Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I spent yesterday in Washington, primarily at the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art.  Inspired by Bonnie's recent post on Old Montreal, I thought it might be fun to share some of the day's delights with you, beginning with the East Wing itself (above), which was designed by the renowned architect, I.M. Pei.

As I entered the East Wing and descended one level, my eyes were riveted to Wall Drawing No. 681C, by the American artist, Sol LeWitt.

Just a few steps away was a small gallery adorned by three works of the abstract expressionist painter, Mark Rothko.

This is a wonderful, small stabile created by Alexander Calder and titled Vertical Constellation with Bomb (1943).  I love the way that the shadows add to this composition.  As I looked at this work, I began to wonder if shadows, in the Jungian sense, also improve the compositions of our individual selves.

Turning left from Vertical Constellation with Bomb, I saw this collection of small Calder stabiles and mobiles. Again, notice how the shadows provide a sense of depth and play.

As I proceeded back to the main level of the East Wing, I found myself drawn, as moth to flame, to the moving walkway that transports people from the main part of the East Wing to a lovely cafe and gift shop.  Except for the floor level and a portion of one wall, the area of the moving walkway is rounded, cavernous, and lined with lights that change in appearance with every passing second.  The lights, coupled with the movement of the walkway itself, allowed me to create the above photo and the ones just below.  The thing that caught my eye, and which I tried to capture in these photos, was the sense that we are each on a mysterious journey through time, drawn toward something that is both luminous and divine.

The ground level floor of the East Wing, like the exterior of the building itself, is a feast of geometrical designs — walls and windows at sharp angles, intense colors against the neutral tones of stone.

From this vantage point on the third floor, one can get a sense of the play of light, shadows, and angles in the building.  In the foreground, of course, is another Calder mobile (Untitled, 1976).

This is essentially the same view, zoomed in a bit.  The sculpture in the recessed area beneath the bridge is by David Smith.  Note also the small Giacometti sculpture, Walking Man II (1960), on the bridge.

This is a view from the ground level of the museum, looking toward the entrance.

This wonderful little gallery features some of the cut-outs, papiers coupes, that Henri Matisse created during the last fifteen years of his life.

This gallery is devoted to modern American art.  My purpose here is to simply demonstrate how effective the East Wing curators are in their use of color, design, and lighting to display their collections.

Shortly after noon, I walked down the Capitol Mall and had lunch at "Metropolitan," a lovely restaurant owned and operated by the National Gallery.  

After lunch, I went to the main building of the National Gallery to see a new photo exhibition:  "Beat Memories: The Photography of Allen Ginsberg."  In an age of digital color, it was great to see these candid black and white photos of Ginsberg and his celebrated friends, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, and the poet, Gregory Corso.

After seeing the Ginsberg exhibit — and treating myself to a cappuccino and a wicked tart aux pommes — I left the main building of the National Gallery and headed for my car.  Just as I was leaving, however, I caught my reflection in one of the glass pyramids that can be seen in the header photo of the East Wing. Normally, I do not take photos of myself.  I took the above photo, however, because the composition, which I just stumbled upon, seemed to be a metaphor for how we often see each other in fragmented and distorted light, half concealed and half revealed.  That leads me to why I value art so much.  I believe that art speaks a truth that words alone can never express.  "Art is a lie," said Picasso, "that makes us realize the truth."

Note on Photos:  Click on photos to enlarge for easier viewing.


  1. I agree with you, George. The displays are very pleasing. I really like that you photographed the rooms, showing that, because it is not something people often do. The wall of Rothkos, especially, strikes me as a pleasing and balanced composition.

    You make a beautiful observation, about the Calder mobiles and stabiles, with their shadows displayed. Jung, and John Hillman, have helped me accept my shadow self/selves, and I appreciate you bringing this to my attention in a gallery. In fact, I have a Calder-esque stabile in my office that my friend Lar made for me, a human (male) figure standing on his head, balancing a piece on his feet in the air. I will look at the shadow play on the wall today when I get to the office.

    The illuminated walkway is gorgeous, and again, bringing it home to your journey is just like you, and I appreciate it. We have an LED walkway at the McNamara terminal at Detroit Metro, and I feel mesmerized whenever I walk through it, partly because when I’m there I’m headed somewhere over the Atlantic, which in itself is an exciting journey. Your middle photo of the light tunnel with the man figure in motion is just the right illustration for the mystery you evoke.

    I am always interested in “celebrities” known for one thing, being discovered (by me) in another field, like Ginsberg and his photographs. I felt that way recently when I found out about Dennis Hopper’s photography. By the way, I look forward to seeing “Howl,” though I haven’t really read much about it yet.

    Lastly, I’m so glad you included the self photo! It’s great to see you there, and also it is apropos of how we experience each other via blogs. As in art, the artist has a job to do, a performance of sorts, to communicate what he wants. And the reader/observer perceives the artist/blogger in her own way. It’s fun to see you through a Pei pyramid, an archetype of modern art, with that ceiling light-moon at exactly your waist level, a constellation of George, which is my title for this photo. ☺

  2. To Ruth,

    Thanks, as always, for the thoughtful comments, and I'm delighted that you liked the photos. While we go to art museums to see the art, I think its important to remember that great buildings and great interior design are also works of art.

    With respect to the mystery evoked by the lighted, moving walkways, one might rationally argue that I see too much in common things and places. To this, I must plead guilty, for I am at a point in my life where everything seems to radiate with meaning.

    I like your point about discovering other dimensions of "celebrities" such as Dennis Hopper. As always, there is much to experience if we can get beyond our preconceptions about "who people are."

    I was reluctant to include the self-photo and did so only at the last moment. If the payoff is that I have now achieved my lifelong dream of being a constellation, I have no regrets.

  3. Here's a toast, then, to those lies that bring us closer to the truth. Exceptional photography once again, George. It has been decades since my last visit to the National Gallery (which I used to frequent quite a bit when I lived in the States). I was particularly struck by the good job on the Calder mobiles and shadows, further enhanced by your insightful comments. And the shots of the walkway are mesmerizing and radiate mystery. This is the next best thing to an actual visit to the National Gallery. Now, if you could only send me a slice of that "wicked tart aux pommes".

  4. To Lorenzo,

    Thanks again, my friend, for all of your assistance today in trying to solve my tech problem with the feeds to other blogs. Thanks also for the nice comments on the posting. I assure you that, before all is said and done, I will salute you with a wicked slice of tarte aux pommes.

  5. All back to normal, George - though I'm receiving everything twice the size than previously... Just thought I'd mention it, as I don't know if this is intentional or not...

  6. To Robert,

    It's intentional, Robert. I just moved to a new template, which is wider and allows for larger text and photos. I'm still working with it. Thanks for the note, however.

  7. Hi George
    Thanks for the amazing journey. I can understand your enthusiasm for this place.

  8. To Tramp,

    Thanks, Tramp. It was a great day and I'm glad to share it with you. Here's hoping that the back is on the mend. I'm looking forward to your postings as you get back on your feet.

  9. Love the photos of the moving walkway. Entrancing.

  10. Thanks for the nice comments, Fireweed Meadow. I also love the walkway photos. Have a nice day.

  11. May I use your image of the Matisse Cut Out gallery for a blog posting of mine on 'Artists I Love'? I want to show the scale of some of his last pieces and your photo is a great example of that. I will give credit of course. Here is last weeks blog entry as an example of what I am doing. Thanks, Marty

  12. No problem from my standpoint, Marty. You are free to download my image of the Matisse room of the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art.