Monday, November 8, 2010

Schizoid city/Lost and found

From this weekend:

"Cultural Transformations: Berlin in the 20th Century," lecture by Marion Deshmukh at the Goethe Institut. Deshmukh is the GMU Hawkes Professor of History, although I didn't have her as a German teacher when I was a student there. Deshmukh's lecture walked the audience through some of the changes in Berlin in the late 19th and early 20th century, with particular emphasis on topographical changes and rebuilding efforts after the end of World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Berlin has always been a schizoid city - barracks backwater, provincial working town, hotbed of socialist activity, center of the Reich - culminating in the ultimate division when the Soviet slapped a wall down the center of the city. Conventional wisdom said the West boomed and the East stagnated, which is true to a large extent, but as the difficulty after reunification shows, the East simply didn't stream towards capitalism with open arms.

Deshmukh's lecture was very interesting, if not groundbreaking, but helpful to point out that the wrangling over what gets rebuilt (and who pays for it) goes on. For an excellent history of the city, the best book in English that I've found, read Faust's Metropolis.

Romaine Brooks, Self Portrait.

Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, at the National Portrait Gallery.

I think the National Portrait Gallery is one of the best museums in DC. It's large, but not overwhelming, and has a large enough collection and several traveling exhibits to make it worth visiting every few months. And, since it's part of the Smithsonian museum collective, it's free.

The Hide/Seek website bills itself as the "first major museum exhibit to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American potraiture." The exhibit ranges from a staid portrait of Walt Whitman to Andy Warhol's snapshots taken while wearing a wig and makeup (the precursor to the Facebook in the bathroom mirror snap?). The Portrait Gallery has packed a lot into the space, and it's a great collective of portraiture, sexual difference or not. It's divided chronologically, from Before Difference (which I would argue with) to Modernism to AIDs and Beyond. Definitely worth the trip.

It also has one of my favorite sculptures, "Portrait of Ross in LA" by Felix Gonzalez Torres.

Did I take a piece of candy? Duh. What did it taste like? Vaguely grapey. Could I stand there and stare at the shiny, shiny wrappers for hours? Yes.

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