Collections, Man Ray, African Art and a Mexican Dinner, Along with a Hockey Game (25 cents)

I have been spending much of the otherwise slow week between Christmas and New Years starting a long term project – cleaning out (i.e., getting rid of) all the things in my house that I really don’t need any more, and organizing what will remain. Now that may sound impressive, but you don’t know how impressive it is until you see how much stuff I have (and, by the way, I have no doubt that I will fail to even come close to reaching my goal). One of the reasons that I have so many things is that I am by nature a collector. So, in addition to perhaps 10,000 books, there are hundreds and hundreds of LP records, and too many maps and postcards to count, and then there are shelves of stamps and stamp paraphernalia, and coins and foreign paper money (my favorite has to be a Greek bill from 1946 to the tune of 10 Billion drachmas) and, oh yes, my collection of a couple of hundred items from the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904, and of course posters, and theatrical and concert programs, and sheet music dated before 1920, and many, many things having to do with Al Jolson, and Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts, and old newspapers with important headlines, and more and more and more.

Why do I mention this? Because we spent an hour this afternoon at the Phillips Collection here in Washington (an extraordinary private art museum) looking at its current special exhibit, which focuses on Man Ray and other photographers (including Stieglitz, Sheeler, Walker Evans and many I don’t know at all) who photographed African sculpture during the first half of the 20th century, introducing native African sculpture to much of the then contemporary art world and beyond, and helping legitimizing it as art, rather than simply artifact.

The fascinating thing about this exhibit is that the curators have not only brought into one place so many beautiful photographs, but they have also located the very pieces of sculpture that were the objects of the photography, so that you can see them together. Looking at the photographs certain helps you appreciate the sculptures, and vice versa. I thought the effect was remarkable.

The sculptures and the photographs both, whether they are now the property of major musuems or not, were all at one point, part of one or more collections. And this made me think: boy, I should start collecting African art, or at least books about African art. Then, I thought: I really better leave this gallery.

And we did, and went to supper at Rosa Mexicana which, although a chain, serves remarkably good food. I had simply chicken enchiladas in a spicy green tomatillo sauce that was first class. Well, also a vodka and some sweet potato fries to start, and a very nice espresso to end the meal. (Speaking of Rosa Mexicana being part of a chain, I am reminded of a family vacation some years ago in London, where we went to an Italian restaurant somewhere near the Warren Street Underground stop one day and the next day found ourselves in a very similar restaurant in Soho. I asked the waiter if the restaurant was a chain. “No”, he said, it was not a chain, “it is Italian”.)

Verizon Center is across the street, and we saw the Caps beat Montreal 4-2 in a game that was good because we won, but where neither team played anywhere near their best, but where, for the first time, I wore my new red Caps sweatshirt, so felt like I was part of the solution, not the problem. Rock the red, as they say.

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