Delights: July 15 to July 21

July 15: I really (really) wanted to take a nap this afternoon. (I was still recovering from yesterday’s toddler playdate and a big outdoor screen-cleaning project involving lots of 40 Mules Borax.) But a glance at the National Gallery of Art’s website confirmed two things: that the acclaimed Afro-Atlantic Histories exhibition would close imminently and that I absolutely needed to see it.

The galleries vibrated with people studying, discussing and photographing everything. I found a wonderful David Driskell, an unusual Alma Thomas, and a vivid Jacob Lawrence (had I seen them at the Phillips’ exhibitions?); a spectacular story quilt by Faith Ringgold; a sitting child by William H. Johnson; and a shimmering masterpiece by Romare Bearden. Old friends. And I found amazing pieces from Brazil, Uruguay, Haiti, Africa, and the United States. This two-minute tour can give you a tiny taste. I’ll sprinkle my favorites below.

Current Forms: Yoruba Circle, 1969, by David C. Driskell, American (1931-2020). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The one that captivated me, though, was a contemporary piece that wedded bitter history with wry humor. The artist, Glenn Ligon, reimagined handbills that had been used in the 19th century to find enslaved “Runaways,” as the piece is called. Each lithograph features a stock printer’s image and a description of the “runaway,” in this case the artist himself through the eyes of his friends. Ligon’s friends offer quirky descriptions and sometimes disagree about his height, build, coloring and even his personality. The context is grotesque — and the content is hilarious. 

Runaways (detail), 1993, by Glenn Ligon, American, born 1960. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

This piece works on so many levels. I confess I linger here: How do our friends see us? What would they say are our defining traits? How would our friends translate our uniqueness into a handful of effective words? Where do they disagree? Would they miss us if we ran away?

Runaways, by Glenn Ligon, American, born 1960. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Bonus: I had depleted my last museum reserves and now teetered toward the exit. But through a series of galleries I saw the large James McNeill Whistler painting known as “Woman in White.” I sighed. Yes, the National Gallery of Art had just launched an exhibition centered on that piece. I’d find the energy to visit today.

As I approached through the gallery arches, I saw a security guard peering closely at the work. She’s really into brush strokes, I guess. I trudged onward. And then I stopped abruptly. This work, which I’d seen a dozen times framed by those arches, had altered before my eyes. I suddenly realized that the security guard was transfixed by thousands of bits of glossy paper torn from magazines to simulate Whistler’s painting. I joined her, incredulous. We bowed and stretched together, pointing and gasping, stepping back and boring in as close as we could. 

My camera won’t capture the wonder of this work, by American artist Vik Muniz. The collage is on loan to the National Gallery of Art to fill the void left by the real Woman in White (while she anchors the Whistler exhibit elsewhere). The Whistler exhibit closes in October, and then the Muniz will be whisked away. I’ll probably get to the Whistler exhibition. But I’ll definitely return to the Muniz.

Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl, after James McNeill Whistler, from Pictures of Magazines 2 (2013) (detail), 2003, by Vik Muniz, American, born in Brazil, 1961. Promised gift of Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C. (Yay!)

Double Bonus: True to last week’s resolution, I asked the security guard what her name is. And then I told her mine. My new friend Kamica and I chatted for a long time — and she directed me to her other favorite piece. Happily, it was near the exit. 

July 16: In just two days, our local hardware store had repaired our patio screen doors. And they look great! But, alas, I discovered a missing track wheel just as Kevin and I were about to reinstall them. I returned to the hardware store, leaned the beautifully screened (but still broken) door against an outside wall, and went inside. 

Haitian Market by Sea, 1963, by Castera Bazile, Haitian (1923-1966). On loan from ZQ Art Gallery, New York.

The hardware store guys and I have known each other for years. (I used to purchase dried ears of corn for a local 19th century barn museum I helped manage, but that’s a different story.) Out back, John thought he could replace the wheel and invited me to wait. No problem. Then he hoisted a garage door I’d never noticed before and revealed the store’s inner workings. 

I am definitely one of those people who love small hardware stores. Maybe because, when I was little, our local hardware store man would always find a nickel behind my ear. Maybe I love the tiny (and huge) bits and bobs, each with a very specific job to do. (I especially love the tiny drawers with the screws, nuts, bolts and nails — and walking out of the store clutching four of them in a tiny brown paper bag for 32 cents.) Maybe I love wandering the four aisles knowing I’ll always find something I need. Or maybe I just cherish the friendly, knowledgable folks who work there. 

Alexandrina and Her City, 1944, by Carybé, Brazilian, born in Argentina (1911-1997). Collection Adriana Varejão, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

So, naturally, I gaped as I stood at the threshold of the cool dark room beyond. I saw supplies on racks and brackets, horizontal cubbyholes for storing pipes, homemade low-rise stairs, and a large platform that held next winter’s ice-melt bags and the screen door that John was about to inspect. 

In no time, John replaced the missing wheel. Hardware: $3.29; labor: no charge.

At home, Kevin worked his own magic, with lubricants and patience, to reinstall the doors and get them whisking back and forth. They’re beautiful. I don’t know why I waited so long to replace those screens. But my visit to the hardware store today was a lot more fun than the chore it bumped: cleaning out the refrigerator!

Empress Akweke, 1975, by Dindga McCannon, American, born 1947. Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Bonus: Ok, about that 19th century barn museum. In the wee City of Falls Church, Virginia, we have a farm house built around 1845 and a barn almost as old. The interior walls and floors of the barn are filled, floor to rafters, with 19th century and early 20th century tools and farm implements. My favorites are the manure shovels, shoe lasts, an enormous slicing mandolin, a winnowing fan machine (I finally saw how wheat was separated from chaff), a reproduction Sears Catalogue — and the corn shellers and grinders. For 25 cents an ear on Saturday mornings in the summer, children could shell, grind and bag corn. They could also weigh each other on a pig scale. This five-minute video of Cherry Hill Barn gives you a peek.

I used to manage the barn volunteers and took a lot of shifts myself. I especially loved rainy days when I was alone and free to explore all those tools, the Sears Catalogue, and the barn’s mortise and tenon construction. Oh, I miss it. Maybe I’ll wander by on Saturday and see what I can do to help out.

Nightlife, 1943, by Archibald John Motley, Jr., American (1891-1981). The Art Institute of Chicago. Nate told me he attended the Afro-Atlantic Histories exhibition too. This was his favorite painting, and definitely one of mine.

July 17: A gently clouded sky; a lightly crowded space; an abundance of time to sit and talk. Kathy, thank you for inviting me to the pool today. And a breeze-cooled beer on your porch was pretty nice too.

July 18: A liter of water spilled over Nate’s feet and under his backpack. Different water saturated my skirt and driver’s seat. We arrived at the house to find a lightning-fried modem and embarked on an emergency hour-long trip to get a replacement. Trying to reconnect our internet, Nate missed his evening appointments. I failed to reboot the TV and missed watching the Home Run Derby with Jeremiah. The fountain pump had stopped; will the pond be scummy tomorrow?

Maybe. For now, I’ll read about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. If they could do that, I can do this.

Self-Portrait as Liberated American Woman of the ’70s (detail), from the series Tati, 1997, printed 2003, by Samuel Fosso, Central Africa, born in Cameroon, 1962. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas.

July 19: “Wanna go surfing at first light tomorrow?” Nate asked me last night. First light? Surfing? Of course.

This morning, we consigned first light to the sea gulls and declared 7:45 am the new dawn. Nate whipped up French toast and veggie sausage links for our breakfast. And now I sit in the early morning sun watching the surfers. The waves have already cooled my knees and splashed my swimsuit. Nate is maneuvering his surfboard; I’m hoisting my book. We are both content. 

July 20: My skin was starting to crisp. I’d been taking diagnostic videos of the wrong floppy-hat surfer. And my shady beach chair was far away. I decided it’s definitely ok to grouse in paradise.

Then I saw a “surfer dude” toy bobbing in the ocean a little farther than he should be. You’re supposed to fling them into the whitewater and they’ll glide back to you. This fellow, though, was heading to the real surfer lineup. A pair of sad grandparents stood next to me. “Does that toy belong to you?” I asked. They nodded, and I offered to retrieve it. The ocean was a bit choppy for my taste, but oh it felt divine. I pushed out through the waves and grabbed the little guy. “Our hero!” they said. “Truly,” I said, as the cool water purged my grousing, “the pleasure was mine.”

Another mistake, but I like it. Maybe I had just retrieved my water bottle from the waves.

July 21: Consistent with our biannual tradition (December to buy Christmas presents and July to return them), Jeremiah and I browsed the Criterion Collection sale. Drive My Car, the award-winning 2021 film by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, was at the top of Jeremiah’s list. 

We found it, along with Double Indemnity (yummy film noir), Twelve Angry Men (because watching decent people listen to each other is soul-soothing), The Funeral (by the director of the adorable Tampopo) and The Last Waltz (because Bob Dylan and the Band always have a seat at our table).

I can see it now: some very rainy day, we’ll watch (again) all three hours of Drive My Car, then the three-hour voice-over commentary, and finally three hours worth of bonus material. We’ll stagger up from the couch — and then decide that a light Cary Grant-Irene Dunn film would be the perfect nightcap.

Readers, to receive notifications by email each time I make a post, just scroll all the way down this page (next to the “word cloud”), look to the left and click on the black button that says “Join Me!” And if you think a friend might enjoy these, please share the Delight!

If you’d like to browse my past delights, please consult the “word cloud” featured at the very bottom of this post. Find a theme or two that interests you and sift through the sands. Or learn a bit more about my Blog by visiting my Welcome page. You’ll also see links to four essays that were published in print magazines. I’m glad you’re here!

I really need to share the entire image, not just a detail. I think this is my favorite. Self-Portrait as Liberated American Woman of the ’70s, from the series Tati, 1997, printed 2003, by Samuel Fosso, Central Africa, born Cameroon, 1962. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas.

14 thoughts on “Delights: July 15 to July 21

  1. Thanks for sharing pictures from the exhibition and the recreation of the Whistler from paper…gosh! Must have been worth going up close and examining it. What a great week you have had!

    My brother who now lives in Vancouver used to live in Falls Church – small world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Whistler recreation was amazing! I did indeed spend a lot of time there looking at everything … How fun that you have a Falls Church connection. It is indeed small world. Vancouver is closer to you, though! And a beautiful place, I’m told.

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  2. I love the pictures you shared! And you writing about the ocean… I already see myself there about 5 days from now 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t wait to see you, Karolina. I think you’ll be my partner in crafting many, many ocean delights!

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  3. The works you have featured are very powerful indeed. I also took the video tour, and I must confess that doing so made me feel rather emotional. Overwhelmingly the art that I have consumed throughout my life has been from the White European tradition, but the video gave me a tantalising glimpse of another, joyful world. I wish I, and others from my own cultural background, had been exposed to exhibitions of similar scope and quality at a much younger age.

    I admit to initially feeling a little uncomfortable about “Runaways”, fearful perhaps that it may trivialise the horrors that gave rise to the original C19 images. But, on reflection, I guess that because of his own cultural origins, Glenn Ligon can go places that might be considered out-of-bounds to White artists. The concept of recording other people’s perspectives of oneself is absolutely fascinating, though possibly rather frightening too. It leads me on to thinking how my own view of myself has changed over time, how I have recently (since retirement from work, really) come to realise that I’m not quite the person I once believed myself (or wanted myself) to be. If one of the primary roles of the artist is to make us think, Glenn Ligon gets full marks from me.

    And finally, well done for sticking to last week’s resolution, and swapping names with Kamica. Sadly, being a reserved, anxious Englishman I can’t see myself following in your footsteps any time soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Mr. P. Museums here in the U.S. (and maybe elsewhere?) are starting to work hard at making the invisible visible. And it’s so energizing, as you observed. In fact, after leaving the Afro-Atlantic Histories exhibit, the “conventional” art in the nearby galleries looked so uninspired, even boring (including the Impressionists). We are on our way to a new way of seeing, at last.

      I also appreciate your point about Ligon’s art. I debated whether to name (and celebrate) the humor embedded there. As you noted, Ligon has the hard-earned privilege of shaping grotesque history any way he wants. And I guess we can accept his invitation to join him. I’m not sure, though, I’ll ask my friends what they think of me…

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      1. Oh, Carol Ann! So much here this week!❤️ I so wish I had the words to describe you, as you are one in a million. Even attempting in my mind really makes me smile. Love the beauty and energy of your week and words.

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      2. Yes, we are seeing some attempts by museums and galleries here to embrace greater diversity and inclusivity. I fear in some cases these may be token gestures (“a tick in the box”), but at least it’s a start. Big changes have to start somewhere, and every journey begins with a single step. Although we are a long, long way from where we need to be there’s no doubt in my mind that in the UK society is much more mindful of diversity and inclusivity than was the case when I was a teenager, so maybe there are grounds for cautious optimism?

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  4. Only one word will do: Wowsah! What an exhibit! Vibrant, provacative, sad all at the same time. I, too, watched the short video. No wonder you went to the exhibit even though you were tired.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you could see how great it was, Laurie. I was wobbling when I left, mostly from its emotional heft and deep beauty. Wowsah, indeed!

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  5. Loved this series of posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad! I did worry I had a bit too much to say this week. Your kind note eased my self-consciousness. I hope you visit again, Faye.

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  6. You have captured the wonder & power that is Art. Viewing snippets of the exhibition through your eyes reminds me that the oppression of peoples cuts across race, space & time; I am filled with both sadness as well as hope, that if enough of us are moved in some way, maybe things can still change. My head is reeling with thoughts and my heart heavy as I revisit your post – we visited the Ever Present: First Peoples Art of Australia yesterday, and I thought of your visit, and of protest art, and why we need to protest in the first place.

    https://www.nationalgallery.sg/see-do/programme-detail/460894794/ever-present-first-peoples-art-of-australia

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Ju-Lyn — I feel as though you visited the exhibit with me. I agree with you: we can do so much to heal the world simply by opening our eyes to difficult history, embracing fresh art forms (even if they are centuries old), and honoring the historically unseen. Ever present, indeed. How lucky we are to be alive when the world of art has turned at last to these stories, this art, these talented people. With gratitude (and a teensy bit of envy) I browsed the Ever Present exhibit. Thank you. I’m particularly captivated by the featured image of the red and white tangled strands. So beautiful and compelling.

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