life is anticipated for our coming shows,” he said. Parish, known for his focus on artists of the African diaspora, eagerly awaits his first exhibition of the works of renowned artist Robert Freeman (opening May 21). Freeman, noted for his theatrically alert groupings of figures and a continuing dialog within his work, focuses on race interactions.
Rebecca Cross, of Cross Mackenzie Ceramic Arts, has likewise been reveling in the dawn of art’s upcoming season. “Spring is shedding the recession. It’s more than cherry blossoms that are blooming!” Cross Mackenzie Ceramic Arts shows painting and photography along with top-shelf ceramics. Cross is additionally looking forward to showing her ceramic work in New York later this spring.
It seems that the economic devastation of the last two years is beginning to thaw with the warmth of spring, and patrons can look forward to getting back into the familiar swing of the spring arts season.
What To Look Forward To:
Addison/Ripley Fine Art
Christopher Addison of Addison/Ripley Fine Art is presenting a broad spectrum of Washington talent for the spring and summer season. Ranging from the serial abstractions and luscious surfaces of Dan Treado to the finely crafted, closely observed landscapes of John Morrell, Addison/Ripley Fine Art is sure to offer some of this season’s exemplary contemporary art in Washington this season.
In Treado’s third show with Addison/Ripley, “Requesting Quiet” (opening May 1), he works layering form over form, drawing from graphic and imagined imagery and juxtaposing subtle color with bold hues. The following month, June 12, sees the opening of John Morrell’s landscape paintings. From his offices above Georgetown, John Morrell, head of the Georgetown University fine arts department, has a spectacular view across the Potomac. Some of the artist’s impeccable landscapes reflect that inspiration while others elicit the scenic vistas of Maine and upstate New York. Finally, exercising his curatorial vision, Frank Day has selected a range of Washington portraitists in all variety of media for his curatorial venture, “Facing Washington.”
Irvine Contemporary’s current offerings are two solo exhibitions by contemporary female artists. “Swallowtail,” showing through April 20, is a solo exhibition of original paintings by Susan Jameson. Working with egg tempera on panel, Susan Jamison reflects on many traditions of imagery to create dream-like portraits and figures that question gender conventions. Reflecting back on sources like fairy tales, Renaissance portraiture, botanical illustration, and Kama Sutra manuscript paintings, Jamison uses the animals, plants, and objects in her work for their symbolic meanings, giving the Snow White-like female figures a contemporary, feminist perspective.
The gallery’s other exhibition, “American Vernacular,” features Susan Raab, whose documentary and fine art photography is noted for its distinctive approach in capturing the often overlooked places, people, and events in daily American life. A Pulitzer Prize nominee, Raab recently had a series of 10 photographs acquired by the Smithsonian Museum of American History for their permanent collection.
Long View Gallery
Long View Gallery’s upcoming show, “Identify,” features the latest series of work from Mike Weber. In over 30 photo-based mixed media works, Weber explores concepts of commemoration and heritage, including his own lineage, as he symbolically reinvents the life stories of his unknown or forgotten subjects. Weber selectively edits and reframes vintage snapshots derived from both his family’s collection and estate sales into newly composed digital prints on canvas. He augments these details with layers of paint, unorthodox collage materials and high-gloss resin, intensifying the mood of the original photograph. His artistic praxis ascribes a new narrative to his source materials and re-presents them as glossy, modern images. The opening reception will take place on April 22 at 6:30 p.m., and the exhibition will run through May 20.
Kathleen Ewing Gallery
In 1971, Steve Szabo, an award winning photographer for The Washington Post, took a six month leave of absence and moved to a 19th-century farmhouse in a remote area of Somerset County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. In contrast to his fast shooting photojournalistic style, Szabo began working with a large format view camera to record the haunting scenes of Americana he found there. The Kathleen Ewing Gallery will feature Szabo’s photographic studies of rural America in “The Eastern Shore and Other Images,” curated by Kathleen Ewing herself, on display from April 5 to May 29.
Marsha Mateyka Gallery
The Marsha Mateyka Gallery opens their new season with paintings from the estate of Gene Davis (1920-1985). “Gene Davis: Cool / Works from the Artist’s Cooler Palette,” spans the work of Davis from 1959 to 1983. Gene Davis became well known in the early 1960s for his dramatic stripe paintings. In this exhibition, a selection of paintings from the estate reveals a more limited palette. Subtle, gentle tones of blue, purple, and green collide with vibrant effects.
Susan Calloway Fine Arts
Opening April 2 at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, “Changing Planes” is an exhibit of cityscapes by Linda Press. Press, interested in the poetic quality of light and shadow, engrains her European and American cityscapes with a sense of history in the architectural details of her work. Opening on April 9, and running in conjunction with Press’ paintings, the fine art photography of Diane Epstein captures the monuments, statues and fountains of Rome and other Old World cities, with a textural, timeless quality. Her show, “Italy: A Journey Through the Layers of Time,” brings to life the panoramic vistas of the Renaissance with the architectural details of the modern world.
In addition to the previously mentioned Robert Freeman, the Parish Gallery will be showing the work of Angela Iovino from April 16 to May 18. Iovino, a watercolorist who for the last four years has been exploring mixed media and acrylic, has produced work that could be described as expressionist landscapes, full of vibrant colors, rich textures, and lively brushwork. The work has been largely inspired by her travels to East Asia and Western Europe. With work on display beginning June 18, Parish Gallery will also feature the work of Tayo Adenaike, an eminent Nigerian watercolorist.
Since 1996, the Fraser Gallery has developed a well earned reputation for introducing artists from the United Kingdom to the Washington, D.C. region. Their upcoming exhibition, “In My Blood,” includes work by six artists working in a variety of media, connected by one common theme: their homeland, Wales.
Among the contributing artists, Carwyn Evans’s installation “Everything Seemed So Simple and Beautiful,” is a noteworthy collection of miniature dioramas of sites under threat. The representations include a rural school and a farmhouse in ruin. Evans’s work reflects his personal experiences while exploring broader social and political shifts in rural Wales. Much of his practice has focused on his migration from an upbringing in rural Ceredigion to the Welsh capital Cardiff.
The title of Helen Grove-White’s video “Rising Slowly” refers to the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and to the rising sea levels that are eroding the Welsh coastline. The work makes many allusions to the landscape of Wales, with its layers of misty mountains, lakes, coastal plains, and frequently changing atmospheric conditions.
The Ralls Collection
Through the end of May, the Ralls Collection will be featuring work of Nicole Charbonnet. Textural and built up over long periods of time, textures, images, words, washes of paint, and veils of translucent fabric and paper create a visual threshold in Charbonnet’s work, meant to allow the viewer not only to see the painting, but to see through it. These surfaces reveal a memory of preexisting stages or structures. Her most recent work, featured in this exhibition, shows Charbonnet exploring images from popular culture in her signature style, inviting dialogue about redefined gender roles and social sentimentality in today’s society.
Cross Mackenzie Ceramic Art
The Cross Mackenzie Gallery, always with an eclectic and impressive variety of work, is hosting a series of shows throughout the spring and summer months. John Brown’s “Vine Series,” featuring abstract photographs of Wisteria Vines, hangs through the end of April. The month of May sees California-based painter Andrea Luria with a series of “Big Birds” — lush, textured portraits of water birds and chickens. Finally, opening June 18, Elizabeth Kendall, a ceramic artist, has put together an installation of button-like hanging clay sculptures. The gallery will fill itself with these pieces to make the space feel like an inverted pincushion.
A bit further south in Fairfax, VA, the Lister Gallery is hosting a group exhibition, “Process of Perception,” starting April 9. The artists in the show deal with process-based approaches and concepts. The May 14 show, “Invisible Energy,” finds a different group of artists addressing ideas about tension, power and stimulation. “It’s been a true balancing act trying to run a gallery space and make art at the same time,” says Adam Lister. “I feel like I see a different side of the artists.”
Museums At a Glance
Smithsonian American Art Museum
With the recent loss of Jeanne-Claude, one of the premiere environmental artists in history, it is fitting that the Smithsonian is exhibiting “Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence.” Documenting one of the couple’s most daunting projects, the exhibition exposes the history and work behind “Running Fence,” an 18-foot high, 24.5-mile long stretch of white nylon fabric, that ran at one end down to the Pacific Ocean.
According to the Smithsonian’s website, “The exhibition includes components from the actual project, nearly 50 original preparatory drawings and collages, a 58-foot long scale model, and more than 240 photographs by Wolfgang Volz documenting the process and the many personalities involved with the project. Also included in the exhibition is a film by the legendary American filmmakers Albert and David Maysles, with Charlotte Zwerin. The film chronicles the unpredictable and ever-changing path that led to the completion of ‘Running Fence.’” The exhibit runs through Sept. 26.
National Gallery of Art
Allen Ginsberg, the counterrevolutionary wordsmith and ringleader of the Beat Generation, penned the lines that defined the unrest of his time. “Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg” is an exploration of the poet’s photography. Including portraits of Jack Kerouac and other contemporaries, Ginsberg’s poetry reflects a similar sentiment to his poetry: keen and sensitive observation of the surrounding world, intuitive expression, and a steady consciousness of a present time and place. The retrospective opens May 2 and runs through the beginning of September.
Yves Klein, an influential artist of unfortunate brevity, had a career that spanned less than a decade. The Hirshhorn presents “Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers,” the first retrospective of the artist’s work in nearly 30 years, opening May 20 and showing through September. The Hirshhorn explains, “Yves Klein took the European art scene by storm in a prolific career that lasted only from 1954 to 1962, when he suffered a heart attack at the age of 34 … Klein was an innovator who embraced painting, sculpture, performance, photography, music, theater, film, architecture, and theoretical writing. Self-identified as ‘the painter of space,’ he sought to achieve immaterial spirituality through pure color. The artist’s diverse body of work represents a pivotal transition from modern art’s concern with the material object to contemporary notions of the conceptual nature of art.”
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