Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Visitors from Hiroshima

This past weekend, my church (All Souls Unitarian) welcomed a delegation from the Roshi Kosei-Kai (RKK)  Hiroshima Dharma Center. Some of us had visited them in August 2014 and experienced the "radical hospitality" of this Buddhist congregation.

The Japanese guests arrived Friday afternoon (November 6) and we had a welcoming reception for them at All Souls Church.  I met the tow guests who would stay with me in my home and I instantly liked them.  They are a couple--Yoshinobu and Kaori Takayama.  I didn't take as many pictures as I wish I had, but above is a picture of them at my house for dinner.  They are on the left.  As you can see, Louisa's family joined us.  We also had an interpreter, Davon Collins, who is in the next picture:

Before the dinner, we went to the National Arboretum and viewed a bonsai that had survived the Hiroshima bomb and was donated to the Arboretum during the Bicentennial.  Other members of the Japanese delegation joined us, and I was charmed by how they posed with this precious bonsai.

The author of a book (The Peace Tree:  The Little Tree With the Big Story) about this bonsai also joined us.  That was fun because she had done a lot of research and was very knowledgeable about its history.

On Saturday, the Japanese guests had a bus tour of Washington DC and then we joined them at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (Udvar-Hazey campus) to see the Enola Gay.  We had a little time to reflect on peace and reconciliation.  I had never been to that museum, and found that it was very interesting--well worth going back again.  It was special to share this moment with our Hiroshima guests, one of who is a survivor of the bombing and many of whom had family members affected.  This is a picture of the Enola Gay.

The plane is large, and dominates the area where it is displayed, but it evokes a lot of shame and grief from me.  We reunited with the Takayamas and took them to their hotel that night.

The church service on Sunday morning was very moving.  Reverend Rob Hardies, our minister, and the Reverend Kotaro Suzuki gave a joint sermon on "Peace in the World, Peace in the Heart."  The reality of Hiroshima is that it gave impetus to those who fully understand the threat of nuclear war to refuse to endorse any use of nuclear weapons.  The issues are too complicated to address here.  The texts of both sermons will be available on the All Souls Church website.  Here's a picture of Reverend Suyzuki in the pulpit:

You might recognize him from the picture with the bonsai at the arboretum....and also because he looks like Colonel Sanders!   His sermon was very moving because he brought the truth of Hiroshima to us.

After the services (there are two each Sunday) we had a program about "Peacemaking, Nuclear Disarmament, and Nuclear Non-Proliferation."  It included a talk from the hibukusha (survivor of the nuclear bomb) as well as others involved in current activities regarding peace.  Again, too much information to put into a blog....but, if you are interested, google "Peter Kuznick, Ph.D. and Director of the Nuclear Policy Institute at American University; Bruce Knotts, Director, Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, UUA; and/or Kevin Martin, Executive Director, Peace Action--National.  I heard the presentations but had to miss the discussion because I had to help set up for a Thanksgiving dinner for our guests.

The dinner was a fitting end to a great weekend.  We had turkey and all the fixings plus more pies than could be consumed.  There was a band and the Hiroshima guests sang some songs.  I was particularly enchanted by Kaori Takayama using hand signs when the group was singing.  

It was a good weekend, filled with the hope for Peace that is typical of the people of Hiroshima.  My hope is that I can visit them again and that my Japanese will be better. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Understanding Contemporary Art-From Pop to Pluralism

This was actually my favorite class of the current Art History series, and I almost didn't make it.  I had been sick and hadn't been looking at my calendar.  I got a message that the class was starting 10 minutes before it was scheduled.  It is about 20 blocks from my house, and there is no parking in the area.  I have walked, but I didn't have time for that.  The Metro would take a little over 30 minutes.  I called Uber. The driver was here in 2 minutes, BUT many downtown streets were closed for a marathon and my driver could not get through to the area where the class was being held.  He kept trying to find alternative routes, but couldn't get through and he finally had to leave me at a stop where I had an eight block walk.  I am still glad I made the extra effort.

I arrived 45 minutes late.  The outline at the reception desk was very good and so I could pick up right away.  It seemed I hadn't missed much.  The lecturer, Dr. Nancy Heller, started with Pop Art.  Andy Warhol was on the screen when I came in....Campbell soup cans.  Of course, there was also some Marilyn Monroe stuff.  The message, though, is that what we take as everyday stuff is art if we choose to look at it that way. We then went into Roy Lichtenstein and I learned that those dots I find so interesting in his work are called Ben-Day dots.  In comics, they were used as transfers, but Lichtenstein painted them all individually.  I had never really thought about that. She also talked about Claus Oldenberry and some others.  Oldenberry is the one who did the huge typewriter eraser at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden.  It is one of my favorites though, of course, they are obsolete.

When Ms. Heller went on to discuss Minimalist Art, I learned how to look at something that seems to be nothing and appreciate it...even if I don't actually like it.  She was very frank in her discussion of "white on white" particularly the work of Robert Ryman.
Ryman worked in a square format, with white paint, and used the framing or hanging elements as part of the composition.  I am still not sure I like it....but I see that a minimalist approach has a place in art discussions.  Ms. Heller shared a memorable quote about work like this, "What is that supposed to be and why isn't it?"  I didn't get the source of that quote, but find it very useful!!!

We also spent some time on Ellsworth Kelly and Gene Davis.  I learned that Davis was interested in the intervals between colors.  Since this class, I was at the Smithsonian American Art Gallery and found my new way of looking to be very useful....and calming.  Davis painted vertically rather than horizontally because horizontal work would invoke landscape comparisons, and he didn't want that.

The term "Pluralism" refers to the fact that a lot of different types of art started being produced in the sixties and seventies.  There were several movements, not any one category.  For instance, Chuck Close was (at that time) painting very realistic portraits that almost looked like paintings, but were huge.  It is referred to as photo realism.  Audrey Flack also painted in a photo realist style, and did still life paintings that have references to vanitas paintings---they are focused on the idea that "beauty fades" and incorporate flowers and fruit that are fading, clocks, and things like that.  Her work is also very large.

The work of Duane Hanson was also discussed.   His work is life-sized body casts that are set in everyday scenes.  The one at the Smithsonian American Art Museum is of a woman eating.
I recently saw that this work is undergoing conservation.  It is interesting because Hanson used actual clothes and they of course deteriorate over time and they are trying to determine how to conserve the hair.  I feel like I should check on her regularly.

In the same general era, some graffiti art was considered as legitimate art---examples are Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.  Keith Haring's work continues to be a source of fun for many.  I particularly like the radiant babies.  Here's an example of one:

There was a good overview of performance art but, of course, that kind of art is temporary.  The artists discussed were Spaulding Gray, Laurie Anderson, Eric Bogosian, Karen Finley and Pat Oleszko.  I think to enjoy performance art....you need to be there when it happens..

Environmental or land art was (and is) a very interesting direction.  A great example is Robert Smithson's installation of the Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake.  It became submerged and was thought to be lost, but now has resurfaced in some spots...though it is now completely different from the initial installation.  Of course, Ms. Heller talked about Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude.  Christo is still working, though Jeanne-Claude died in 2009.   Christo funds his work by selling preliminary sketches.  Of course, his works are temporary, too.  Here's islands surrounded by pink cloth:

Ms. Heller also talked about directions in feminist art, including Judy Chicago.  Anyone who has ever seen "The Dinner Party" will never forget it, but she has a lot of other interesting work.  
I have actually seen it twice--once in Benicia, CA, and once in Washington DC.  It is impressive.  Each place setting is personalized to a woman Chicago thought important in women's history.  Well, that is an over-simplification.....but this is getting too long.

It was a great day of learning art history...particularly contemporary American art. I am glad I made the extra effort to get there.  In case you're wondering, this was a day-long class.