Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Intimate and Grand

Oops, I did it again. Set out for culture and ran smack into the nexus of sports and cops directing traffic.

Unlike last night when I was on foot, tonight's inconvenience was brought to me by University of Richmond's basketball game, meaning I sat in a backup of cars trying to get somewhere completely different than where I was headed.

My goal: the Modlin Center for the opening lecture of "Garry Winogrand: Family Intimacies" by the photographer's first wife, Adrienne Judith Lubeau-Winogrand, a delightful former dancer who took many tangents to tell us a small part of the story of her marriage to the central figure in American mid-century photography.

How much more fascinating it was to have the woman who was his subject and bedmate talking about a dead artist than a curator.

"I had the honor to be Garry's first wife," was how she launched the lecture. Seriously, how many first wives refer to the honor of their first (failed) time at bat?

Showing photographs as she spoke from an armchair onstage, she told us she'd had no idea he went to burlesque houses at night until she saw the photos. "I feel I really made him happy," she said. "He decided on me and I went along for the ride."

Actually, I see a kind of romance to that.

Displaying a rare shot of him, she said, "He looks terrific, doesn't he? The problem was he smoked three packs a day, drank like a fish and sometimes stayed up for 24 hours." She thought that might explain his early death at 56, although his daughter was convinced it was all the darkroom chemicals he was exposed to regularly over the years.

Referring to his second wife, she said, "She only lasted two years. By then, he'd drained her bank account. Should I say that?'" Seems she's still friends with Wife #3, whose daughter was flower girl at her own daughter's wedding. Very cozy, indeed.

Many of the photographs were of Adrienne herself - sleeping, holding their children - and she wasn't shy about admitting that'd felt like she was married to a lens, not a man because he was always shooting her. "It was a constant presence."

After her talk, we adjourned to the Hartnett Museum to see the exhibit, a window into another era since most of the pictures were from the '60s and '70s.

Some were downright old-fashioned, such as a child on a wooden horse or a baby carriage in a park. I heard several young women marveling over that antique.

Ethan on 93rd Avenue, New York showed the artist's son dressed in a striped romper (something toddlers don't wear anymore), pointing a toy gun at a window. We don't allow that anymore.

Another showed the little boy slightly older running down the street, cowboy hat in hand. Adrienne had said during the talk that that picture usually hangs in her living room and she's already missing it terribly. What I found interesting about it was that the wide sidewalk held not a piece of trash, not so much as a cigarette butt as far as the eye could see.

My favorite in the entire show was 1967's Adrienne After the Bath, a photograph that could have been modeled on a Degas pastel. She sits naked on the closed toilet in a narrow, tiled bathroom, a towel around part of her body with a curved, young hip exposed.

It was one of the most exquisite photographs I've ever seen, all the more meaningful for having just seen the subject herself 58 years later. She's aged well, probably a result of her dancing career.

After mingling at the reception, I went into the other gallery to see Anti-Grand: Contemporary Perspectives on Landscape, another new exhibit but as different as it could be: all the works were post-2000.

I had flashbacks to the '70s with Village Green by Vaughn Bell, a large, house-shaped plastic terrarium set on legs with the steamed up interior walls every former hippie chick recognizes.

What made this one so cool was the opening on the bottom of the "house" that allowed the viewer to stick your head inside to inhale the humid, plant-scented air inside. Groovy to the nth degree and very 21st century. We can't just look, we have to experience.

There was something very compelling about Mono Lake, CA, a huge digital print of the lake that had been soaked in Mono lake water causing water stains through which you could see the actual photo.

Inheritance was a large, wooden black box into which slides of endangered wildlife areas were projected while a humidifier spewed steam out of the opening, sort of an implied scolding for what we have wrought.

The show's strength was the wide-ranging notion of landscape as interpreted by an array of international artists during the new millennium. Even video games were included, not that I knew what to do with them.

As I was coming out of the bathroom afterwards, Adrienne was headed in and I took a moment to thank her for sharing her life stories with us. I said I'd been especially impressed with how she'd said she'd held fast to her own dreams and goals, even when her husband hadn't paid much attention to them.

"Oh, but he came and photographed me at the dance studio, did you see?" she asked eagerly. I had, but I also sensed it must have been challenging to hold fast to her artistic soul (Robert Motherwell was her painting professor!) back in the '50s when motherhood reigned supreme. Despite no longer being young, she still had the body of a dancer.

Leaving UR, I decided that the big game was still being played because cars were parked everywhere but there wasn't a soul in sight. Go, team.

My cold hands and I stopped for the fabulous and very French hot chocolate Amour serves, namely Les Confitures a l'Ancienne, while eavesdropping on a couple discussing their divorces, what Ritalin does to kids and the probability of weed being made legal in Virginia.

We had a joint discussion (ha!) about why firemen are different than policemen (she claimed there was scientific study to explain the different personalities) and why Amour should have scantily-clad firemen at their fire department benefit dinners next month.

After the chocolate, I indulged in a half glass of J. Fritsch Pinot Gris, a rich, semi-sweet sipper to complement what I'd just had and send me on my way after an evening well spent.

Part of that was the mid-century romance! He decided on me and I went along for the ride. That's as quaint as a baby carriage, but I don't even think we allow that anymore.

Although as long as you're sure it makes both people happy, why not? Should I say that?

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