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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

The one where I talk about appreciating art

Posted on February 22, 2011 at 5:46 PM

So, you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been putting out as much recently. Well, I am on a crazy road, Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show, trip. Except with no Brother Love. Or salvation. I’m in DC right now getting trained up from Lutron and within a 24 hour span I will leave DC and return home, then leave home and head to Portland. I need a punch card for visits through the CLT airport. If I played Foursquare (though I don’t and think it’s lame that you do) surely I would unlock some awesome new “Same airport twice in 24 hours!” badge. Or something.

It seems like the only time I make it to Washington DC is when lighting mega-giant, Lutron, has some kind of an event. Last time I was here was April of last year for the donation of several items – excuse me, several “artifacts” -- from company founder, Mr. Joel Spira, into the Smithsonian. Now I am here for three days of training on some new products and a “king’s helping” of instruction on learning to program their new HomeWorks QS lighting system.

So, I left Myrtle Beach at 7 AM on Sunday and – after two First Class upgrades, oh, thank you, sweet, sweet Gold Member status! You are definitely pulling more swagger than those lowly Silver thugs. At one point in line when they were calling pre-board for “our magnanimous, venerated and presitious passengers seated in our First Class cabin” I looked at this harried, I’m-so-important-I-must-board-ahead-of-you! business man ahead of me and I saw the “SILVER” on his ticket and I nearly sneered. (Yes, I realize that I’ll be shunted back to their dregs next year, but for now I plan to cast as many stones and aspersions as I can muster!) Sadly, when you get bumped to First Class at 7 in the morning, your urge to started pounding free drinks is pretty tempered. Though, I guess I should say MY urge to start pounding drinks is tempered. The woman across the aisle from me managed to work through four – FOUR! – vodka mini-bottles on our 45 minute flight. I didn’t see what class she was, but it was a pretty heroic bit of liver showmanship nonetheless. Also, while we’re waiting on the ground in Charlotte the pilot comes on and announces that it is a cool and breezy 34 in DC. I’m wearing a button down shirt and a Polo blazer. So, yeah, not at ALL prepared for 34. I dressed for winter, not WINTER.

So, I left Myrtle at 7 and arrived in DC around 12, hopped off the plane to be greeted by 34 degree weather which looked at my Polo blazer and immediately started laughing and blowing harder and then jumped into a cab to head to my hotel -- $15 for like a 3 mile drive. “What’s that extra $3 for?” “That is for airport charge.” “Airport charge?” “Yes. Airport charge.” – and was told that my room at the illustrious downtown Hampton wasn’t ready yet but that I was willing to make use of the hotel facilities and leave my bags.

No problem. Since Lutron had already accommodated my flight preference allowing me to arrive early in DC just so I COULD have some time to look around, I unloaded my backpack of all non-essential items, grabbed a hotel map of the area, oriented myself, walked outside and immediately got lost, and then headed toward the museum sections.

On my last visit, I blitzkrieged through the Smithsonian Air & Space, American History, Natural History and the Archives. You can relive my excellent, foot punishing, ground tour of DC here. And while I could definitely spend another full day going through Air &Space I (mostly) managed to fight the urge to go and spend the afternoon eyeballing jets and missiles. So, here’s the map, follow along on my route...

I initially planned on checking out the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, figuring that they’d have some cool money-making/printing/engraving tour I could take. Or maybe just a room filled with pristine Benjamins. Or maybe a giant machine shredding and burning old bills. I don’t know what I expected, but I figured it would be something money related. Lots of money. So as I was walking and checking my map, I got sidetracked when I saw the FBI building and figured, “Oh! FBI building! I’ll stroll in just like Johnny Depp in Public Enemies!” After a wrong turn, and a moment of map checking – represented by the red ? on our map – I turned face into the wind and headed over. But since it was Sunday, they were closed. And it was clear with the giant metal blockades that were up that there were discouraging any further inquiry. So I headed over to the National Gallery of Art (already under the gentle pull and draw of the siren song of Air & Space...)

Before I turned to the Gallery, I noticed a giant building with "Newseum" written on it. I'd heard of this last time and it sounded really interesting. Especially since I fancy myself a journalist, despite whatever technicality it is that Jeremy G tries to hold against me. So I headed over and they had all of these newspaper front pages out from all over the world and it looked like a really interesting and cool place. Then I saw the part that kind of killed my interest; the part about the $21.95 entry fee. Now, if I had an entire day (or at least several hours) to give to the Newseum, I *might* consider the fee. (OK. We both know that I wouldn't. In a city where every other museum is free, I am going to require something bordering on Divine Direction to get me to pay $21.95 to visit the Newseum. So, nothing to see here, move along, move along...)

The National Gallery of Art is filled with lots of Renaissance era paintings and early portraits and works from the 1700-1800s and apparently has a very loose and broad interpretation of what kind of bag is and isn’t allowed into the museum. My backpack was deemed unsuitable for museum life and I had to turn it over. The guy at the counter said to remove anything that I’d like to make sure I get back. I took my camera but warned him that I am REALLY wanting to get my cracked pepper and sea salt chips back. He promised me at least a 50/50 chance. Almost immediately, I saw many, MANY other people enjoying their backpacks and even larger bags and just sucked up the obvious arbitrary injustice of it all. I do think that that all this cultural museum visiting is really helping me to grow and become a bigger person.

The Gallery is just room after room after room of paintings. And one thing that the classic “masters” were not shy on was drawing boobies and pee-pees and butties. Nude was in. Nude was hot. Nude was art! Thought you were going to lose your patron saint? Paint a generously proportioned nude woman. Nothing said “I am a master artisan and demand your financial aid!” more than some generously apportioned skin rolls, spilling over side fat and dimpled buttocks cleft. Even better if it is his wife or mistress! Ka-ching! You’re back in the good graces! And apparently the more nakedness you could cram onto a canvas, the more of a master you were. But after about 90 minutes of looking at size 16 nudies and cherubs and crucifixions and random people sitting in repose looking blankly and emotionlessly off into the distance or sad bowls of still life, I was ready to mosey on. They did have the only painting in all of the Americas by Leonardo da Vinci, the Ginevra de' Benci. To save you a trip to the Gallery, here it is. I’ve personalized the painting as I believe that Leo intended to sign it:

From the Gallery I headed over for just a quick palate cleansing visit of Air and Space. I didn’t spot anything new on my quick walk through and after saying a quick hello to the Predator drone and the 747 and the Pershing II cruise missile and a surviving Messerschmidt fighter and lunar lander, I reluctantly headed on.

In trying to go to the Arts and Industries museum (which is apparently closed or being renovated or relocated or just something else now, I couldn’t really tell) I passed the Hirshhorn Museum. It was obvious from the outside of the Hirshhorn that it was a modern art museum, and after my time at the Gallery, that was just what I needed. After completely circling the building once from missing the entrance, I headed in. The Hirshhorn features modern art of the type where you are likely to moan, “Oh, God! Even I could do that!” Giant canvases painted entirely blue? At the Hirshhorn. A black square with another white square hanging in front of it? Hirshhorn. A completely dark hallway that you walked down until to stop into a completely dark room that was *barely* lit by a single, out of site, red lightbulb off to the side? Hirshhorn. A room where slide projectors endlessly flipped through a series of images -- one that never changed as long as I was there, which, granted was only about 2 minutes -- while a monotone voice droned on about something? Oh, yeah, that's at the Hirshhorn. So, being the Modern Art critic/appreciator that I am, I took a few snaps of works or names that inspired me. I give you...The Hirshhorn!

On the basement floor was this painting of Napoleon:

I liked it. It had a rough, collage and mixed medium feel to it. It was way more talented than anything I could create so, you know, art. I figured it would be called something like, “Napoleon and his complex” or “Stepping out of one’s own shadow” or, you know, something artistic and Hirshhorney. So as I was walking away, I saw the ACTUAL title.

And I was like, “Hmmm. Uh, OK. I, uh, I did not know that. Interesting.” And, children, that’s the lesson to be learned here. Great art has the power to teach. And confound.

On I walked into the next room where I saw this:

My first thought was, “Damn! That looks like balls and, well, you know...” Perhaps it was all the ribaldry that I had just been exposed to at the Gallery. Where a man's genitalia was treated as it was intended; to be drawn, chiseled, and sculpted and then put on display for all to see for eternity! With that in my mind, I titled this work, “Brass balls.” Then I saw the actual title:

and I was all, “A-ha! I DO understand and interpret modern art!” Feeling inspired and enlightened, I went back to the Greatest Homo painting and looked at it again, searching from different angles and perspectives, letting my mind wander over the canvass, clear of all thought and then! No... Still just looked like Napoleon to me.

I headed into the next room and there was a young boy with his spiral notebook diligently copying this next work, and I must say he did a really good job of it. (Nothing as good as Lauryn’s interpretation of Red Wine Glass, but still, it was a valiant effort and I told him so.) So, I looked at the sculpture which was called “Moonmad” and I knew for sure that sculpture Max Ernst had it entirely wrong. This was clearly the modern art interpretation of a protocol droid/robot love child.

Go on. Scroll back up and look at the orginal. I'll wait.... Hum-de-dum... RIGHT?!!! That looks just like those two robots put together! Dude, high five your monitor and give me a, "Nailed it!"

In the next room was an interesting “Painted metal, fiberboard, and wood” sculpture by Jesus Rafael Soto. It was titled “Two Volumes in the Virtual” which I guess applies. But it looked more like “Ultimate pick-up sticks” or “White stick shower brings yellow stick flowers.” It was cool walking around it and seeing the guard lady blur in and out as the sticks lined up. Cool, but not in an I'm-ready-to-give-up-my-pool-table-and-replace-it-with-this-thing-in-the-middle-of-my-living-room-even-if-it-wasn't-crazy-ass-expensive kind of cool. Cool like, "Hmm. That's interesting. Let me walk around it a couple of times" cool.

On the next floor was a series of three paintings all entitled “Woman.”

After looking at this series for a brief moment, I decided that this painting really needed a subtitle like “Woman (I hate my mother)” or “Woman (All women are deformed monsters. They only want your money and a free meal and then they suck you dry like the Harpies they are!)” or “Woman (I don’t think there is anything wrong with wearing a skin suit made from different women that agree to come into my windowless van” or even “Woman (I’ve decided that I shall never have a woman, so to make my sad, forlorn, loveless existence more bearable, I’m only painting women as scary, dripping, blood monsters.” Yeah, "Woman."

Right before leaving the Hirshhorn, I saw this:

and immediately thought, “That’s just a red, yellow and blue wedge.” Bingo, Sciacca! You art appreciating bastard! Bing-go!

So, having exhaustively appreciated modern art to the maximum extent to which I am capable, I left the Hirshhorn and headed over to the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

I avoided visiting this last time in equal parts to the awesomeness which is – and shall always be – the Air & Space and because I really didn’t want to throw a massive, downer, wet-blanket on my day. But, I felt it was important to go and visit and I will say that the museum is incredibly powerful and moving and very well done. It has a totally different vibe and feel of any other museum, with people only speaking in quiet, hushed tones or the occasional gasp or sob. From the moment you walk in, you are lead into an elevator that feels cramped and confined and smells oily and metallic and feels like you are in something that the Germans would have used to transport people. It was all very moving, especially any of the parts that pertained to the unbelievably sadistic and inhumane treatment of children. I’ll not go into it in any detail here, but a visit to the museum should be a required thing for everyone. The current section of the evolving display area (as opposed to the permanent collection which is always on display) is Nazi propaganda and the way that hate messages were used and still are used today. This is not an exhibit that you rush your way through, and I stayed until they closed the doors at 5:30.

By this time the sun was low-low in the sky and I still had about 1.5 miles of walking back home and it was even freezinger. But I was squared-away on my map orienteering and I made a bee-line back. I could already feel that deep heel and center foot throb that meant I would be hearing tales and lengthy blogs about foot abuse from my feet long into the night. But it was a good day, capped off by some Thai food and a couple of beers before calling it quits and getting into bed for my 6:30 wake-up the next morning.

Categories: February 2011

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1 Comment

Reply mercedes
7:02 PM on April 5, 2011 
this is great. i've been an art student and frequently when visiting museums, i have to promise friends that art is easy to read and YOU TOTALLY GOT IT. seriously, de kooning's paintings of women, your analysis is pretty spot on. and funny.