Thursday, February 27, 2014

Two Super Photo Shows

Go quickly before the spring rush to the National Gallery of Art where a splendid eye-popping new exhibit opens next week that is sure to warm the heart of all urbanophiles : A first-time ever - in terms of depth and content - of the black and white photographs of Garry Winogrand, late of New York, Texas, Arizona and California. Feast on the loving but often wicked eye of this 'street-smart' urbanite who could also put the soul of rural towns memorably in a viewer's head. There is little sentiment and a  lot of soul in his work. "An epic picture of American life" from the '50s until his death in 1984, in words of guest curator, Leo Rubinfien, a longtime friend of Winogrand.  He portrayed "the spirit of the nation"  and "a set of values that had to do with living itself." There was a love of the immediate experience, and a rejection of the idea of someone 'out to make good photos.' He probably invented the genre of street photography but not as a voyeur or exploiter. "The core theme is freedom itself," Rubinfein noted in a press preview. Don't miss either the long video of Winogrand teaching and smiling - but hardly "lecturing' -  included in the show.
Everything here is cool in the very best sense of the word - a word that has many dimensions and declensions.
Luckily, the National Portrait Gallery has recently mounted its own take on 'cool' with an exhibit of close-ups of Americans living and dead who best embody cool. (Credit goes to jazz musician Lester Young for coining the word in the context that most people seldom question today.) Jimi Hendrix is the poster 'boy' while Madonna is one of the first women portraits to catch the eye as you enter the building's upstairs hall. Who doesn't want to be cool or, at the very least, enjoy images of famous Americans whose very faces alone show us its meaning.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Winter's Discontent

Shakespeare's 'Richard III' - now in a splendid new production at Washington's Folger Shakespeare Theatre - - says it best in his ominous opening lines about winter being the time of 'our discontent,' thereby labeling his own and England's (read you and the USA)  political and atmospheric situation as something less than ideal.
Indeed, we are now fully into the current season's unpredictable blasts of weather and woe. But why lose heart when there are such inventive and absorbing stagings of the classics to be seen locally? The staging of the play, which runs through March 9, 2014, is magnificent - on a par with the performance by New York actor Drew Cortese in the title role. For the first time in its history, the Folger is transformed into a theater-in-the-round with fantastic light and sound in an innovative design that gives Arena Stage a tough competitor. (It led one critic to state off-the-cuff, how Arena now looks "more suburban" than urban - ie a bit old-fashioned and staid.) Audiences should rally to this work to marvel at the scene while they ponder the grim moral of the gruesome tale. Do unto others as they would do unto you, at least in these historic royal precincts, and you end up quite dead.