Saturday, December 8, 2018

So Much Funukah

Leave it to a man from Chicago to show Richmond what a monument can be.

The plan was for Mr. Wright and I to walk over to the ICA for music based on art.

When we walked in, the woman at the desk asked if I was a member (natch) and then sent us upstairs to the third floor's True Farr Luck Gallery for the Provocations performance with Marcus Tenney. Turns out the Provocations series was inspired by architect Steven Holl's design intention for that unusually shaped top floor space.

Holl called it a "provocation for artists to engage" and with its white sculptural ceiling, church-like acoustics and opaque glass wall, there was plenty to inspire. Sitting squarely in the middle of the gallery was Rashid Johnson's "Monument," a towering, multi-layer installation made from a steel grid and filled with plants, grow lights, books, small TV screens and sculptures made of shea butter.

Walking around and through the installation, I told Mr. Wright that it reminded me of everything I wanted in my living space - minus the screens, of course and with the addition of somewhere to sleep - when I was in college. Shelves punctuated the grid with stacks of books - Hawthorne, James Baldwin - written by writers I only aspired to read when I was that young.

Naturally, I've long since addressed those aspirations.

Verdant plants of all sizes in colorful, sculptural pots softened the grid, turning it into an oasis of greenery that soared almost up to the impossibly high ceiling, with two benches inside for contemplation.

Signage told us that this was the Chicago-born Johnson's first major project south of the Mason-Dixon line. That a black artist chose to create a work called "Monument" in a city struggling to reconcile its avenue of monuments to treasonous white guys felt like exactly the kind of provocation architect Holl had in mind.

Well done, sir.

In a stroke of brilliant programming, the ICA is scheduling performers to "activate" the space with live performances created in response to "Monument." We'd come to see horn player extraordinaire Marcus Tenney show off his skills on flugelhorn and trumpet, so we found a bench with a view of him and "Monument" and settled in.

Within moments, a guy walked in and took up residence on the bench nearest us and turned his full attention to his phone. As Marcus began playing, the gallery filled with sound, his notes having enough room to soar to the rafters and fall back over our ears. Gradually, other people arrived to make their way around and through "Monument," but this guy just stared at his device.

Most of the people who entered the gallery were there with one mission: to take a selfie (or ten) as they made their way around "Monument" and then to leave. One beautiful young man in a yellow sweater posed against one of the grids and proceeded to instruct his obedient friend which angles to shoot him from. Over and over.

Shades of Bradley Cooper directing himself in "A Star is Born."

Meanwhile Marcus's music was filling the room as the opaque glass wall went from warmly lit from outside to a cool almost blueness once the sun dropped low. It was a remarkable change in light in the gallery that could only be experienced at one specific time of day.

Half an hour into Marcus' playing, we looked over and saw that phone boy now had his head lolling on his chest and was clearly sound asleep, despite the richness and volume of the trumpet notes resounding off the walls around him.

Not to be too judgey, but why come to a musical performance to look at your phone and then go to sleep?

When Marcus' performance ended, we set out for Dinamo, arriving to find a menorah on the bar and a basket with not only a dreidel, but instructions for the dreidel game and a basket of gold-wrapped chocolate money. We'd barely taken seats at the bar when a young girl at the table behind us spotted the basket, scooped it up and excitedly suggested a game to her family.

As one of the non-Chosen People, I found it all pretty charming.

Wearing flattering new glasses ordered off the internet, our server immediately remembered us as lingerers, saying she was only too happy to let us order our next course only after finishing its predecessor, but delivering a bottle of house white wine to sip while checking out the menus.

Even better than a game of dreidel was a special of smoked whitefish crostini smothered in red onion, the kind of generous starter that left us content and in no hurry for more food right away.

Next to us sat down a couple and he immediately ordered the t-bone with arugula while she wanted the snapper. Eyeing the gorgeous hunk o' red meat when it was put down before him, he apparently felt the need to explain his choice. Seems his doctor told him he has protein and sodium deficiencies, so he's doing everything he can to correct that.

His wife rolled her eyes, jealous probably. I know I would be.

All we wanted to know was how we could be diagnosed with the same thing so we could start calling steak our prescription drug. I'm telling you, that was one good looking steak he loaded up with salt.

After considering Grandma Ruth's brisket, we moved on to what is probably my favorite soup in the city, their lightly spicy fish soup with every kind of seafood and fregola, a bowl of warmth on a chilly evening.

Mr. Wright's choice was crostini with cured salmon, capers and cream cheese and he insisted I needed to up my Omega 3s, so I obliged by scarfing a crostini. A Nutella and sea salt cookie was about all I could manage after that, although another glass of wine seemed to go down easily enough.

By the time we decided to clear out for greener pastures, Dinamo was hopping and the dreidel basket was looking a little low on gold-wrapped chocolate coins. And, I'm not sure, but I think as we drove out of sight, I heard the strains of Adam Sandler.

So drink your gin and tonicah
And smoke your marijuanikah
If you really, really wannukah
Have a happy, happy, happy Chanukah

Oy, or maybe it was Grandma Ruth wondering what I'm doing wasting a nice Jewish boy like that.

As the resident goy toy, how should I know?

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