New York Arts in DC

Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait: Smithsonian: National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, November 18, 2016 – May 7, 2017.

Dolorosa, 2000. Video diptych © Bill Viola. Photo The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu.

Bill Viola, one of the most sought-after artists internationally, early selected a contemporary medium to address broad humanistic questions. Embracing global perspectives that include Christian theology, Zen Buddhism, and Islamic Sufi mysticism, his videos address our hybrid existence as matter and thought, our memories, empathy with others, and transitions through birth, death and aging. Organized by Asma Naeem, curator of prints, drawings and media art, in consultation with Viola’s creative partner, Kira Perov and the Bill Viola Studio, the exhibition displays eleven works that span the artist’s early career to the present. Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, expressed his delight in inviting “visitors to enter the museum’s newly created media galleries to experience portraiture in its most telling and current form: moving revelations of the human body and spirit that befit our digital age.” In the accompanying 20-page brochure, Naeern provides a contextualizing overview; the artist comments simply on the action in each piece. The viewer is encouraged to make associations, a direction Viola advocated in an earlier interview: “images have their life because they’re untethered and free floating” (video: Bill Viola and the making of Emergence by Mark Kidel, 2003).

Detroit in Washington, at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Danny Gavigan and Tim Getman in Lisa D'Amour's Detroit at Woolly Mammoth. Photo Stan Barouh.

Detroit, a play by Lisa D’Amour, which opened last Sunday at Woolly Mammoth in Washington, DC, is not really about Detroit, except as a potent symbol of the fading of the America dream. The play is set in suburbia, any suburban area around any major America city, where the promise of the good life with picnics and Saturday night dances and well-scrubbed children is harder to achieve in the current economic malaise and intrusion of violence into quiet, middle class neighborhoods everywhere.

Max Hirshfeld’s Illuminaries…Illuminating Washington’s Art World

Max Hirshfeld, Septime Webre

Photographer Max Hirshfeld, who came to Washington, DC, in 1969 from a small, Southern town, has always been fascinated with “the other Washington,” as he calls it, the creative community in the city that has nothing to do with the federal government. This spring he began photographing key players in the DC art scene—poets, novelists, actors, directors, critics, dancers, architects and patrons—and the result is a stunning series of 33 portraits, called “Illuminaries,” now on display at Hemphill Fine Arts in downtown Washington through July 27th. It is part of the gallery’s larger exhibit on the Artist-Citizen.

Adaptation of Chekhov’s Seagull Lays Golden Egg for Woolly Mammoth in DC

Aaron Posner's Stupid Fucking Bird at the Mammoth Theater Company: (left to right) Katie DeBuys, Cody Nickell, Kate Norris, and Rick Foucheux

This is a bit of a sacrilege, but I have always found Anton Chekhov’s much beloved nineteenth-century play, The Seagull, bordering on a parody of itself. When Masha, the estate manager’s daughter, enters in the opening scene of the play dressed all in black and announces she “is in mourning for her life…” how can we possibly keep a straight face? Chekhov couldn’t have imagined how shamelessly French torch singer Edith Piaf would overuse the line in the 1930’s with her own infatuation with black clothing, making this an even more melodramatic line for today’s audiences. So, from my perspective, it does not take much to turn The Seagull from serious, revered Russian classic to clever, side-splitting spoof.