Sunday, December 30, 2018

Portrait a Deux with U.S. Capital

Let's call it an Art Tasting Menu that lasted a weekend.

Amuse bouche
"One Year: 1968, an American Odyssey" at the National Portrait Gallery
This delightful starter, a small, one-room exhibition, whetted our appetite for what was ahead by featuring a psychedelic anti-war poster, a photo of RFK sharing a crust of bread with Cesar Chavez after his hunger strike ended, plus Hendrix, the Dead and Joan Didion in bell-bottoms leaning nonchalantly against a Corvette. So much happened that year.
Bonus: Learning that Mr. Wright once had a crush on Peggy Fleming.

Soup course
Despite lines at both, the portraits of Barrack and Michelle Obama were must-sees. The magnificence of Michelle's skin tones in Amy Sherald's portrait were as striking as the meaning-laden fanciful flower background of Kehinde Wiley's image of her husband.

Downside: Most people seemed to be there for the selfie, with little time spent looking at the portraits.

First course
"Eye to I: Self Portraits from 1900 to Today" at the National Portrait Gallery
With 75 pieces, this was a meaty look at how American artists chose to portray themselves. Forget selfies, these were drawings, photographs and even a life-size bronze tomb sculpture of artists such as Elaine de Kooning, Edward Hopper and Diego Rivera. I have no doubt that a young Andy Warhol adored the way he looked in his staged photograph.

Bonus: A chance to see how someone sees him or herself may be the most revealing glimpse possible into their state of mind.

Second course
"Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore's Forgotten Movie Theaters" at the National Building Museum
As much time as I spend at the Byrd Theater, how could I not be seduced by an exhibit about a city that, in its heyday, had 240 movie palaces? Vintage photographs of theaters such as the Apollo, the State and the Schanze - the latter a white theater in a black neighborhood, known for hosting Yiddish performers - accompanied photographer Amy Davis' images of the boarded up, renovated and demolished buildings today. As much an architectural exhibit as an oral history project, it also documented social segregation.

Bonus: Mr. Wright giving me the building's origins as the U.S. Pension Building, right down to the worn, sloped stairs built to be hosed down easily from any blood spilled by pensioners there on business.

Third course
"Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940-50" at the National Gallery of Art
Although Lady G and I had sort of seen the Parks exhibit at the end of November, we'd been so enthralled with "Corot: Women" that we hadn't allowed enough time to fully take in the 150 pieces in this exhibit. For the second time, I left the National Gallery marveling at how adept Parks was right out of the gate. The man had no learning curve when it came to photography. Talk about born ready.

Bonus: After a stop for bagels, we arrived 10 minutes before the museum opened at 11 to find a line forming. But once inside, the lack of crowds was startling. Had people been scared away by the government shutdown? Dunno, but it sure made for spacious gallery walking.

"Japan Modern: Prints in the Age of Photography" at the Freer Sackler Galleries
After a stroll through the Enid Haupt Garden, we made our way downstairs to see the strikingly beautiful series of colored woodblock prints that looked nothing like woodblock prints. Most used ink and watercolor to transform the often heavy lines of a woodblock into something soft and colorful depicting the changing face - or remembered past - of late 19th to mid-20th century Japan. Like the shift from savory to sweet, the series of images was a welcome finale to a feast of art.

Bonus: The prints from the 1960s showed the influence of the cultural revolution taking place in the Western world, more abstract and definitely less traditional.

With so much art to dine on, meals had to be fitted in around gallery time, but we managed a four hour session at Cuba Libre's bar - killer black bean soup, crab guacamole with plantain chips, jardin salad and crab fritters - when we arrived in late afternoon, sipped through multiple glasses of a Portuguese white blend and left long after dark.

Even better was an extended late brunch at Jaleo where the hostess, unbidden, led us to the back-most table and shared that it was the best seat in the house. Next to a window with a view of bustling F Street and away from the masses, we'd landed in our own little private corner where our server confirmed that the crowds had dropped off precipitously in the past few days.

Every time I go to Jaleo, I discover a new favorite and today's was the flauta de tortilla de patatas, a long, crusty roll spread with chopped fresh tomato and a Spanish omelet with potatoes and onion as its centerpiece. Yum.

How did I not know that omelets belonged on sandwiches before now?

Anyone who thinks they don't like spinach needs to try Jaleo's version done with raisins, apples and pine nuts and get back to me on that. Dragon breath ensued after downing spicy garlic shrimp while ensuring that no one else was getting anywhere near us, but as long as you have two garlic breaths, the rest don't matter.

Of note this weekend was that there had been no dessert, but that was corrected this afternoon with chocolate custard rolled in chocolate cookie crumbs. It sat under a crown of the thinnest of bread slices, which had been caramelized, and near a scoop of brioche ice cream resting on more cookie crumbs. Divine and much appreciated.

In dessert, as in life, sometimes you do without until you find exactly what you need. Or want. Cookie crumbs? They're just a bonus.

No comments:

Post a Comment