Sunday, July 1, 2018

Roadboy's Return to The National Portrait Gallery

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I recently had to schedule a quick visit to Washington DC.  The trip gave me an opportunity to arrive early, visit a good friend and make a return visit the Smithsonian's Portrait Gallery. My goal was to see the new Obama portraits, but of course, there was something wonderful at every turn.  My original 2013 blog post (with additional data about the building and its renovations) may be viewed here.

Roadboy's advice to anyone who loves visiting our nation's capital, and has not yet discovered this wonderful gallery, get your butt in gear and see it!

Located away from the more famous Smithsonians, this gallery is rarely crowded. But, it is walking distance to Fords Theater, DC's Chinatown and the Old Ebbitt Grill (I know it is touristy, but it remains my "go to" stop for crabcakes in DC).

When built, this structure contained the largest single room in the United States. So large, it hosted Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration.


Officially it is the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, but locals just refer to it as The National Portrait Gallery. 

The gallery is curated to convey our history and I am amazed at how so many of the images in it generate profound emotion. With changing exhibits and art moving on an off exhibit, I find something wonderful every time I visit.  

This trip there was a fascinating exhibit called "Black Out" showcasing the art of Silhouette. Now the silhouettes I think of are the kind that used to reside on the walls of my grandma's hallway. Yet, once I walked into this exhibit I found myself completely mesmerized.

Of course the striking new portraits of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are the gallery's current showstoppers.

Walking through the Presidents gallery I always find it interesting to see the different styles selected by each president. The minimalism of Woodrow Wilson, the Abstraction of JFK, the straight-up power of LBJ and the small restrained portrait of Ronald Reagan. The Obama portrait is busy, colorful and awash in flowers. To me it is successful in evoking excitement, optimism and great dignity. Considering they've had to put ropes up to control crowds wishing to get a selfie in front of it, I'd say it is a real hit.

Barack Obama
Kahinde Wiley

Michelle Obama's portrait is undeniably lovely. In it she is draped in a spectacular geometric dress. But, although colorful and dignified, to me, it felt single dimensional, somehow failing to convey the full depth and inner beauty I feel she successfully exemplified(s) to the world.
 Michelle Obama
Amy Sherald

As always I found one image after another that evoked introspection and emotion.  Here is a small sampling of some of my other favorites from this visit.

The integrity and strength of American labor is perfectly composed in this Lewis Hine's 1921 photo.
Powerhouse Mechanic
Lewis Hine

The lines of the back of the cotton picker with the trailing sack reflect a perfect composition against the sky in this Dorothea Lange masterwork.

Stoop Labor
San Joaquin Valley, California
Dorothea Lange 1938 

This is the second time a photograph by Danny Lyon stopped me in my tracks. You just instantly make eye contact with the young man in the photo. Last spring I viewed Danny Lyon's work for the first time at a retrospective at San Francisco's MH de Young museum.

Two Years, Burglary
From the Series "Conversations With the Dead"
Prison Farm Labor, Texas
Danny Lyon 1967

As I walked further another Lewis Hine photograph grabbed my attention. In this photo the viewer also locks eyes with the image in the photoe. This time it is an immigrant arriving at Ellis Island in 1905. The immigrant's hopes and fears are expressed with stark intensity. In a country where everyone's family arrived as an immigrant, this photo is extraordinarily powerful.    

Young Russian Jewess
Ellis Island 1905
Lewis Hine 

From past postings many will know I am a devoted fan of American painter Winslow Homer. In this painting "Girl with Pitchfork" he captures an exceptional degree of facial stoicism coupled with the girl's ramrod straight posture reinforced by the verticality of her pitchfork.

Girl With Ptchfork
Winslow Homer 1867
I also loved this photo realistic painting of Toni Morrison. Her inner strength just radiates. This portrait would command attention in any gallery where it resides.

 Toni Morrison
Oil on Canvas
Robert McCurdy 2006

Avant garde advocate of American Expat Gertrude Stein has always been an enigma to me. She seemed to be one of those celebrities that was famous mainly for being famous. She was frequently and famously quoted.

Once while visiting San Francisco she met someone from my hometown (Oakland) who pointed across the bay saying they lived "over there". Stein then reportedly to quipped "but there is no there, there" 

This Oaklander finds it very difficult to forgives her for that.
 Gertrude Stein
Terra Cotta 1911
Jo Davidson

As I walked on I came to the Black-Out exhibition of silhouette art. And some of the pieces are just marvels.

 Stunning Silhouettes
Kumi Yamashita

Sihouette Detail 

Almost as a photographic bookend to the idea of silhouettes this iconic photograph of Martha Graham seemed almost magical.

Martha Graham
From the Ballet Lamentation
Edward Steichen 1931 

When growing up may family rarely ate dinner out at sit down restaurants until I hit my teens. My parents were both products of the depression and until the middle 70's visiting a restaurant was a luxury.  The exception was a Chinese restaurant on MacArthur Boulevard in Oakland where we ate about once a month. It offered reasonably priced food we loved. 

On the restaurant's walls were various prints by American painters. One was of a stark, lonely storefront entitled "Seven AM 1948" by Edward Hopper. The painting perfectly captures the quality of light found only in the morning and whenever we sat at the booth near that print its enigmatic and lonely imagery left me wondering what it was about the composition that drew me to it so intensely. 

In the years since I have sought out examples of Hopper's work and they all seem to pose riddles while evoking his trademark, almost epic, loneliness.

This painting "People of the Sun" almost comically portrays a group of seriously overdressed sun worshippers all sitting together, yet painfully seemingly alone on holiday.

People in the Sun
Edward Hopper 1960

Another of my favorite American painters is Thomas Hart Benton. Benton's larger than life murals were frequently commissioned for public works projects and major public buildings. His work always stands in testament to the power of color and composition. This mural is 22' long.

 Achelous and Hercules
Thomas Hart Benton 1947

His people are conveyed with almost hyper extended and almost rubbery looking arms and legs. Here workers share space with mythical creatures.

Detail Achelous and Hercules

The last image is a funerary sculpture that carefully shrouds the face was commissioned for the grave of "Clover" Adams; the wife of American writer Henry Adams. Irish sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens created something that is both beautiful and creepy. Clover committed suicide by drinking photographic chemicals in 1885. Adams wanted a sculpture that in post civil-war America could express the Buddhist idea of Nirvana.

     Adams Memorial 
        Augustus Saint-Gaudens 1886     
A day in this building is always a day well spent.

Roadboy's Travels © 2018

Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day 2018

Such A Price

I was in high school at the height of the Vietnam war. To make my movie money I worked nights, holidays, weekends and summers in Oakland's Downtown Merchants parking lots. One lot was the Clay Street garage across the street from Oakland's Army Induction Center. So as I sat in my little booth cashing out parkers, I witnessed the seemingly endless line of young men from all over the country reporting for duty. 

They were pretty somber. Many had said goodbye's to families, friends and loved ones the night before. Some clearly had hangovers. 

The line was quiet. Faces carried a look of profound uncertainty perhaps mixed with fear. Most knew that they were destined to see and experience things that would remain with them forever.

It hurt knowing that many of the young faces in that line would not return alive. 

It was humbling.

It is an image that has remained with me for all of my 62 years. And today, like every Memorial Day since, and with a son of my own, the haunting image of the line returns.

Roadboy's Travels © 2018

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion

The Phoenix Art Museum Presents Works From 2008 - 2015

Every now and then history, cultural reference, technology and craftsmanship fuse together and something exceptional emerges. Examples abound in engineering, medicine, art, music, architecture and fashion.

Sunday as I walked through the final day of the Iris van Herpen Transforming Fashion exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum it was clear that her work represents something rare and exceptional. Maybe even more exciting to me was the recognition that the pieces on display demonstrate an extraordinary evolution in creativity beginning when she was just 24.

Iris van Herpen - Transforming Fashion

To me, in many respects, Transforming Fashion was reminiscent of the kind of genius exemplified by Issey Miyake in his spectacular Body Works exhbition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1973. To read about Miyake's BodyWorks exhibit click here: Miyake SF 1973.

Van Herpen's fashions are not simply one-of-a-kind runway pieces, they represent restless energy and the full range of experimentation and craft. They are composed of metals, plastics, leather, glass and fabric.

For those that missed this exhibit here are some images to view. Ms. Van Herpen's fashions, however, clearly speak for themselves. 

Complex Fashion Simply Presented

Expressive Detailing

Biopiracy Dress 2014
Handblown Glass, Tulle and Metal Busk

Biopiracy Dress 2014
(Goat Leather with Ray Fish Print, Black Glass Crystals, Tulle and Cotton)

Biopiracy Dress Detail

Voltage Dress 2013
In Collaboration With Philip Beesley
Laser-cut 3D Polyester Film Lace and Microfiber

Hybrid Holism Dress 2012
Metallic Stripes, Tulle and Cotton

Micro Dress 2013
Silver Magiflex, Tulle and Viscose

Micro Dress 2012
Metallic Coated Stripes, Tulle and Cotton

Capriole 2011
Transparent Acrylic Sheets, Tulle and Cotton

Radiation Invasion Dress 2009
ECCO Calf Leather with Porcelain Treatment, Wool and Tulle

Radiation Invasion (Back)

Refinery Smoke Dress 2008
Unstreated Woven Metal Gauze, Cow Leather and Cotton

Radiation Invasion 2009
Faux Leather, Gold Foil, Cotton and Tulle 

Synhesthesia Dress 2010
 Lacquer Leather, Cow Leather, Gold Foil, Metal Eyelets, Busks and Cotton

Crystallization Dress & Collar 2010
Transparent Polyethylene Terephihalate (PET)
ECCO Leather with Oil Treatment, Goat Leather, Silver Chains and Viscose

Crystallization Dress & Collar Detail

A perfect sequence after the recent Emphatics exhibit, the Phoenix Art Museum's Transforming Fashion was a joy for fashion lovers and anyone that enjoys brash creativity.

Roadboy's Travels © 2018

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Frank Lloyd Wright Legacy Bicycle Ride

Phoenix Architectural Touring on Two Wheels

I ride my bicycle year round in Phoenix. That probably means I'm a bit crazy. 6 months of the year biking is bliss, the other 6 months I just freeze a Camelback® hydration bag overnight before strapping it to my back before a ride. The cold melting ice and ice cold water helps a lot.

The other day I realized that one of my regular rides passes some pretty interesting architectural points of interest. So I thought I'd document it as a bike tour specifically designed to showcase a part of Phoenix's architectural legacy. It also includes some interesting examples by Frank Lloyd Wright.

For visitors to the valley consider beginning at the little strip mall on the S.E corner of 16th Street and Glendale Avenue. 

Here you can rent a high quality bike at the Trailhead Bike Cafe (Stop #1). Maybe make a stop next door at Sprouts (Stop #2) and stock up on a little fruit, some healthy snacks and some fluids. 

Now, to begin the ride just walk up the hill to the Arizona Canal bike trail and begin your trip.

For residents, just grab your bike and start anywhere.

Stops #1 Trailhead Bike Cafe
Stop #2 Sprouts

This stretch of the AZ Canal bike trail offers a lot of pedestrian / bicycle underpasses reducing the places where you'll need to stop and cross some busy streets.

And I can't stress enough how important it is to be alert around cars in Phoenix. Actuarial reports are clear, Phoenicians are lousy drivers. So be alert and assume that some drivers here will be rude. Also remember it is Arizona so many will also be armed.

The first cross street you come to (East Maryland) has very little traffic. Here, I'd cross over to the north side of the canal as it offers an underpass at (busy) 24th Street.

When you emerge from the underpass you'll come to star the gravel portion of the trail and arrive at a white bridge (that leads to the Wrigley Mansion Club). Cross the bridge to the south side of the canal and keep riding east on the trail.  You'll be passing beneath William Wrigley's "little mountaintop cottage" he built in celebration of his 50th wedding anniversary. The mansion has an amazing story which you can read here: Wrigley Mansion.

The Wrigley Mansion
Viewed From the Arizona Canal

Arriving at Stop #3 
The Arizona Biltmore

Soon you'll glimpse the front view of the mansion on your right and the first of two bridges over the canal that lead to the Arizona Biltmore Resort on your left.

 The Wrigley Mansion 
Just Below Piestawa Peak

The Arizona Biltmore has the distinction of being the only Wright "inspired" hotel standing on planet earth.  It is Stop #3. 

A Biltmore Bridge with Palm Inspired Concrete Block

When you come to the second palm motif concrete bridge cross it and ride up to a valet. They can direct you to the resort's bike racks. After locking your bike head into the lobby and ask the concierge for a grounds map with history of the hotel. Then begin your exploration through this massive and remarkable 1929 resort.

If you plan it right (arriving on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday at 10:00 am) you can take the official 1.5 hour tour of the hotel.

The Spire Atop the Aztec Room 
At The Arizona Biltmore

Contrary to what many believe, Frank Lloyd Wright was not the architect for the Arizona Biltmore. The architect was Albert Chase MacArthur. MacArthur was an architectural graduate from Harvard. As itf that were not enough he was also an engineer and mathematician. Like many architects of the era, MacArthur found inspiration in Wright's work and retained him as a design consultant on the resort.

Wright's contributions to the hotel's design include the unique cast concrete masonry with its distinctive palm motif. Although Wright advised that the blocks should be square, MacArthur, the mathematician, opted instead for a rectangular shape he felt was more proportionately correct.

As you stroll the building and grounds Wright's inspiration is in evidence everywhere; the low ceilings, rooftop spires and slender steel columns.

The resort has been a coveted winter getaway for celebrities since the day it opened. Check out the little side hallway near Frank and Albert's restaurant for some great photos.

The timing of the hotel's opening, though could not have been worse due to the 1929 stock market crash. Just one year after construction, William Wrigley Jr. bought out the interests of all other investors and the Wrigley family became the hotel's sole owner for the next 43 years.

With Wrigley's ownership came the hotel's famed Catalina pool (reportedly Marilyn Monroe's favorite pool and the site where Irving Berlin penned White Christmas).

While touring the building, peek into the Gold Room (specifically to see its two magnificent tapestry / murals) and the star shaped Aztec Room with its deep fireplaces and gold ceiling.

Inspired? Good, get back on your bikes and continue riding east along on the canal as it bisects the The Adobe and Links golf courses. You might even see (nearby resident) Alice Cooper roll up to play a round at The Adobe.

When you reach 32nd street stop. Do not cross it. Instead turn left and head north (up the hill) for just a short ride to San Miguel Drive. Turn left (west) on San Miguel stopping at the crest of the little rise where you'll see a marker for "Alta Vista Estates".

Alta Vista Park Estates

Just above "Alta Vista" entry marker was the site of the Wright's stunning 1939 Rose Pauson House. Stop #4. Tragically, the Pauson house survived just 4 years before burning to the ground when an ember from the fireplace ignited drapes in 1943. Its "Shiprock" chimney (the only remaining fragment of the house) stood here until it finally crumbled in 2012. The site was considered so significant that N. 32nd St. was diverted in design to preserve the Pauson site.

The Rose Pauson Residence

Now proceed further west along San Miguel to N. 30th Street where you'll arrive at Stops #5 and #6 (Wright's 1952 Benjamin Adelman House at 5802 and the Jorgine Boomer Cottage at 5808 N. 30th Street). Both residences are privately owned so be respectful and view them from a distance.

Now retrace your steps back to N. 32nd street and cross at the crosswalk light onto Stanford Drive.

You've now crossed into Paradise Valley. Locals refer to it as "PV". PV is home to many of Arizona's wealthiest residents.

 "Welcome" Sorta
Be extra careful in PV as the police are notorious for citing bike riders for really stupid stuff. A police officer from a neighboring city told me even he got cited on his bike in PV for not "stopping at a stop sign".

Of course he had stopped (as recorded by both his Go Pro® and his gps). Despite that the citing PV officer informed him that "a full stop requires the cyclist step off a pedal and touch the pavement with one foot". Since that is total bunk, the ticket was voided. But just be aware.

Coming up pretty quickly will be The Hermosa (Stop #7). I've been known to stop in here for a drink on the patio or in The Hermosa's cozy bar.

While the Hermosa Inn has no connection with Frank Lloyd Wright, it is still pretty interesting in its own right. The Inn was created from the estate of Arizona's Cowboy artist Lon Megargee. Megargee's work includes 18 murals in the Arizona Capital. His famous sketch of a cowboy watering his horse is still found in finer Stetson hats.

Ask a server if you may poke into the the library as that is where Megargee's True West magazine covers are all carefully framed.

When you are ready head back to the bikes. Continue riding east on Stanford Drive toward Camelback Mountain. Along the was you'll roll past some very nice mid-century modern homes before the street ends at N. 44th street. 

Mid-Century Moderns

Starting Up The Hills

At the light turn left up the hill.  As the road curves N. 44th Street becomes N. Tatum Drive. Stay on Tatum until you reach Lincoln Drive. N. Tatum can get busy so ride with care.  Cross Lincoln and take a water break at the Goldwater Memorial (Stop #8). While I find the proportions of Barry's statue to be odd, the landscaping here is lovely and there is a water fountain, so it is a good place to stop.

When ready continue pedaling up Tatum to the crest of the hill.

Here, at the top on the right is Stop #9 Wright's 1954 Harold Price Sr. residence. Price is the same Oklahoma oilman who commissioned Wright's only constructed "highrise"; the 19-story Price Tower in Bartlesville Oklahoma. 

Just 4 years before his death Wright designed Price this sprawling 5,000 square foot residence with a roof that seems to float above the home itself.

After viewing the Price house from the street turn around and retrace your ride Tatum to Stanford (now all downhill!). Ride west on Stanford to N. 40th Street and turn left (south) back to link back up to the AZ Canal. If you are hungry consider stopping at Chelsea's Kitchen. With its big patio and lots of bike parking CK is always a good choice.

Chelsea's Kitchen

From here rejoin the south side of the AZ Canal trail and retrace your ride west along the canal back to the Trailhead Bike Cafe to turn in the bikes.

More by Car....
Although there are many other Wright buildings throughout Metro Phoenix, I recommend the following 3-4. Sadly, they are not bike friendly, so consider driving to see these.

1959 Norman Lykes Residence
Head out of the Trailhead Bike Cafe parking lot driving east on Glendale Road (which will soon become Lincoln Drive). When you arrive at N. 36th Street turn left (north) into the little slot canyon where you may enjoy a nice view of the Norman Lykes house. This is one of the last homes designed by Wright, construction was actually deferred until 1967.

The First Christian Church
Now head back to Lincoln Drive and drive west. Continue past Central Ave. to N. 7th Avenue. Note that any N/S Street west of Central Avenue is a numbered "Avenue" and any N/S Street east of Central Avenue is a numbered "Street".

Turn left (south) on N. 7th Avenue and you'll soon see the tall concrete bell tower on your right. This is Wright's First Christian Church (6750 N. 7th Avenue). This church was faithfully built in 1972 using the plans Wright created in 1949 for the (unbuilt) Southwest Christian Seminary.

1951 David and Gladys Wright Residence
This very special residence is only open for special events, so plan accordingly.  It was designed by Wright for his son David and his wife Gladys. The couple lived in the house until they're death (David passing in 1997 at 102 and Gladys passing in 2008 at the age of 104).

Vocal Arcadia neighbors neighbors force access to the house (when it is open) from an obscure little gate in the back parking lot of the Camelback Church of Christ.

You can see photos of it here: David and Gladys Wright House.

Many visitors plan to see Wright's Taliesin West studio in North Scottsdale and/or Wright's 1959 Grady Gammage Auditorium on the ASU campus in Tempe.

Taliesin offers a variety of tours. It is sort of dense in the "Cult of Frank" so I'm not a big fan. Gammage is open for performances but in this architect's opinion it is a hot mess architecturally. While some rave about it, I am not a fan of the slavish circular forms, steep balconies and odd sight lines.

Even geniuses should be forgiven for an off day.

Roadboy's Travels © 2018

Saturday, March 31, 2018

A Weekend in Austin

And An Open Mash Note to Austin's New Library

Roadboy just finished a weekend trip to Austin Texas. Timing was good; nice spring weather and the South by Southwest (SXSW) crowds had all left.

Sadly, in the days before the trip Austin had suffered from a series of random bombings.  As it turned out the psycho bomber self-destructed just before I arrived and city folks were venturing out with confidence again.

I've visited Texas' Music City many times over the years (mainly for work) and admit to having a soft spot for the City and it's boundless energy.

With each visit however, I find Austin a little less "Weird" and a bit more "Manhattan". But, it is still danged cool in my book.

My visit had no particular agenda other than to spend time with a friend, eat some good food, listen to some music (of which there is no shortage in the Capital of Texas) and go visit its new main library.

I met my friend at the larger than life sculpture of US Representative Barbara Jordan (a personal hero). We traveled directly from Bergstrom Airport to a casual dinner under the trees at Austin's hipster Central Market. Dinner was accompanied by some great Cuban inspired band. And, the evening progressed some pretty good dancers (and some energetic tykes) were inspired to avail themselves of the music and the lovely evening.

Saturday the big "A" architect in me opted for visit to Austin's newly opened downtown library. We rode the bus downtown enjoying some spirited conversation with fellow riders excited to offer sightseeing advice.

The New Austin Public Library

Architects are mercilous detail freaks. We scrutinize every detail of any building we visit. Sadly, we usually find more to fault than to admire. 

Well, after a whole lot more time spent poking around this building than I'd planned, I found myself just in awe of this new civic masterpiece by the Joint Venture of Lake Flato and Shepley Bullfinch. This design team just didn't miss much of anything.

The View Through The Central Atrium

The library is filled with art and comfy furnishings for every mood. There is a roof terrace with great views, acoustics are great and finishes are perfect.

Everywhere I looked there were electrical outlets and my phone indicated robust free WiFi from rooftop to the quiet reading rooms.

The Rooftop Terrace

I also offer admiration to the builders. They delivered a level of quality and finesse Austin residents should really be proud of. 

Attention To Detail is Exhibited Everywhere

From what I understand the building suffered from months of delays and a series of budget increases, but the value of the extra time and money is on display for everyone to see; truly a new civic treasure.

New Streetscape, Bridges and Pedestrian Walks Surround the Library

The exhibition galleries (that had a great show featuring Singapore's green / living wall buildings) was very nice and I noted a new cafe is in the works as well.

The Living Wall Sky Garden's Exhibition

Our visit with the library ended and led us to the nearby revamped streamlined deco Seaholm powerstation for a quick lunch and it was off to walk to South Congress.


From Seaholm our walk intersected with a portion of the 20,000 participating in Austin's March of Our Lives on our way to cross the Congress Bridge.   

The walk included window shopping, some perfect tacos al carbon, street art, people watching and some creative street performers.

Spring inAustin

Energetic Street Performer(s)


The trip was a perfect vaccination for the end of winter! 

Keep it weird.  

Roadboy's Travels © 2018