Pick of the pack: ‘To Make a World: George Ault and 1940s America’
Painter George Ault is remembered, when he is remembered at all, as a sort of anti-Norman Rockwell. Whereas Rockwell painted the best of 20th-century American life, Ault painted its vulnerability. Ault’s spare pieces — dark townscapes in which a lantern or the moon is the only source of light hovering over quiet barns and houses, pristine nature scenes absent humans or animals — reflected his own anxiety, as well as the country’s. Three of his brothers committed suicide, two of them shortly after the Ault family lost its fortune in the stock market crash of 1929. Ault’s sorrow was compounded by the bombing of Pearl Harbor and America’s entrance into World War II. He thought the country was ripe for ruin. Ault did not live to see America recover, having drowned himself in 1948. But in hard times — and it’s fair to say we’re experiencing some of our own even now — Ault’s paintings exude Ecclesiastical wisdom: All is dust, and will return to dust; with great wisdom comes great sorrow; and, of course, there is nothing new under the sun. All that’s missing from Ault’s paintings is the Churchillian advice to keep calm and carry on.
Through Sept. 5 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Eighth and F streets Northwest.
Dancing: Count Basie’s Birthday Party
Glen Echo Park is celebrating the birthday of jazz legend Count Basie a little late — six days, to be exact — but with no less fanfare than the man deserves. Born William Basie in 1904, the Count was a leading composer and big-band leader during the 1930s and ‘40s. When swing began to die out in the late ‘40s, Basie went with the flow, playing in smaller combos and reluctantly dabbling in bebop, when it had “feeling” and “made sense,” and joining forces with Frank Sinatra in the ‘60s. Glen Echo Park is celebrating the Count’s dedication to feeling and sense with a swing-dancing bash hosted by the Tom Cunningham Orchestra, which will be playing Basie tunes all night. If you don’t swing dance, don’t sweat it. Glen Echo Park teaches dancing at 8, with the party starting at 9.
Saturday at Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo, Md.
Theater: ‘Julius Caesar’
Most of the year, tickets for two to a D.C. theater production can put a pretty big dent in your wallet. For its 25th anniversary, the fantastic Shakespeare Theatre Company is making it easy for cheapskates to see one of the Bard’s classics: It is giving away tickets. Although you can enter an online lottery or follow the theater company on Twitter to get tickets, your best bet is to show up with a friend or loved one two hours before curtain time.
Through Sept. 4 at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW.
Exhibit: ‘Possible Worlds’
Recent news from Mexico makes it seem as if the entire country is on the verge of collapse, what with cartels running amok and police and military personnel defecting and seeking asylum in the U.S. But beneath the news reports is another story. The Mexican economy is prevailing, and undocumented workers in the U.S. are heading home to find jobs. There is also a blooming art movement composed of photographers drawn to capturing realities that aren’t, but could be. “Influenced by film, literature, fantasy, science fiction, electronic music, they delve into alternative worlds as conceived by the human mind,” is how the Art Museum of the Americas describes the exhibit. “These works speak to avenues of the imagination, rather than serving as documentation of the natural world.”
Through Sunday at the Art Museum of the Americas, 201 18th St. NW.