Monday, June 10, 2019

Howdy, Pride

Let me be perfectly queer, both us girls had forgotten that today was the Capital Pride Parade when we set off for D.C.

En route, Lady G gave me my birthday present, a fabulously patterned bag she'd quilted in my favorite colors: purples, greens, hot pinks and yellows. I've known this woman for 20 years as an illustrator and painter and now that she's turned her discerning eye to quilting, she has a new art form with which to share her talent.

And I have the most gorgeous beach bag ever.

As usual, she gave me some updates from her psychic friend, who's been assuring her for a while now that something big is about to happen to our orange leader health-wise. Or, as Lady G put it, "She told me not to worry. She said she's "seeing a Joe Kennedy kind of a stroke" in his imminent future."

All that fast food has to catch up with his heart at some point, right? Please, right?

She told me about her widowed friend who'd screwed up her nerve to contact her first boyfriend from when she was 15 years old. Fifty six years later, they had a date and are now an item. The power of the Internet (and loneliness) is mighty.

And speaking of junky food, once in D.C., there were an inordinate number of food vendor trucks parked everywhere and, even for the nation's capital on a weekend, a crazy amount of people already parked and milling about considering it wasn't even 11 a.m. yet. Despite a steady rain, we'd made it to D.C. in an hour and a half and as is our luck when we do our regular art runs, we had no problem finding a parking space two blocks from the Mall.

Along the way, we saw that the line for the Natural History Museum was around the block, no doubt due the opening just days ago of the newly renovated fossil hall, aka the dinosaur bone exhibit.

Still, we were clueless.

It was only when we cut through the Air and Space Museum to use the bathroom en route to the National Gallery of Art that the mystery was solved. Going through airport-level security, one of the guards mentioned that all this rain might cancel the Pride parade.

So that's what all this mass of humanity was about.

At the Air & Space Museum, we also ran into two women in Pride shirts from Rhode Island looking for recommendations for which galleries are must-sees for first-timers. I haven't been to that museum since the '90s, so I let G take the lead on answering those questions.

Meanwhile, I was checking out the crowds and I have to say, it was as completely different a group of people from the ones we see at the National Gallery as to be two different species. We escaped as quickly as we could.

Crossing the Mall, we saw a couple taking the iconic picture of each other in front of the capital, which made G extend a helping hand by asking the German-sounding couple if they wanted her to take their photo together. Once they understood her offer (their initial reaction was to shake their heads no and begin walking away), they were thrilled to get their photo taken, arms around each other.

"Already, we're doing so much for others!" G said proudly as we made our way toward the reason for the road trip, hearing the sounds of the Pride parade as we walked.

Inside, the security checkpoint was far simpler than at Air and Space. All we had to do was open our bags. When I greeted my guard with, "Howdy!" he grinned and asked where I was from. This city, D.C., I informed him and asked his provenance. "Houston," he said with hometown pride. "And you don't hear "howdy" much around these parts."

I don't want to brag, but I think I made his morning.

Moments after the museum opened, G and I were walking into "Tintoretto; Artist of Renaissance Venice," part of the 500th anniversary of Tintoretto's birth and the first retrospective of his work in North America.

Sigh. This is what art history nerds like G and I live for.

You can imagine my delight looking at "The Contest of Apollo and Marsyas" and learning that it had been done for a critic and art promoter named Pietro, whose published letters functioned as a kind of 16th century blog. A blog, people.

So you see, I'm just carrying on a long-standing tradition of informing the world of my interests.

Although G had said she knew very little about Tintoretto, I recalled my art history professors emphasizing his significant role in art history and in unseating Titian. Turns out Tintoretto, in his day, was doing avant garde paintings designed to shock, using Michelangelo's anatomy and Titian's colors. Meanwhile, his fellow artists were outraged and probably not a little mortified by how aggressively he marketed his work.

His mastery of foreshortening was startling and G pointed out time and again where he was showing off, having a realistically depicted foot or hand - sometimes an entire princess - seeming to extend out of the picture plane and into our world.

Strolling into another gallery - mind you, it was a large show with many enormous works, including many designed for ceilings - G got a look, grinned and observed, "Well, that's an interesting place to put a dragon." She was referring to "Saint George, Saint Louis and the Princess" and we weren't surprised to learn that the critics of the day agreed with her that m'lady's position astride a dragon was hardly lady-like.

Not that I think for a moment that Tintoretto was going for ladylike. If anything came across in his work, it was his confidence and brashness as he set out to change the direction of painting. Witness "Venus and Mars Surprised by Vulcan," showing Vulcan, convinced his wife is cheating on him, pulling back Venus' drape for signs of lovemaking on her thighs. Meanwhile Mars is crouched under a table hiding, helmet still on.

Presumably, he'd taken it off for the lovemaking. At least I hope he had.

No doubt about it, this was a once in a lifetime chance to see most of these works which have never touched down in the U.S. before. And because there were so many enormous pieces, the ever-practical artist G couldn't help but note, "I can't imagine how much it cost to ship all of these here."

After two plus hours in the thrall of Tintoretto, we were starved and made our way to the NGA's Cafe for lunch. While it was nice to get off our feet for a bit, we treated it mainly as a filling station so we could get back to looking at art, this time in the NGA's East Building.

Although we hadn't come planning to see "The Life of Animals in Japanese Art," G's eye had been caught by the  signage we saw for it. As it turned out, it was just as big a show as Tintoretto had been - hell, it covered 17 centuries and a wide variety of mediums - requiring another couple hours to see it all.

I especially loved a forest green robe called "Uchi Kake with Phoenix and Birds," a gorgeous 19th century garment covered in 99 birds. The hundredth bird, a white crane flying against the sun, was put inside the collar of the robe so only the wearer could see it. Brilliant.

Very different was Okamoto Taro's 1948 work "Dawn," which depicts a shrieking monster dominating the center of the large, chaotic painting full of color and energy done just after world War II ended and expressing the demons still haunting the Japanese in the aftermath of being bombed.

In contrast, some pieces were pure whimsy, like "Dragonfly," a 19th century large format ink on paper of a dragonfly with such a hangdog look that he was almost cartoon-like. It wouldn't have looked out of place on a children's book cover.

Ditto the six-panel screen, "Fox's Wedding Procession," in which the artist had substituted foxes for men by putting Samurai costumes on the foxes and making them part of a traditional wedding party as they carry the bride-to-be aloft on a palanquin.

A print that could have been straight out of a contemporary children's book, "Daikon and Mice" showed two little gray mice climbing atop a white daikon with a brilliant orange carrot behind it. With the rich, green leaves of both vegetables framing the mice, the clean-lined print had a very modern graphic look to it.

When we finally finished with the animals, we were soul-satisfied as only art nerds can be after so much new to see. G didn't admit to the blister on her foot from so much walking and standing until we were sitting in traffic on I-395, that's how good a time we were having.

Admittedly, it probably couldn't match the post-parade elation of the Pride participants, but it was a pretty spectacular day for a couple of straight women.

And you know if we'd only had time, we'd have done the parade, too.

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