Nothing has exploded and no one is wounded in Phil Nesmith’s photographs of Iraq. And that might be the most extraordinary thing about his show, opening Saturday at Irvine Contemporary.

“My Baghdad” chronicles Nesmith’s two trips to the war zone in ambrotypes– hazy, antique-looking images created on glass plates.

The surprisingly placid images were shot in 2003-04 and during a brief stint in 2006, and they include barren Iraqi landscapes, birds on a wire and sunsets marred only by a passing helicopter. They have the patina of old Civil War photographs, but were shot digitally — because things move too quickly in Iraq to pull out a large camera and wait for a long exposure. “It’s too dangerous for that,” Nesmith says.

[read the whole article]

Phil’s blog is here and this is his [tag]Ferrotype[/tag] site.

The opening reception for Phil Nesmith: My Baghdad is at Irvine Contemporary from 6-8 on Saturday. You should check out his work. And encourage him to sell me the picture I want to buy that isn’t for sale, if you just happen to have him cornered.

Husband and I went to visit the Buddhas today at the Sackler Museum of Art. We always stop and say hello to Ganesha. We also checked out the Southeast Asian Ceramics exhibit, which we hadn’t seen yet even though it’s been up for months.

The Sackler store was playing some sort of demonic j-pop Christmas/Dance music. We had to leave quickly, the music was blocking our qi.

In our wanderings we also meandered through the National Museum of African Art. I wanted to link to a couple of especially cool pieces in the Walt Disney-Tishman African Art Collection, but the site crashes Firefox and is giving me an error message in Safari. I’m too tired to figure out the problem. Searching google, I was able to get bypass the Museum website’s splash page and go directly to the section about the masks on display, but there’s no deep-linking. Let’s take that as a sign that you should just go browse the exhibit yourself and pick your own favorites. (Why can’t you go between the Sackler and African Art anymore without leaving the building?)

We also passed through the Freer Gallery of Art to visit their Buddhas. We made the obligatory stop into the Peacock Room on our way out. I’d never noticed it has sunflower-shaped fireplace doohickeys. (I don’t know what they’re called – are they part of the screen? I’m from Florida. We don’t have fireplaces. I could look it up, I suppose. But I probably won’t).

We’ve realized that at any given time, in any museum in the world, there are always five people there. Not the same five people, quit being so literal and/or paranoid. Five representatives of the basic museum-going archetypes. Perhaps they’re Museum Spirits who don’t exist outside the confines of institutional cultural presentations? Who can know. They are: Aging Hippie Woman Anthropology Professor, Woman Wearing Too Much Perfume, The Bickering Couple, and Random White Guy. The museums were all practically empty, yet at each one we kept bumping into incarnations of the Museum Spirits.

Husband pointed out that maybe to other museum goers he appeared to be The Random White Guy. He was smart enough not to point out I could play the role of the Aging Hippie Woman Anthropology Professor, otherwise we might have also found ourselves playing the role of The Bickering Couple.

Yesterday Tracy Lee and I went on a fieldtrip to the National Museum of Women in the Arts for an initial viewing of Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution. I need to do some reading and return to the exhibit because I didn’t recognize many of the artists or their work, and even with the pretty good explanatory labels I didn’t really understand a lot of the work or the curator’s thinking in including it in the show. On a sidenote, Barbara Pollack notes in her Washington Post review that there a difference between the show as it’s on display here as opposed to it’s debut at the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. is that now “…there are copious wall labels…”. That’s nice but I would argue that the show needs more labels and more context. Lots more context.

My biggest frustration with the exhibit (aside from the sub-arctic temperatures that left my aged and arthritic joints screaming in agony) is with the (artistic) media included in the exhibit.

I don’t have a problem with the accompanying audio files that you can call up with your cellphone. (You can also listen to them online by going to the highlights from the program link – probably not worksafe, unless you work somewhere where a woman talking about “vulvic space” is not going to be a problem). It’s very cool to stand in front of Carolee Schneemann’s “Interior Scroll” while looking at the action photos of her performing the piece while you listen to her explaining the origins of the work on your cellphone. I’m disappointed there aren’t more of these, actually, but that’s not my problem. My problem is with the display of the video pieces, and there are a delightfully large number of them presented. These are films or videos that are themselves the art pieces, to be clear these are not little explanatory pieces about the exhibit.

I know that presenting multi-media in a museum setting is a no-win proposition and so it’s hard for me to even decide how to frame this criticism. I’m certainly not certain how I’d solve the problem.

First of all, the museum seems to have heard Dr. Birdcage’s complaint that they display a lot of work too high for the average woman to view, because the monitors are probably at exactly the right height for viewers who are 5’2″ – anyone taller has to crane down to watch and anyone in a wheelchair is craning up.

There are very few monitors with chairs. Who wants to stand and watch videos that are 8 to 115 minutes long? If a video has sound, there’s one set of headphones available. I didn’t see jacks for additional personal headphones – although to be fair it didn’t occur to me to check until late in the exhibit so I didn’t look at every monitor.

Most monitors have 4 – 6 videos available. At each monitor they are numbered and labeled so it’s easy to make a selection, but that means only one video is available at a time. At one monitor you can choose between the work of 2 different artists. One documentary is 55:39 the other is 115. Either way, you have to stand, and only one person can listen.

If you put out more monitors and more seats, you take away room to display other artwork. If you move the monitors into seperate areas, are you marginalizing that work or taking it away from the context of the other work? How do you allow users to control where a piece starts, stops, pauses, rewinds, or fast forwards without messing around with the artist’s intent for the piece? Can the works be made available online as well as on the site – will the artists allow this?

It all makes your brain hurt, doesn’t it?

It’s a pretty big exhibit and I need to go back and have another go. We did swing through the exhibit of photos of Frida Kahlo, I thought I’d missed it entirely but it’s there until the 14th.

(Picasso was a surrealist but not a dadaist. Nevertheless, that is your art trivia for the day.)

A couple of days ago, Da Loungebunny and I hit the Dada exhibit at the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. We timed our visit to ensure we got to see and hear a performance of les ballets mechanique. It was all terribly exciting. An outing. And not just an outing, but an outing with nice company and delightfully raucous music.

The mechanical orchestra plays twice a day, at 1 and 4. I checked the website for today (Saturday) to make sure it would be playing, and then Husband and I went downtown. Let me repeat: Husband and I went downtown. To a museum. On the National Mall. On the last day of the Cherry Blossom Festival. On purpose. We subjected ourselves to this very specific form of torture so that Husband could hear the mechanical orchestra.

We didn’t get there by 1, so we drank coffee and then actually braved the exhibit (and the terrifying crush of people) until 4. It’s a good exhibit, even with the weekend crowds, but I suggest you go during the week if you actually want to be able to see it. We plan to go back one morning so Husband can spend more time. We expected that. He can’t hear the orchestra in the morning, however, so we waited it out.

4:00 came and went.

No music.

We went down to the lobby to leave. I was convinced we were going to miss it if we left. The eternal optimist, I was sure it was just running late. Since there were two people at the information desk and they weren’t in the process of helping anyone I stopped and asked the woman at the desk if the performance was still going to happen. I asked politely. Most people, when they’ve in actuality been terribly rude, preface a story like this with “I asked politely.” I, however, mean it. I worked at an info desk. Even if my eyeballs were being devoured by fire ants, I would feel compelled to smile and politely phrase any question I asked at an info desk. I feel bad for anyone who takes questions at an info desk all day.

The woman snapped at me that the only performance scheduled was for 1:00, (in a tone that suggested she believed I personally had hacked the website and changed the schedule), told me other people (lepers, I derived from her tone) were under the same mistaken impression, and then turned her back on me to end the conversation.

If she’d just politely said the listing was an error it would have been nothing more than a minor disappointment, but giving me a tongue-lashing?

I don’t care if 500 people have just asked you the same question, if your job (paid or volunteer) is to provide information and it’s so difficult for you to, you know, provide information in – if not a polite tone – a civil one maybe you have the wrong job.

The saddest part is, over the years many students have complained to me about how badly some docents at the NGA have treated them because they looked like poor students, and I never paid it much attention. Now I wonder if it’s part of the accepted institutional culture. That’s a shame, because both wings and the sculpture garden are lovely places. The West Gallery is in serious need of a signage overhaul and both museums ought to seriously renovate and/or maintain their restrooms (as long as I’m picking on the place I ought to mention that), but otherwise the exhibits are generally very nice, the theatre is nice, and the interior of the West Gallery is as nice as some of the art. And yes, I know there are about a thousand people working there and they aren’t all mean. I have in fact known some very lovely people who worked there. I don’t think any of them are still there, now that I think about it. Only one I can think of off the top of my head, at any rate.

But I digress. It’s just acceptable to treat the public badly, even, if the public does generally suck. The generalized sucking of the public is beside the point. You don’t have to be particularly nice to people, you just need to not be rude. Especially if you’re also constantly holding out your hand for donations.

I just doublechecked the website and I did not read it wrong:

April 8, Saturday
10:15 Gallery Talk: Introductory Slide Overview: Cezanne in Provence
12:30 Film on Art: Cezanne in Provence (eba)
1:00 Music/Player Pianos: George Antheil’s score for the Fernand Leger film, Le Ballet mecanique (1924) (eb)
2:00 Film Series: Billy Wilder at 100: Sabrina (eba)
4:00 Music/Player Pianos: George Antheil’s score for the Fernand Leger film, Le Ballet mecanique (1924) (eb) (emphasis added)

Go ahead, NGA. Hit me up for money again. I dare you.

Truth be told, there’s a truly dadaistic element to housing the exhibit in a fancy series of museums (it’s a travelling show) and advertising performances that don’t happen, then treating the audience as if the absence of scheduled art is their own fault. So maybe the joke is on me, after all…

A couple of days ago I had plans to attend an early evening meeting and then stop by the Hirshhorn for cocktails and a gander at the Gyroscope show. I took the Metro, so you already know that I’m about to tell you that wackiness ensued.

I ended up playing tourguide to a Norwegian soccer team. I think they were a soccer team. Their English was only slightly better than my Norwegian (read: nonexistent) so it’s entirely possible they were just telling me they like to kick small dogs. They kept saying the word soccer a lot, so I’m going to go with my original assumption – my friends in highschool were Norwegian and used the term soccer instead of football so I think it’s a safe guess. But I digress…

To make a long story short, I took them to Natural History to see the Spirit of Ancient Colombian Gold exhibit (splendid), the hall of mammals (we took a group picture with the taxidermied deer), and, of course, the yellow-bellied sapsucker (to prove there really was such a thing).

As an aside, may I just say that the new(ish) Hall of Mammals resembles the interior of an REI store. It’s really rather, well, wrong.

There’s an exhibit of photos of Norway in the hallway leading to Baird Auditorium. It looks very cold in Norway. My new friends were very keen on the idea of migrating to La Florida until they saw the bizarre little display case just representing the Everglades. The case is just before the entrance to the insect zoo and it shows a small gator and 4 snakes in a space that is maybe 15 square feet. I tried explaining that snakes are not herd animals like reindeer, but that seemed only to frighten them further as for a while they thought I was explaining that we eat the snakes just like they eat reindeer.

I left my new friends at the Museum and went to my Artomatic meeting, expecting to never see them again since I was fairly certain my explanation of the Hirshhorn’s evening programs was lost in the (lack of) translation.

Amazingly, we were reunited at the Hirshhorn to consume lovely rum drinks and view the Gyroscope exhibit, which was also quite good. You have to watch out for the combination of intoxicants and works by Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, and Willem de Kooning as that way lies really strange dreams. If you have even the slightest interest in Contemporary and Modern art and you haven’t seen this show you should scurry down there and check it out. And if you don’t have any interest, you should go anyway. It’ll be good for you.

My friend has been bugging me to help with Artomatic when I feel better. Doubt I’d be lucky enough for it to be a 15 minute walk from my office again.

And now, my friends, it’s time to talk about my bowels.

Only kidding.

The kind of fiber I need isn’t found in plants. I guess it could be, but the kind of fiber I’m lacking comes from sheepies. Last year, World Renowned Rheumatologist forbade me to ever knit or crochet again because he believed it would hasten the demise of my joints.

The orthopedists I consulted all concurred.

They didn’t so much concur as shrug their shoulders, say they probably agreed, and then tried to show me more pictures of themselves various Redskins. I’m pretty sure every Orthopod in town is a “team doctor” for the Redskins. Are all towns with NFL franchises like this? My poor Tampa Bay Bucs probably don’t have doctors clamoring to claim them as their own. Someday, boys and girls, someday….

But where was I?

Fiber.

Right.

So sometimes I crochet little gifts for people, but I put away my (read: my grandmother’s) needles a few years ago after finishing a lap-blanket for my mom. I have this delusion that someday I’ll learn how to spin yarn. That doesn’t look like it’s very hard on the joints. In fact, it looks really fucking cool. And watching a spinning wheel spin is probably way more fun than watching the bureaucracy of Grad school spin around.

But again, I digress.

Go into a yarn store some time and ask if they know where you can learn how to spin. I dare you. I doubledog dare you.

I’d say that it gets so quiet you can hear crickets chirping, but that would be wrong. It gets really quiet for a minute and then you can’t hear the crickets chirping because everyone is laughing at you, including the crickets, who are rolling around on the floor gasping for breath and pounding all of their little hairy limbs on the floor as they cackle at you.

The boss and I sneak up to this fair called the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival almost every year. I was sick in 96 and we missed it this year. Maybe next year.