Tidbits from sundry adventures

Amadeo Modigliani, “Gypsy Woman with Baby,” 1919, National Gallery of Art.

The National Gallery of Art recently hauled out a bunch of  fantastic artworks from its Chester Dale collection. (Cool video about Chester Dale and the history of the National Gallery can be found here.) I almost shat myself when I saw the spectacular pieces on display all in one place by such name-brand painters as Van Gogh, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, Matisse, Manet, Monet, Picasso, and Modigliani. Really worth a visit or two or twelve. The Dales, who bequeathed the art to the Gallery, stipulated that none of them may never be loaned out, so of course these will all be here until 2012 while the Natl. Gallery is renovating its upper rooms.

I took a photo of “Gypsy Woman with Baby” because I adore Modigliani’s stuff and because it’s always interesting seeing how outsiders portray Roma. (Am in process of writing a couple posts about Roma…)

On the premises of the National Cathedral is an adorable little gift shop called Herb Cottage. Lo and behold, inside we found a Pilgrim Imports ornament I designed some time ago! Was very proud to see my ladybug front and center on the display.

And I learned that, despite its cold and imposing Gothic architecture, the National Cathedral is actually gorgeous! Impressive architecture, lovely gardens, silly gargoyles, and not far from campus…am already planning future adventures.

We came upon a couple of painters copying Rembrandt portraits. Unlike the guy in the adjoining room who was not close to finishing his copy, this woman’s canvas seemed to be almost complete. She said she was a professional portraitist and painter. I asked her how she knows when she is finished with a painting, and she answered, “When I can’t take it anymore!” I would say that is a pretty accurate answer.

Leonardo da Vinci, Ginevra de’ Benci, National Gallery

The back of this Leonardo painting says “Beauty adorns virtue.”

Zoomorphic calligraphy! The inscriptions on the birdies say baraka “blessings.” I wish there were more art from the Islamic world at the Freer Gallery, but what they have is pretty sweet.

Just off of Dupont Circle on Connecticut Ave. there’s a boutique called Ginza that sells Japanese goodies such as tea kettles, pottery, ikebana vases, kimonos, and various knicknack-y sundries. Their wall full of cuddly kawaii things made me think that I should never go to Tokyo — I would not be able to resist the onslaught of adorable and useless kitsch and would probably spend all of my funds on Hello Kittie-esque junk, ending up the one gaijin bum in Japan.

Then I started to wonder, why do these things exert such a pull? I guess for the same reason that sexualized imagery pulls on us — by appealing to our biological instincts. Enlarged breasts and lips, longer legs, and other so-called “sexy” attributes appeal to our instinct for makeeng zee sexy timez. Whereas smaller size, larger head-to-body proportions, larger eyes set farther apart on the face, bright colors, and soft edges appeal to our nurture instinct — because these attributes remind us of human babies.

At times like this I remember classical definitions of beauty. Harmony, proportion, and unity aren’t manipulative.


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