For instance, on my most recent stop — to see "The Power and Glory: Court Arts of China's Ming Dynasty" — I also had my first encounter with the recently installed "Light and Space III" by Robert Irwin. This piece, with its neon tube grid and translucent scrims, gives a sense of both completeness and openness to the space it's been commissioned to fill. The only negative: its positioning. Most visitors will enter the space from its side, experiencing it peripherally. Ideally, it should first be seen head-on.
This visit also took me to the Forefront Gallery, now housing Dawoud Bey's "Class Pictures." What I'd seen online and in press materials of the show's photos of teens didn't look like anything special. On the walls, though, the experience of the large photographs and the accompanying first-person personal statements by its high school student subjects proved confrontational, moving and difficult to digest in one visit. I opted to read just a few before a whirlwind of sadness, anger, joy, melancholy, hope and dread made for diminished returns. I hope to get back to absorb more before the show ends Nov. 23.
Also on the contemporary art floor, the twisted rigging of Tim Hawkinson's "Mobious Ship," has taken a prime spot outside the amazing "Untitled (Floor)" by Do-Ho Suh. The recently unveiled newcomer gives one more reason why this part of the IMA is a mandatory stop whenever I'm hosting out-of-town visitors. It's also a mandatory stop for anyone whose dorm room wall carried an Escher print.
And then there's the IMA's quietly opened new Design Center (yes, artsy bride-and-groom-to-be with generous friends, you can register there).
With all the terrific distraction, I still somehow managed to get to the Chinese art show. And here, again, I was richly rewarded.
Organized by the Asian Art Museum, "Power and Glory" has a much more serene sense than the IMA's recent, bold, Roman show or the restless Egyptian one. Its more than 240 objects from the 17 emperor-stretch between 1368 and 1644 includes an impressive sampling of the expected porcelain and silk scrolls. But it also smartly weaves in samples of architectural pieces, purposeful objects (a backgammon board, a "Tube with four tools" that looks like the 1620s equivalent of a Swiss army knife) and jewelry. Don't judge the latter by the amber piece rendered hideous on "Ming Bling" billboards around town. The actual work is richly detailed in its less-than-gargantuan reality.
The show is presented chronologically, with no attempt to impose an artificial drama on the work. Accompanying text is informative. And what-to-look-for guides are tucked away at the end of the show, out of the way but encouraging a repeat trip.
All in all, another IMA winner.
At the Phoenix Theatre, an uncomfortable bit of matchmaking has paired the meandering, one-act "June 8, 1968" with the sharp, vitriolic short "Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?"
Granted, "Drunk Enough" isn't the easiest piece to find a companion for. Playwright Caryl Churchill, whose well-received works include "Cloud Nine," imagines U.S.-Great Britain relations as a dysfunctional, dominant-submissive relationship between two men (portrayed here by the realistically sinister Michael Shelton and the suitably marshmallowy Roger Ortman). The play is harsh, making no bones about its political agenda, but it's also compelling theater, confidently written, directed and designed — even if it takes a scene or two to get used to the fragmented text.
It's also only a little over 30 minutes. Which means something had to be added to make an evening of theater. And so the Phoenix has paired it with another play with political ideas.
Anna Theresa Cascio's "June 8, 1968" (which, a helpful program note states, takes place on June 8, 1968) posits an encounter in a New Jersey bog between a teen Mafia princess and a former pop star now on the CIA dole. The guy is out to kill the girl over tapes regarding the assassination of Robert Kennedy, whose funeral train is about to pass. Once these two are in each other's company, though, no tone is found for the proceedings. Are we to take these characters seriously? Are we on some metaphorical plane? Is the third character really as unimportant as he seems?
The result is a double date of an evening with a fascinating woman and her awkward mate. Gauging the satisfaction of the evening depends on one's ability to accentuate the positive.