Mencken, 'One More Time' Caricatures: Washington's National Portrait Gallery exhibit features a one-man performance about one man the art world will not soon forget.

Fine Arts

June 02, 1998|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

"He was the most influential critic we have had in this country in terms of his promotion of the arts and liberating them from censorship." That's H. L. Mencken, the sage of Baltimore, as described by John Daniel Reaves, who will play the great journalist four times this coming week at Washington's National Portrait Gallery.

Reaves will give his one-man play, called "H.L. Mencken, One More Time," in conjunction with the portrait gallery's exhibition "Celebrity Caricatures in America."

It's a collection of more than 200 caricatures of such people as Babe Ruth, Elsa Maxwell, George Gershwin, Al Smith and the Marx Brothers, by such people as Miguel Covarrubias, Marius de Zayas, Alfred Frueh, James Montgomery Flagg and Will Cotton.

There are two caricatures of Mencken in the show, by William Auerbach-Levy (1925) and Al Hirschfeld (1949).

Reaves, 59, a lawyer by vocation, has done other one-man shows, including one on Huey Long, but they were not written by him. In the early 1980s he spent 2 1/2 years researching and writing the Mencken play, mostly in Mencken's own words. He performed the play several times in the 1980s in the portrait gallery's "Portraits in Motion" series.

The play begins in 1948, when Mencken (1880-1956) is at the end of his career, and goes back to trace the Baltimore native's life from the age of 3. It deals with his 50-year career as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor in Baltimore and New York, including almost four decades on The Evening Sun. It touches on his political writing, his literary criticism, his courtship and marriage with fellow writer Sara Haardt (from Alabama like Mr. Reaves), and his love affair with life in Baltimore.

Performances of "H. L. Mencken, One More Time" will take place at the National Portrait Gallery, Eighth and F Streets N.W., on Saturday at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m.

Performances are free, but reservations are required. Call 202-357-2920, extension 2. The exhibit "Celebrity Caricature in America" runs through Aug. 23. The gallery is open 10 a.m. to 5: 30 p.m. daily.

Call 202-357-2700.

Monet money

The Walters Art Gallery's Monet blockbuster, which closed Sunday, busted the block as predicted. Since "Monet: Late Paintings of Giverny from the Musee Marmottan" opened March 29, there have been 113,000 ticketed attendees, 109,000 of them paid. Overall attendance in the period was 170,000, a nine-week record. Daily attendance was 3,090, also a record. As a result of Monet, the gallery added 4,000 new members and has doubled its membership to 12,000 households in the last year and a half.

Money from Monet came in right on target, too. Ticket sales amounted to $890,682, just a whisker away from the $900,000 projection, and store sales, predicted at $720,000, were $797,000, the highest special exhibition museum store revenue in the Walters' history. With a $300,000 sponsorship from NationsBank, it appears that the total income will be in the neighborhood of $2 million compared to total expenses of about $1.5 million (there may be some expenses still to pay). Any surplus will go toward other shows.

Walters director Gary Vikan was delighted with the figures and the show. "It was absolutely fantastic," he said. "And I'm proud that we brought people a Monet that they didn't know, and left them with something that will last."

Great and small

Each year the Maryland Institute, College of Art invites all alumni on record to submit small works (maximum 15 by 15 inches) to an exhibition to benefit current students -- 30 percent of the sale price of every work goes to the Alumni Scholarship Fund.

This year there are works by almost 200 artists living in Maryland, 22 other states and France. I expected so many objects hung in the Fox building's Meyerhoff gallery would add up to a jumble. But to my surprise the show looks remarkably neat and inviting.

The installation contains some nice juxtapositions, too. Not surprisingly, one finds landscapes or still lifes grouped, but there are more subtle combinations, too. The rectangle of the door in Greg Otto's painting "4 a.m. Light" complements the rectangle of wall in Jeffrey Sturges' "Self Storage Units, Snowdon River Parkway, Columbia, MD."

Dorothy Gillespie and James Panzer make imaginative use of unusual materials -- painted strips of aluminum in Gillespie's sculpture "A Joyful Moment LXV," woven 16 mm film in Panzer's box "Stasis #1." Placed near one another, each calls attention to itself and both call attention to each other.

It's a reserved, well-mannered show, not exciting but offering many quiet pleasures. Some come from artists well-known locally, such as Karl Connolly, Leonard Streckfus, Amalie Rothschild, Edda Jakab and Tammra Sigler. Others with notable works include Fabrice Ternois, William John Wancea, Ming-Yi Sung, Alan Petrulis, Susan Kroiz-Krieger, Nathaniel K. Gibbs, Alice Jones Redmond, James Edward Murphy, Jr., Peggy Clay, Dorothy D'Anna, Darryl J. Smith and Elizabeth Lockhart Taft.

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