Weekend of Culture Part 3: “Frida & Diego” at The High Museum of Art

I had a fantastic weekend filled with several cultural events. Friday night I saw The Smashing Pumpkins at Chastain Park Amphitheater, on Saturday night I saw an improv performance of “Theater Sports” at Dad’s Garage, and on Sunday afternoon I caught the final day of the “Frida & Diego” exhibit at The High Museum of Art. This article is Part 3 of a trilogy about those events.

I waited until the last minute to see the “Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics, and Painting” exhibit at The High, but it was definitely worth the wait. Going in, I knew very little about both Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, other than that both had reputations as great artists. I am very thankful for the education I received.

Now, I won’t pretend to be an expert in the fine arts. I’m not, and I don’t possess the vocabulary or the knowledge to describe and evaluate painting in detail at a high level. I did take a few art classes in high school and college and I dabbled in painting recreationally many years ago, so I know it’s very difficult to be a great artist. After seeing the exhibit at the High, I know for a fact that both Frida and Diego were great artists.

As an amateur art critic, I found a couple things to be extremely impressive about the exhibit. One, the sheer number of pieces from each artist the museum was able to acquire. I’m sure that many of these pieces were on loan from a number of private collections and other museums, so the fact that The High was able to immerse us in a definitive, chronological collection sprawled throughout several rooms was most impressive.

I also loved the thoughtful way the art was arranged throughout the exhibit. It began by introducing us to the two artists with a small collection of portraits, and then proceeded mostly chronologically through the lives of the artists to allow the viewers to experience the various periods of their careers in a natural progression.

Also, the concept of putting the works of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera together in one exhibit was innovative. Even though they were both Mexican artists who were married and spent 25 years together their work is rarely shown together, and it was great to see that The High summoned the imagination and the will to display such a complete and definitive exhibit.

Last and most importantly, I thought the way the strong political views of the artists were presented was perfectly handled. Both Kahlo and Rivera were communists, and The High didn’t shy away from that fact in the slightest. And, perhaps even more importantly, the exhibit didn’t attack their political views in any way. It simply displayed the work in a thoughtful light and the written descriptions were very direct and factual without any hint of judgement. On one wall there was a quote from Frida that read, “I was a member of the party before I met Diego and I think I am a better communist than he is or ever will be.” Given the ugly anti-communist sentiment often generated and encouraged by the establishment in America, I thought this presentation of communist art was truly remarkable and a much needed breath of fresh air.

I was particularly taken by the huge print of Diego’s Man, Controller of the Universe mural which is a recreation of the original Man at the Crossroads mural commissioned and then destroyed by Nelson Rockefeller when Diego refused to remove a portrait of Lenin. The mural was tucked away in a side room, and once you enter it overwhelms you with it’s scope, color, and emotion.

Though much smaller in scale I was also struck by Frida’s My Dress Hangs There, which was created by combining oil paint with collage. Painted in New York while Diego was working for Rockefeller it expresses Frida’s frustration with capitalism and her homesickness.

Another point that needs to be made is how popular this event has been. The exhibit had been going strong for several months, and it was sent off with a 30 hour party. The High opened on Saturday morning, stayed open all Saturday night, and didn’t close until 5pm on Sunday, just to make sure everyone had a chance to see the exhibit. When I was there on Sunday morning, before the museum would normally open, the building was packed.

I think it makes quite a big statement that such a politically radical exhibit can be so popular. It speaks to the disconnect between the powers that be who rule over society and the masses. The people are much more progressive and willing to embrace radical thoughts and ideas than the elite would like to admit, and it’s fantastic exhibits like “Frida & Diego” that help to prove that point.

-For Part 1 of my Weekend of Culture series click here.

-For Part 2 of my Weekend of Culture series click here.

Weekend of Culture Part 2: Dad’s Garage

I had a fantastic weekend filled with several cultural events. Friday night I saw The Smashing Pumpkins at Chastain Park Amphitheater, on Saturday night I saw an improv performance of “Theater Sports” at Dad’s Garage, and on Sunday afternoon I caught the final day of the “Frida & Diego” exhibit at The High Museum of Art. This article is Part 2 of a trilogy about those events.

Dad’s Garage is one of those local spots that every Atlanta resident should visit at least once. It’s an improv comedy theater, and it operates at a very high level. All the performers are talented, quick witted, and exceptionally hilarious.

My first visit to Main Stage of the Garage was approximately five years ago. I went to see a show called Samarai Davis Jr. and Dim Sum’s Super Mega Happy Fun Time Improv Show. It was a competitive improv show where two teams battle each other with improvised sketches, and the losing team is forced to face an outrageous punishment that usually involves something embarrassing or something wet.

Now, just about everyone has seen an episode of Whose Line is it Anyway? with Drew Carey and Co., and truthfully, the performers at Dad’s Garage are nearly as talented and just as entertaining. And even though there was a five year gap between my visits I recognized a couple of actors from my first visit. It was comforting to realize how dedicated to their craft this troupe is even though they probably aren’t getting paid all that much.

The show I saw this weekend was simply called Theater Sports, and like the parody of a Japanese game show I witnessed years ago this show also involved two teams competing against each other in a battle of improvised wit. This time, however, there weren’t any crazy punishments, other than the “Scum Box” which is placed over the head of a performer who says something vulgar for the sake of vulgarity.

The action takes place on a sparse stage with hardly any props, other than a chair which at one point doubled as an evil tree stump that sucks people into an abyss. The actors wear their street clothes, and the atmosphere is very laid back. Most of the audience seemed to be made up of regulars who already knew the format of the show, joined in on the countdown before every new scene, and shouted out scenarios to the actors to improvise.

At the end of the show the host announced that the building Dad’s Garage is located in has been sold and that the theater is looking for a new permanent home. Starting at the end of July performances will temporarily be held at a nearby location. After learning about this change of venue, I was very glad that I was able to see one last performance at the original location before it closes, and I hope that where ever Dad’s Garage ends up will have the same effortless charm and stripped down atmosphere. Given the level of talent and dedication the performers have for their craft, I’m confident that it will.

-For Part 1 of my Weekend of Culture series click here.

-For Part 3 of my Weekend of Culture series click here.

Weekend of Culture Part 1: The Smashing Pumpkins

I had a fantastic weekend filled with several cultural events. Friday night I saw The Smashing Pumpkins at Chastain Park Amphitheater, on Saturday night I saw an improv performance of “Theater Sports” at Dad’s Garage, and on Sunday afternoon I caught the final day of the “Frida & Diego” exhibit at The High Museum of Art. This article is Part 1 of a trilogy about those events.

For people of a certain age, The Smashing Pumpkins are among a select few essential rock bands which define their generation. Billy Corgan has one of the most unique voices in Rock history, but putting that aside, they also created an instantly recognizable musical style, and they were one of the bands most responsible for bringing the “Alternative” genre into the mainstream. When Kurt Cobain died in 1994 and the Grunge wave started to recede, The Smashing Pumpkins emerged, blending the Grunge sensibility with a greater emphasis on composition and melody.

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But, sadly, that band no longer exists. Yes, a band led by Billy Corgan continues to use that name, but the list of former band members is now longer than the list of current ones, and Corgan is the only remaining original member. Actually, at this point, I prefer to refer to the band as “The Billy Corgans” because at this point the band is so far removed from its past glory, and that fact was obvious during the show on Friday night.

When they played their past hits it simply didn’t have the same chemistry, the same timing, and the same emotional impact. It actually seemed as though the band was playing the songs under protest, simply to appease the fans. Their collective heart just wasn’t in it, and the sound was flat and uninspired.

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The newer material sounded better, and the musicians seemed much more enthusiastic while playing these songs, but the problem is… the newer material simply isn’t as good as the classic songs written and arranged by the original line-up.

Which leads me to this… The Smashing Pumpkins should stop being a band. They should break up, or at the very least, they should stop using that name. It’s getting embarrassing. Actually, I would have no problem with Billy Corgan touring with this line-up under a different name, or as a solo artist with this band backing him up. But it’s just not The Smashing Pumpkins anymore and it seems like Corgan’s only real motivation to continue using that name is financial. I’m sure it’s a lot easier to attract a crowd under the Pumpkins banner than it would be as a solo act, but it would be much more admirable if he did that, rather than continuing to disrespect the legacy of a great band.

-For Part 2 of my Weekend of Culture series click here.

-For Part 3 of my Weekend of Culture series click here.