35 DC Art Imitates Life

I doubled back to the National Gallery, one of the places where this project started. A high school field trip sent us to the Smithsonian Institution, with strict instructions what science museums we had to attend. My painter friend Bruce tapped my shoulder before we left the bus and grumbled, "Come on. We're going to the National Gallery of Art." There is nothing like spending a day looking at a broad spectrum of art with someone who really appreciates it to inspire you, and I came away with my own growing fondness for art and a desire to see and learn more.

That first visit, Bruce taught me the basics: composition, balance, color, etc. But I couldn't have picked out a Hopper from a da Vinci. Since then, I had taught myself about artist's techniques, individual styles, and how their work related to other artists and to their societies. And I had identified Hopper as one who called to me.

The National Gallery holds Hopper's 1939 Cape Cod Evening. It is a textbook example of Hopper's disconnected figures. The dog not listening to the man calling it implies that his masters don't listen to each other either. There is no sidewalk, walkway, or driveway. Jo and Ed's house on Cape Cod was similarly isolated, and the relationship in the painting seems an apt view of Jo and Edward's often stormy marriage.

I stopped back at the front desk and inquired where I might find Cape Cod Evening hanging in the cavernous museum.

"It just went into storage," the sentry informed me from behind thick security glass. He was a stocky middle-aged African-American with a bushy mustache and night-dark eyes. His manner was officious but seemingly trying to make me feel unthreatened. As a result, I of course felt on guard.

"Could I call to see whether I could arrange a viewing?"

"Sure," he grunted and pointed to a phone on a table outside his booth. After several calls, I was connected to the woman in charge of such things. "We can't arrange a viewing on such short notice," she protested, but I did wheedle a token quote out of her. "Being a national gallery," she stated, "it's fitting that the Hoppers are here because he's so identified as an American painter."

In DC, even the art galleries act like they hold military secrets. I had to leave DC and get back to Irish's. I headed out of the National Gallery, walking beneath the huge Alexander Calder mobile suspended above the atrium, each element isolated, swinging precariously above our heads, but all in balance so that it doesn't fall. It seemed a lot like these United States.

No comments: