fauxklore (fauxklore) wrote,

Shakespeare, Matt Groening, and the Problem of Portraiture

Don't forget that my online Encore game is running all week. But, just in case you need a break from racking your brains for song lyrics, I did get out and about today.

I went to the theatre this afternoon. Wooly Mammoth is conveniently near the National Portrait Gallery, which I had never been to, so I started out there. I particularly wanted to see an exhibit of Herblock cartoons titled Herblock's Presidents: :Puncturing Pomposity." The exhibit was, alas, a disappointment, not because of the cartoons themselves but because of how they were displayed. There were groups of three and the captions (and explanatory text) for each group was off to the side. The problem is that the captions are essential to the humor of the cartoons, so this did not work very well for me.

I was more pleased with another special exhibits. I did not expect much of "RECOGNIZE! Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture" since I'm not particularly interested in hip hop. But I really liked much of the exhibit. The paintings by Kehinde Wiley of various hip hop artists were a genuine highlight of my visit.

I also looked through parts of the permanent collection, primarily focusing on the 20th century Americans section. The fundamental problem of portraiture is how literal to be. The most successful works tell something about the subject beyond just their appearance. A good example is Hans Namuth's photograph of Buckminster Fuller, which includes a geodesic dome and makes it look somewhat as if Bucky is encased within the dome. I also noted Andy Warhol's painting of Merce Cunningham, which I thought did a good job of capturing what Cunningham's choreography was like.

I'd have liked to look at the collection of photographs of American women (another special exhibit) but didn't have time. That exhibit runs through January, so I should be able to get back to it.

By the way, the museum is in the Old Patent Building and the architecture is quite pleasing. It also shares space with the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I really only saw one work from the latter, but what a work. David Beck's sculpture, "MVSEVM," evokes the Victorian "cabinet of wonders." It's a beautiful and intricate piece and stimulated my interest in Beck's work.

As I said, my museum time was limited since I had a ticket to see "MacHomer" at Wooly Mammoth. The blurb for this said "Virtuosic performer Rick Miller brings you 85% of the Bard's original text delivered by over 50 familir voices from The Simpson's." Imagine Mr. Burns as Duncan, Homer and Marge as the title character and his wife, Ned Flanders as Banquo, Krusty the Clown as the drunken porter, and so on. Miller does all the voices, but cartoons projected on the screen help you keep track of who's who. While the basic plot is intact and much of the dialogue does follow Shakespeare, there are some pretty blatant liberties taken with the script. Examples include things like "Is this a dagger I see before me, or is it a pizza?" and "By the pricking of my thumbs, something stupid this way comes."

There's somewhat too much self-referential material for my tastes (for example, much of the "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" scene is treated as MacHomer reading a newspaper review of the show") and it does go a bit overboard with silliness. Still, one can't help being impressed with Miller's creativity and performance skills. His mimicry got another exhibition in his encore piece, which involved Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody performed by "25 of the most annoying voices in pop music." I think that piece was even funnier than the main feature, largely because it had to fit such tight constraints.
Tags: art, museums, pop culture, television, theatre

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