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Our Nation’s Capital: Impressionism to Modernism

July 14, 2010

I landed in Arlington, VA a few days ago, fresh out of my car from Winchester and Shenandoah University’s Performing Arts summer camp, and when I walked into my uncle’s house, he said where do you want to go, and I shrugged my shoulders, and then he suggested I go down to the Smithsonians and check out the National Gallery and the East wing (or something of the gallery; the other building).

After tossing my two backpacks into the basement room they had set up for me, I was off in his Hyundai – the two of us whizzing through traffic as he pointed out various landmarks and discussed the make-up of the city, in brief.  We made it to the Gallery in no time at all and off I went like a (big) little kid tourist to gawk at some art – an entire afternoon of thinking, yes, I enjoy the way this looks, or, no, this piece is too rounded or boxy or just plain boring.

So it is fair to say that my knowledge of “art” is extensive, and this knowledge parallels my knowledge of public transportation systems, which I was told to take back home.

I had about two hours to take care of things in the gallery(s) – my uncle figured I could make my way through a couple, as did I – before my cousins came over for pizza and some conversation and some wine and some more conversation and the catching up that people who haven’t seen each other in five years and typically don’t see each other except in five year increments after they turn 18 and not because they don’t like each other, but because five years is a good time when people have lives – I still think all of us need to get together for a six or eight million man golf vacation (ah ha), but we will just have to wait and see who can accomodate the lot of us.

At the National Gallery, I witnessed real paintings, by real artists, paintings that I had only seen in books or online, paintings that were of my childhood – The Jolly Flatboat Men, The Boating Party, Still Life of Fruit and (Dead) Fowl. Who decided that it was a good idea to juxtapose the brilliant colors of fruit with those of dead birds and the like?

I must have only taken a photo of the dead fowl and game painting, but you can imagine how striking fruit and (dead) fowl must have been all arranged on a table – the epitomy of still life, I guess.SO long story short: I wander in circles through the National Gallery, through all the rooms of the second floor, the American painters of the 19th century, 16th century Florentines, etc., etc., and when I make my way to the first floor, I stumble across the Ginsberg photo exhibit, which I had seen a sign for outside, but had completely forgotten about due to all the dead fowl and Asian teenagers running – yes, running – through the gallery. (After a week of saying “NO” to my students at Shenandoah, I caught myself again acting old and responsible.)

No photos could be taken of the photos – I assume Ginsberg had a thing against metaphotography. Either way, it was an interesting display that documented another side of his creative. There was at least one naked photo of himself and a partially naked photo of him much older, both riveting. The series that caught my eye with some kind of splendor documented the changing seasons/scenery outside his breakfast table (kitchen) window. They, of all the photos, seemed to be getting at something deeper than Ginsberg and his friends; they seemed to be getting beyond people’s fascination with celebrity.

Adjacent to this little hallway of photos was a feature from the Chester Dale collection – a very respected famous collector with ties to the National Gallery – entitled Impressionism to Modernism and it featured the likes of Renoir, Van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin, Cezane, and others. It was an exhibit which I could have looked at all day.

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Afterwards, I hit up the gallery gift shop, bought some postcards, probably wandered around creepily, looked at some prints, laughed at the “souvenirs” thinking of my mom and all the souvenirs she used to buy me and my siblings, and then burst out onto the bustling streets of D.C. a little disappointed I couldn’t find any postcards of Gingsberg’s window pictures.

I snapped a photo (or two) of the Washington Monument, that big, bright phallic whiteness in the sky, walked closely behind a couple women smoking because I had no cigarettes and wasn’t really sure where to buy any and made my way past “The People’s Garden” at the USDA and into the Metro where I fumbled around with the ticket/fare machine as those in line behind me got pissed and made my way back out toward Arlington to enjoy some pizza and the amazement of what children do to occupy themselves as the rest of the world catches up.

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