Sunday, August 21, 2016

So Many Pleasant Memories

I have tonight & Friday night plans, but all other nights are wide open for drinks somewhere cool. That's the first date request. The second is a DC art date to see William Merritt Chase AND Romaine Brooks. PLEASE!
Can't wait to hear from you, sweetheart.

And I couldn't wait to say yes to a DC art date soon enough, so it was barely after 9 a.m. when my date collected me and we headed north.

Once inside the city limits of my birth place on a breezy, sunny day, good native vibrations found us a parking space a block away from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Waiting at a corner, an 89-year old woman got out of a car to join us in crossing the street, explaining that her husband dropped her off because he wouldn't enjoy the museum like she would. Given that she was an artist and a former docent at the museum, she was probably right.

Turns out he was her second husband anyway, the first having left her in the late '70s when that was the thing to do ("I had three friends whose husbands also just walked out"). She'd made the best of it, but it hadn't been easy and it had necessitated her compromising how much time she could devote to art.

She wished us a good visit and we took off for the third floor. Walking across a brilliantly colorful floor mosaic, a guard approached us asking where we were from. When we said Richmond, he inquired if we knew the state's three names. We didn't.

"Virginia, the Commonwealth and the white boys' state," he said unexpectedly. We were still processing that when he leaned in and said, "Now someone's coming up from Arkansas to rule us." Was this some kind of crazy Trump supporter?

"What just happened?" my date asked, as confused as I was as we scurried away. Why would a security guard be talking to us about such things? Had we crossed into the Twilight Zone and not known it?

All was right with the world the moment we stepped into "The Art of Romaine Brooks" exhibit, full of Whistler-indebted canvases in muted shades of black, white and gray portraying androgynous-looking women and well-dressed upper class lesbians of the early 20th century by an American ex-pat.

"White Azaleas" from 1910 showed a pale nude reclining on a huge couch, much like Manet's "Olympia," but bolder because it was done by a woman at a time when it was unheard of for women to assert non-traditional views of their role.

And these women depicted were completely non-traditional, I can assure you.

The show made a case for Brooks' fashionable and daring portraits of androgyny being associated with the so-called "new woman" during a time when sexually independent women projecting new and visible lesbian identities post-World War I was becoming more commonplace.

Drawings filled one gallery, all done for Brooks' unpublished memoir, to be called "No Pleasant Memories," surely the most miserable and accusatory memoir title ever, although the drawings were fascinating, often done in a single line.

There was so much estrogen in that show that you could almost feel it pulsating off the walls. We both loved it, although probably for different reasons.

Leaving the cocoon of the museum behind, we walked a few blocks to the colorful Bantam King - sibling to Daikaya - for lunch. Black and white Japanese comics on front walls, bright blue and green plastic trays on back wall and bathrooms that read, "WC: Kings, Queens, Errbody."

Best bathroom sign ever.

Our server was eager to share his spiel (and the fact that he's a finance major), disappointing us only when we learned that it was too early for fried chicken.

Not to worry, we dove into a killer starter, meatydumplings with chili oil, followed by bowls of chicken ramen. I chose miso broth loaded with dandelion greens, white onions, chili threads, soft-boiled egg and then added fresh corn while my date went with shoyu ramen, creamy with garlic and ginger.

All that was missing was a plate of fried chicken, but that's what future art dates are for, no?

From there, we motored to my old 'hood, Dupont Circle, and the William Merritt Chase retrospective at the Philips Collection in honor of the 100 year anniversary of the man's death.

Words aren't nearly good enough for the 40+ years of artistry we saw today, but I'll try.

First off, I learned that Chase and I are kindred souls on the subject of home decor. His philosophy was to think of walls as a canvas, with real life objects taking the place of color on them, something I've done for years.

With the darker palette of Frans Hals, Velazquez and Manet, Chase demonstrated his indebtedness to both Whistler and Singer Sargent in canvas after canvas as we swooned.

His portrait of Whistler as a fop had caused a rift in the men's friendship, but Edward Steichen's sumptuous sepia-toned photograph of Chase showed him to be just as big a one with a top hat, fur-trimmed overcoat, cigar and walking stick.

In a case were some of Chase's family albums, full of circa 1900s blue-tinged cynotypes of his children on the lawn and house details such as a staircase and candlelit outdoor dining table.

Behind me, a man spotted the albums and said, "These photo books look like my Mom's," and I knew before I turned around that he had to be an old duffer.

Hands down, my favorite was "The End of the Season," showing a lone woman sitting at a small wooden table on the beach near other tables, all with the chairs leaning in on the tables to signify that summer business had ceased. Down on the shore, a few people gathered.

You could almost feel her wistfulness about the change in season, a feeling I echo.

"Sunlight to Shadow" showed a well-dressed man staring into his teacup while nearby, a woman lounged in an elaborate hammock, looking away from him, the two clearly not speaking, supporting the notion that the canvas' original title had been "The Tiff."

Absolutely delightful was "Washing Day," a backyard scene of four lines covered in wet clothing with a laundry servant in a bonnet hanging more.

You could almost hear the sheets flapping in the breeze.

One of the most unique features of Chase's paintings were their unusual titles, such as "I Think I'm Ready Now," a portrait of a young woman from the back, facing a mirror. Left hip thrust out, hairbrush in hand, the train of her pink dress gathered behind her, it was obvious she rushed for no man.

Another, "May I Come In?" showed a woman in hat and muff entering from behind a door, the back of which was covered in paintings. He face reads as curious and sociable, so why wouldn't he let her come in?

Chase, we learned, was a devotee of still life paintings and considered unsurpassed in his portraits of fish, which he managed to make look believably shiny, wet and slick. The subject matter of "Just Onions" may have been lowly, but the rendering was so realistic you could almost smell them.

By the time we finished admiring and studying the 70+ works, we were both totally enthralled with what we'd seen. My only regret was that we didn't have enough time to look at it all again.

We compromised by stopping at Teaism for ginger lemonades (they'd just sold out so I tried iced mint tea while my date went with today's iced tisane, an African berry blend), along with the house specialty cookies, chunky chocolate pecan salty oat cookies, each weighing about a pound each.

"I'll never be able to finish the whole thing," my date insisted, but we sat there chatting and watching the street theater of R Street long enough that never became history.

I don't travel with those who can resist big flakes of sea salt on top of chocolate cookies.

Driving up M Street, my date pointed to 2400 and shared a story about a couple whose first apartment had been in that building. "All they had was a mattress on the floor, but the first night they were there, they laid on that mattress and watched a storm roll in through the big window."

I can see such an experience boding well for the future of the relationship.

Further down in front of the State Department, we passed Navy types - sailors in white bell bottoms and officers in tan summer uniforms - marching and chanting behind their leader up 23rd Street.

It was only once we got on 395 that we opened up the floor to new topics and my date shared a story of recently finding out that a friend and his wife had a decidedly poly-amorous bent.

The wife wanted to have an affair with a woman (who also had a wife, not to mention two other girlfriends), so husband agreed because he knew it would make her happy. That they sometimes had three ways didn't seem to bother him at all.

As you might imagine, opening a can of worms like poly-amorous relationships made for non-stop conversational fodder all the way down 95 and almost too soon, we were home, our art date a rousing success.

Now, about those drinks someplace cool...I have a few ideas.

No comments:

Post a Comment