Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Painter's Eyes

The handsome Gustave Caillebotte wasn't your usual artist. He was rich, for one thing. He was also - among other things - a balladeer in paint of  modern urban life in 19th century Paris. The National Gallery of Art through October 4 is giving a fresh view of the man whose initial offering for the prestigious government-run Salon in 1875 was rejected out of hand.  The picture, prophetically enough, shows three shirtless men, their bodies highlighted by window light, scraping the floors of an empty room. We see little of the men's faces; the work is a cacophony of lines - long strong arms, circles and rectangles on walls and window, straight markings on the wood. Facial expressions and the human form are subservient to his  theme, which is almost architectural in spirit. A gorgeous display of fruit for sale on a market stall is a formal composition, as is the picture of a man and woman shown in an interior space and the view of pedestrians outflanked by the girders of a steel bridge over the Seine. Umbrellas seem more important than the people in one of his most famous works: 'Paris Street, Rainy Day.' And just as striking is the highly evocative scene from above of a traffic island on the Boulevard Haussmann. The latter is  'modern' enough as to be abstract art.
These impressionist painters always had their eye on the future when drawing portraits of contemporary life. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Urbanism on the March

If if isn't enough that Google wants to take over the digital world, consider the latest (as of June 2015) of their many ventures - a department to 'update' the wellbeing of cities. According to the New York Times' business page, former New York City deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff (and former Bloomberg official) has signed on to run Sidewalk Labs, a so-called "urban innovation company." Technology is at the heart of the move, of course. The ambitions as described are enormous. nothing less than 'quality of life' will come under its umbrella.
Will Silicon Valley itself next have a seat in the President's cabinet, maybe even at the United Nations? 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Tartuffe No Pouf

Moliere's Tartuffe now playing at Shakespeare Theater's Harman stage,  is a tribute to the human body as much as it is to the malicious wit of the 17th century sage. How leading actor Seven Epp manages to sustain such control simultaneously of both contorted movements and full voice is a sight to behold. It isn't for lack of experience, as he is a co-artistic director of the Moving Company responsible for the production. A viewer seeing him on his back on the floor commanding attention of all with both head and legs raised in the air has to wonder how many years of core training it took to acquire such wiles. And to sustain them. Is there a Pilates teacher  in the background getting full credit?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Ode to Oman

I went to Oman the other day and didn't even need a suitcase. Such is life in an international city.
I'm not fussy. I'll go just about anywhere if there is a promise of learning something new or seeing something old in a new way.  Going to the opening of the new Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center at the corner of L and 16th Streets in Washington's Northwest was a no-brainer. No ticket needed (free admission) and certainly no luggage since this was local and certainly novel. I actually was in Oman (the Sultan's home and, you might say, his kingdom). The newly renovated building - once belonging to Arts for the Aging as well as Planned Parenthood - is officially that country's territory, albeit far  removed from its striking location on the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
These days, there could be no more vital spot in the Middle East with Yemen and Saudi Arabia for neighbors and Pakistan and Iran not far away. But politics played no part in a program devoted to historic and cultural matters designed to impress visitors circulating throughout ts pure white walled rooms. Women lined up all evening to get a jeweled henna design on their hands and arms (and learned that lemon juice helps preserve the pattern).  An instrumental trio played 'typical' background music to accompany typical Middle Eastern hors d'oeuvres. (Nothing like an oud to set a mood.) The Lebanese Taverna catered; an Iranian-born calligrapher translated signatures - first name only - into Arabic script. (Mine  resembled either a ghost in flight or a gourd with a stick. So much for easy translations.) It was almost worth negotiating the day's deluge of rain that felt like more than Oman might get in a year to inspect the model showing the country's water filtration system. Take a look, Los Angeles.
Take me back anytime. There's actually some lush green space out there in the desert kingdom. Plus real frankincense that you can both drink and burn. It cures nearly all your afflictions, or so the sample handouts said.