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Tales from Two Cities

The best thing for me about the National Portrait Gallery, besides the very cool new atrium, where every child makes a bee-line for the water features -- talk about jumping in art museums! -- is the immersion in American history. Portraits of most of the greats and Ne'er-dos of the past and recent, Hudson River School masterpieces, Peale family painted portraits, and contemporaries like Nam Jun Paik and Jenny Holzer.

All this is packaged into one of the most amazing buildings in Washington, one of the first expenditures of the new government, formerly the Patent Office. It would have been impossible to begin the new adventure without successful businesses producing taxable capital, and none of this could proceed without legal patents on file -- who knew? The recent renovation and reuse of the building not only give a home to our national treasures but does so in context and meaning. Judging from the galleries' collection of portraits, the founding group of men were flesh-and-blood human. With the exception of Andrew Jackson's glam shot, most were pragmatic, idealistic, and aware.

A little north of the District I toured through Chelsea, unfortunately a few days after some very good shows closed, namely the Leon Kossoff exhibit at Mitchell-Inness & Nash (sigh) and a few days before a fresh group of shows opened (double sigh). Thanks for rubbing it in, Mr. Saunders. But I did get to see Verna Iliatova's new work at Monya Rowe's cool new space on West 22nd. I'm never disapointed there -- Angela Dufresne opens on April 16th. Lehman Maupin has a crazy wild Mickalene Thomas show. All it's missing is a John Shaft walk on -- can you dig it? Come to think of it, I may have seen his bad ride at a movie set up near Washington Sq.

An exhibit I'm very excited about will be a very rare display of paintings, drawings, and prints by the Belgian great James Ensor. The show opens on June 28th at MoMA, and this just could be the event of the Summer. Lastly, if you ever get the opportunity to take the train north from NYC to Albany, do it. The scenery along the Hudson River is amazing. It becomes obvious to see the inspiration for the Hudson River School painters, minus the power and cement plants that mar the landscape today. But an inspired journey nevertheless.


libby said...

love that ensor picture!!!

Mark Barry said...

Really looking forward to it!