Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Devil in Me

The green fairy was calling my name but I didn't want to seem easy.

As it was, I'd already been easy enough, dancing with a stranger on Broad Street today. Navigating the snowy sidewalk near Ghostprint Gallery and Lift Coffee Shop, I spied a man approaching me.

Just as we got in front of Lift, we both caught the soundtrack from inside: Martha Reeves and the Vandellas belting out (Love is Like a) Heat Wave.

But that doesn't mean it has me amazed
I don't know what to do, my head's in a haze

Fluidly, he began to dance right in front of me, daring me to dance with him on the sidewalk.To "Heat Wave"? You know I did.

So even though the green fairy had been on my mind since yesterday's talk with a curator about French painting, I elected to delay gratification. Temporarily anyway.

Arriving at the VMFA, I spotted a guy making the first ball for a snowman with his bare hands on the wide front lawn. Nearby, another snowman stood fully formed, a testament to someone with gloves and more sense. When I mentioned it to the guard inside, she just shook her head and observed, "Young and stupid."

Inside, I found a nearly empty museum, a desolate landscape. Surely the snow hadn't scared off the museum's usual Thursday night masses? Oh, but it had.

Upstairs in the print gallery to see "Felix Bracquemond: Impressionist Innovator," I joked with the security guard about the absence of humans.

"Maybe they're waiting to take their cue from each other," he guessed. "Maybe they're coming later." Maybe.

All I knew was I couldn't complain having the galleries to myself to linger over Bracquemond's exquisite engravings.

For an artist whose name was unknown to me, Bracquemond turned out to be a major player in the Impressionist scene. He'd been invited by Degas to exhibit in the Impressionist salon of 1874.

I found myself totally captivated by his "Gallery of Handsome Men," a series of engravings depicting well-known poets, singers and photographers (all with beards, all very hipster-like) of the era.

Highly surprising was his foray into the decorative arts with the Rousseau dinner service, a collection of dishes (plates, bowls, tureens) he'd designed. They'd been so popular, they'd been continuously reissued until the middle of the 20th century.

But perhaps the most unlikely link to the Impressionists came with his wife, Marie, a painter (and pupil of classicist Ingres) in the style of Morrisot and Cassatt, who also submitted work to the Impressionists' exhibitions.

A woman I'd never even heard of. Art history education fail.

There was a series of etchings after major painters - Delacroix, Rousseau, Courbet - and an obvious reverence for Rembrandt with a series of prints done in various states with changes in lighting and detail.

An altogether fabulous show of Impressionist prints not to be missed.

Coming back down the staircase, I was met with a smiling man who didn't begin dancing, but instead asked me, "How was your event?"

I returned his smile and said I hadn't been at an event, I'd been to see the Bracquemond show.

"I work here and I was upstairs having a drink to celebrate the Bracquemond show," he said. Worth raising a glass to, I know.

When he asked where I was off to next, I said Hotel X, the band playing in Best Cafe. Conveniently, he was headed there, too, so we walked on together.

Once there, I borrowed a chair from a table whose occupants weren't using it and settled back for Hotel X's unique blend of Afro-beat, jazz, rock, pop and world music.

Glancing outside, I saw that the Chiluhly "Red Reeds" had been brought in for the winter, a  good thing considering that the reflecting pool was completely under snow. Meanwhile, the sculpture garden was surprisingly busy with couples walking through the snowy landscape.

Having experienced them before, I knew I enjoyed  Hotel X for their musicianship (always lots of musicians in the audience), the genre-crossing sound (is that rock?...they're pretty jazzy, aren't they?...what's that groove?), the way they inspire women in shawls to do that crazy butterfly-catching dancing and men to do that sideline air-guitar playing thing that they do.

By then, the place was filling up enough that my presence was no longer necessary, so I got myself upstairs to Amuse where a lone couple was holding down the bar. I took the opposite end.

Wasting no time, I informed the sunny bartender that in my opinion, they needed to bring back the absinthe drip for the upcoming French "Art of the Flower" exhibit. As it happens, she was already working on a cocktail list featuring absinthe.

More importantly, she got busy making me an absinthe drip while I considered the menu. With a bit of prodding from her, I opted for the mussels and Sausagecraft sausage in white wine, garlic and lemon broth, a reliable bowl of savory warmth, a worthy pairing with the distinctive buzz of absinthe.

Delivering it, she commented on my very French (or, as she put it, "mucho Francais") food and drink combo, something that had already occurred to me. It was an evening for all things French.

Speaking of, I was interested to hear about the "green hour" Amuse is planning to coincide with the new exhibit, a charming way to introduce the green fairy to the uninitiated before they tour the show.

Before long, a familiar face appeared to join me with a glass of wine in hand with which to toast my second absinthe and initiate a discussion of luck, feminism and California living. On everyone's mind is whether or not they can rent out their places during the bike races this September, something I know many friends are doing.

The bartender said she'd considered renting her house and going to the beach for that week, but thought it might be more prudent to stay in town and wait on all the tourists here for the race. Not to mention all those cute, fit biker guys.

I can assure you I'll be staying in town for not only the view but the attendant fun and that includes the absinthe drip.

Rumor has it that it's not just for the easy anymore.


  1. i love it when the VMFA is empty...which it rarely is these days.


  2. I couldn't have been more surprised that it was, cw! But it was kind of nice for change.

  3. Karen:

    Thank you for your positive remarks about what we do in the Raysor Collection and Mellon Focus Galleries. It means a lot to us.

  4. Mitchell, Thanks for the ongoing compelling print shows you keep drawing from the Raysor Collection. What an awesome gift that man has given to Richmond print-lovers.

  5. It's our great privilege and pleasure Karen. There will be many more to come!