Sunday, July 05, 2009

Weekend In Washington

Last weekend, Joshua and I flew down to Washington to join my parents for a two-day getaway. It was only the second time Josh and I had been to Washington since our graduations three years ago.

The purpose of the trip was to give my mother a special weekend over the summer months, as my parents will not take a trip this summer.

We all flew into Ronald Reagan Airport, and we stayed in nearby Crystal City. This made things convenient for everyone. All weekend, we used the excellent Washington subway, still the best and most beautiful subway system anywhere.

On Friday night, we attended a performance of the Royal Ballet, which I have already addressed.

On Saturday, we devoted the entire day to examining American art at three Washington museums, all within walking distance of one another.

A friend joined us for a Saturday morning breakfast at Old Ebbitt Grill, an historic restaurant my father especially likes. After breakfast, we began our day at the nearby Corcoran Gallery. We visited two exhibitions of paintings from the Corcoran’s permanent collection, “American Paintings From The Collection” and “Nature As Nation: 19th-Century American Landscapes”.

From the Corcoran, we walked one block to The Renwick Gallery to view the new salon installation of American paintings.

From The Renwick, we walked to The Smithsonian Museum Of American Art to view the exhibition, “1934: A New Deal For Artists”, a collection of WPA art that turned out to be very similar to a WPA exhibition Josh and I had attended last summer at Minneapolis’s Weisman Art Museum.

The WPA exhibition was very small, and took us no time at all. We spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring The Smithsonian Museum Of American Art’s permanent collection.

None of the Saturday exhibitions was anything to write home about, but we had a very pleasing day. We had a lot of fun simply ambling, looking and discussing. My mother always had something interesting to say about the various artworks we viewed, even the most atrocious ones, and we were all absorbed, digesting what she had to say.

Several of the paintings in the WPA exhibition had originated in Minnesota, a fact we found interesting. Further, right next to the WPA exhibition was an installation of sculpture by Paul Manship, a 20th-Century sculptor from Saint Paul. We had not known about the Manship installation prior to our visit, as it is not even mentioned on the museum’s website. We walked through the installation and were happy to have seen it.

After an early dinner, we attended a performance of Noel Coward’s 1932 play, “Design For Living”, at nearby Shakespeare Theatre. The play managed—just—to hold our attention for three hours. The program notes included a claim by director Michael Kahn that the play was “profound”. The play was as profound as Kahn’s commencement address at American University in Spring 2006, a commencement address we all endured as part of Josh’s extended graduation ceremonies, spread over two full days. I haven’t a clue what Kahn said that day—but then I hadn’t a clue what he said five minutes after he finished speaking.

On Sunday, we ate breakfast at our hotel. After breakfast, we took the subway to The Smithsonian Air And Space Museum, where we killed a very pleasant hour while waiting for The National Gallery Of Art to open for the day.

We viewed two exhibitions at The National Gallery, both emanating from Spain: “Luis Melendez: Master Of The Spanish Still Life” and “The Art Of Power: Royal Armor And Portraits From Imperial Spain”. For the latter exhibition, we were present on opening day. Both exhibitions were of manageable size, and I am glad we had the opportunity to view them.

The Melendez exhibition will travel to Los Angeles later this year and to Boston next year, but the “Royal Armor And Portraits” exhibition was a National Gallery exclusive.

As soon as we had seen the two exhibitions, we took a cab to Lincoln Theatre, temporary home of Washington’s Arena Stage, for the matinee performance of “Looped”, a new play by Matthew Lombardo about Tallulah Bankhead. The play, set in 1965, as Bankhead neared the end of her life, was utter camp, rotten and vulgar. The afternoon was somewhat redeemed by the actress portraying Bankhead, Valerie Harper, who was funny and wicked. The production of “Looped” was sponsored by, but was not a presentation of, Arena Stage.

After the play, we went back to our hotel, retrieved our luggage, and headed back to the airport. We had ninety minutes to kill before our flights, and we sat and had coffee and sandwiches before Josh and I had to catch our plane to Boston and my parents had to catch their plane to Minneapolis.

It was a short weekend, but we were able to see everything we wanted, and we had a stimulating time.

My mother enjoyed the weekend very, very much.

The weekend served its purpose well.

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