Category Archives: Museums

Smithsonian Folklife Festival — Catalonia on the Washington Mall

I went down to the Mall last Thursday to check out the Catalonia section of this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Perfect day for it.

Just a few hours earlier, the Mall had been filled with tens of thousands of people watching the Fourth of July concert and fireworks, but by morning, every trace of them was gone. The Park Service is really good about clean-ups.

This Human Tower Team, Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls, can trace its history back more than 200 years. At the Festival, they gave a small sample of what they do. Here’s a video of a somewhat more impressive performance:

Of course I went for the food. I had Catalon Pa Amb Tomàquet, which is garlic and tomato toast, with Serrano ham. Lousy picture, great sandwich.

When US troops arrived in Europe after D-Day in WWII, Europeans were impressed with the height of Americans soldiers. Things have changed since then, especially in Scandinavia and Holland, where the local teenagers now tower over typical US visitors.

The only place in Europe where I’ve ever felt taller than most of the residents was in Spain. I thought about that as I watched the dance of the Associació de Geganters i Grallers d’Oliana.

Powders for street décor. They’re used to create “carpets” like this one:

The image at the top of this post is from the Folklife Festival’s website.


The Art of Duane Hanson

Haven’t done one of these “the Art of…” in quite awhile.

After lunch at 701, I walked a few blocks to the American Art Museum. The museum shares a building with the National Portrait Gallery, and has a beautiful enclosed courtyard, which is the perfect place to read, or write, or just hang out after a meal.

There’s one objet in the museum’s collection that always surprises me, no matter how many times I stumble across it: Duane Hanson’s “Woman Eating”.

Hanson’s life-sized, fiberglass figures are so realistic you wonder why a museum guard doesn’t tell them to “move on, because you can’t do that here.” The American Art Museum adds to the fun by periodically moving “Woman Eating” from place to place, so you never know where she’ll turn up next.

Woman Eating

Woman Eating

From Other Collections

Here are a few more images of Hanson’s works, gathered from around the Web. Only two of the figures in these images are real live people. They’re easy to spot.

David Bowie is Almost Over

After a phenomenally successful five-year, five-continent, 11-city  tour, the Victoria & Albert Museum’s David Bowie is exhibition is coming to an end. The show, now at the Brooklyn Museum, closes on Sunday, 15 July 2018. There are still tickets available, but the remaining weekends are heavily booked.

Unless you already have a ticket, you won’t be able to get in tomorrow, 20 June 2018, because it’s a very special day.

Here’s a little background to explain why:

According to Billboard, “…when the exhibit first premiered at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in March 2013, expectations were low. ‘No other museum had booked it for the tour,’ co-creator Victoria Broackes confessed, ‘and we’d published 10,000 copies of the catalog. There wasn’t a lot of optimism that it was going to be a rip-roaring success.'”

“Rip-roaring success” is an understatement, as David Bowie Is became the V&A’s fastest selling show. More than a year ago, it became the most visited exhibition in the V&A’s 166-year history.

And tomorrow, it will welcome its two-millionth visitor.

To celebrate, someone will be designated as Visitor #2,000,000 and will receive a signed lithograph of a Bowie self-portrait, a limited edition of the David Bowie Is book, a pair of Sennheiser headphones, and a premium subscription to Spotify.

With more than 180,000 visitors,  David Bowie is is the best-selling exhibition in the Brooklyn Museum’s history,

Look. This is a flat-out amazing exhibition. If you have a chance to see it, GO. You won’t regret it. If you skip it, on the other hand, you’ll never forgive yourself. Those 2,000,000 people are going to be talking about this show for the rest of their lives, and when they find out you didn’t see it, they’ll be relentless in their ridicule and scorn.

This is one party you shouldn’t miss.

If you’re unfamiliar with New York, it might be helpful to know that the Brooklyn Museum is a 45-minute subway ride from Times Square. It’s a straight shot, no transfers trip on the 2 and 3 lines, and the Brooklyn exit is at the Museum’s entrance.

Here’s a “Know Before You Go” video from the Museum.

All photographs in this posting came from the New York Times online.

In Bruges

Confession time. The main reason I came to Belgium was not the Breugels nor the chocolates, not the Rubens nor the mussels.

It was because 10 years ago, I saw Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges, and I knew I had to go there someday to see the city for myself. In Bruges is easily one of my five favourite movies of the 21st century, and there are only 82 more years to go, so that might be a lock.

Belgium is a small country. It’s less than an hour’s train ride from Brussels to some of the prettiest towns in Europe. On a rainy Wednesday morning, I was off the Bruges.

After the stateliness of Brussels’ Grand Place, the historic central square of Bruges seemed disappointingly commercialized, with a group of carnival-type rides and amusements. The city center is a World Heritage Site, and the tackiness detracted from its beauty.

Bruges, which survived the two World Wars with little damage, is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. It’s a canal city, like Amsterdam and Venice, and boating along the canals gave me an unforgettable view of some of Bruges’ marvelous architecture.

These are the grounds of the Groeningemuseum, which has a small but brilliant collection. Among the stunners is this triptych called “The Last Judgment”, attributed to Hieronymus Bosch and his workshop.

"The Last Judgment". Image found on the Net

“The Last Judgment”. Image found on the Net.

In Bruges

This is a heavily edited trailer for In Bruges. The dialogue in Martin McDonagh’s movies is rude, crude, and profane enough to make Al Swearengen blush. You’ll have to watch the film to hear it, though, because it’s been purged—not by me—from this video.

Brussels Miscellanea

With only one big adventure to go, we’re nearing the end of my time in Belgium. I’ll be posting the last of these travel notes this weekend. Meanwhile, here are a few random images from Brussels.

The Grand Place

The Grand Place, surrounded by buildings that date from the 17th century. is Brussels’s magnificent central square.

It gleams. Many of the architectural features are gilded, and the gold paint glows in the sunshine. These pictures don’t really capture that glow, possibly because it rained every day I was in Belgium. (No problem. I wasn’t in Brussels to work on my tan, or, to be more accurate, to work on my beige.)

I Found a Record Shop!

I used to spend rainy Saturday afternoons making the rounds of the bookshops and record stores near Dupont Circle. There were more than a dozen of them Before The Internet, but only one of the bookshops is still open. Finding this place in Brussels was the first time I’ve seen a record store in years.

The musicians pictured on the storefront, clockwise from the center, are Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, and Jim Morrison. It took me a while to identify Morrison, and until I noticed the harmonica, I thought Bob Dylan was Lou Reed.

“Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here”

This Big Brother-ish image dominates one of the staircases in the Old Masters Museum.

Théâtre Royal de Toone

The Théâtre Royal de Toone, an historic Brussels puppet theatre, can trace its origins to the 1830s. Depending on the performance, the dialog is in French, Dutch, or the local patois. When the show is something familiar, like Hamlet or Carmen, you can enjoy the performance without understanding every line.

The puppet theatre is in the attic above a rather shabby but extremely popular pub. It’s one of the oldest in Brussels, and it has that run-down, lived-in feel of a classic dive bar.

The Théâtre

During intermission, you can visit the small, one-room display of historic puppets.


Cheese Cake Cafe

This place looked so American, so not-European that I walked right past it. I didn’t come to Belgium to eat hamburgers or pizza.

And then I turned around and walked right back.

The allure of cheesecake is impossible to resist.

At the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium — Bruegel and Rubens and Bosch, Oh, My!

The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (RMFAB) is a complex of three connected museums, plus the Museum of Modern Art and two smaller specialized galleries. The Big Three are the Old Masters Museum, the Fin-de-Siècle Museum, and the Magritte Museum. I spent most of my visit with the Old Masters—I didn’t have enough time to do justice to the Fin-de-Siècle Museum, and, for me, Magritte is only interesting in very small doses.


There were four notable artists in the Bruegel family, but it’s Pieter Bruegel the Elder who owns the name. I’ve become rather obsessed  with tracking down his works over the last few years, which is one of the reasons I’d come to in Brussels. The RMFAB has the largest collection of works by Bruegel outside the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

The Census of Bethlehem

The Census of Bethlehem

Winter Landscape with Skaters and Bird Trap

Winter Landscape with Skaters and Bird Trap

The star of the RMFAB’s Bruegel collection is the magnificent, Bosch-influenced “The Fall of the Rebel Angels”.

The Fall of the Rebel Angels

The Fall of the Rebel Angels


Bruegel was a master of detail, filling his paintings with dozens of small figures going about the routine daily business of rural or village life.

I’ve always thought of Rubens as operatic. His figures were dynamic and larger than life, captured in the midst of wrestling with tigers or ascending into heaven. His canvases are huge.

Here’s another link to the Kunsthistorisches, this time to the Rubens entry. (I really need to get back to Vienna!)

Assumption of Mary

Assumption of Mary

Four Studies of a Head of a Moor

Four Studies of a Head of a Moor

The Martyrdom of St Livinus

The Martyrdom of St Livinus


This is a better picture of the Hieronymus Bosch triptych at the top of the posting. All the images in this item, except for that one, were found on the Web. I’m using them because there’s no way my amateur museum shots can capture the beauty of the paintings as well as a professional photographer with a tripod and great lighting can.

The Temptation of Saint Anthony

The Temptation of Saint Anthony

The Norm — Lunch on 14 March 2018

Photography wasn’t allowed inside the Brooklyn Museum’s brilliant David Bowie is exhibition, but I do have one takeaway from the show. After spending a couple of hours immersed in the life and works of The Man Who Fell to Earth, my niece and I had lunch at the museum’s restaurant, The Norm.

No, I don’t know why it’s called that, and my online search for an answer came up empty.

Post-Bowie, the name of one of the menu offerings was irresistible.

Museums are not generally noted for the quality of the food they offer, but the Brooklyn Museum is an exception. Chef here is Michelin-starred Saul Bolton, who has developed a small but intriguing menu.

My Diamond Dogfish and Chips were excellent, and I say that as a connoisseur of fish & chips.

The Norm's Diamond Dogfish and Chips, with Mushy Peas on the Side

The Norm’s Diamond Dogfish and Chips, with Mushy Peas on the Side