Friday, September 24, 2004

Go to a Sunday chamber music concert at the Phillips Collection

LOCATION: 20th and P TIME: You know, museum open times. EQUIPMENT: Yourself, an aesthetic appreciation, tolerance for old-person smell

The Phillips Collection is charming - and you'd expect it to be, since it charges $8 and has to compete with all the other world class free art museums in D.C. It's in a lovely old house that has that European feeling of well-preserved still usable antiquity (made me think of the scene in the movie "Intimate Strangers" where he lovingly removes all the childhood toy cars off his father's ancient wood dresser to polish it every week.) There are these goofy old barometers in every room that make me think of something Duchamp might have thrown together with cogs and springs and Art Deco steel arrows.

My favorite thing about the exhibitions, though, are the captions on the paintings. I mean, when do you ever pay attention to those? Usually they offer completely irrelevant biographical information, or annoying misinterpretations of the painting, or they're just kind of vague. But whoever does the Phillips labels is fantastic. She talks about each piece in relationship to the other pieces in the collection, pointing out connections you might otherwise have missed, and useful didactics are well balanced with cute stories. (I liked the one in a Surrealism show about how Max Ernst, while still an unknown, was travelling through Europe during World War II trying to escape to America. He wrapped up one bulky canvas that he wasn't able to carry, and dropped it onto a ship headed for the States will the following label: "Max Ernst, c/o The Museum of Modern Art." The canvas made it there and they did indeed hold it for him.) (There was another exhibit of stuff from the Wadsworth museum in Hartford and the labels, as well as commenting on the paintings, wove in the story of the early career of Chick Austin, the founder of the museum - a delightful man who raised money for his experimental art purchases [he was the first to bring a Picasso to the States] by performing magic shows.)

The guestbook is also surprisingly fun: people sign it with their opinions of the exhibition, quotes from their favorite poet, philosophical rumination, and quick sketches of their own. Often little debates spring up from page to page.

Every Sunday at 5 pm there is a free chamber music concert in the big hall. It's an absolutely amazing place to hear classical music - besides the fantastic acoustics and intimate setting, you're surrounded by gorgeous paintings! It seems, however, that most people who share my opinion are over the age of 60. Whenever I go, I'm surrounded by legions of well-dressed, bright-eyed old people. They chat and joke and lean over to the people sitting behind them to introduce themselves and I've overheard the start of quite a few easy friendships and promises to catch that new opera - making me feel quite ashamed of my own generation's social skills, as we lurk around in dark corners at the noisy night clubs trying to look cool, sucking down booze to work up the nerve to even approach anyone.

So don't worry, my youth-obsessed compatriots - some old people discover a kind of subtle, well-balanced happiness that we can't even dream of, with our silly neuroses and our fears and ambitions. And personally, as I age, I'm looking forward to finding more people who are willing to accompany me to chamber music concerts at dignified art galleries. My only worry: old-person smell. Is it really so universal?


Blogger Sarah Smile said...

When people ask about my career aspirations, I tell them all I want to be when I grown up is.......... old. I can't wait to be old.

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Help me Dude, I'm lost.

I was searching for Elvis and somehow ended up in your blog, but you know I'm sure I saw Elvis in the supermarket yesterday.

No honest really, he was right there in front of me, next to the steaks singing "Love me Tender".

He said to me (his lip was only slightly curled) "Boy, you need to get yourself a shiny, new plasmatv to go with that blue suede sofa of yours.

But Elvis said I, In the Ghetto nobody has a plasma tv .

Dude I'm All Shook Up said Elvis. I think I'll have me another cheeseburger then I'm gonna go home and ask Michael Jackson to come round and watch that waaaay cool surfing scene in Apocalypse Now on my new plasma tv .

And then he just walked out of the supermarket singing. . .

"You give me love and consolation,
You give me strength to carry on "

Strange day or what? :-)

3:58 AM  

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