- - Thursday, September 22, 2011

Exhibit ‘Little Pictures Big Lives’

It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time when taking a photograph without posing your subject was considered wasteful. You had to pay for the film, after all, and you had to pay to have it developed. Go back even further, to a time when making photographs required intimate knowledge of photographic equipment and time in a darkroom and, well, you can imagine how rare it was for people to photograph their friends and family unaware. As the Archives of American Art demonstrates in “Little Pictures Big Lives,” the folly of past photographers is humbling for today’s spoiled shutterbugs. Not all of the pictures are pretty or refined, but they let us glimpse in an entirely new light people whom we’ve only seen looking surly or contemplative on a book’s dust jacket. There’s a blurry photo of novelist E.M. Forster laughing with his eyes closed and a picture of painter Georgia O’Keeffe reclining on a beach chair while sculptor Una Hanbury builds her head out of clay. There’s an awkward profile shot of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein just as he is about to talk to a person outside the viewfinder and a shot of splatter master Jackson Pollock lecturing his dog. The collection also includes photos whose candid subjects and photographers are unknown and are bound to the O’Keeffes and Pollocks by their defiance of the medium’s bygone restrictions. Through Oct. 3 at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Eighth and F streets Northwest. Phone: 202/633-7940. Web: www.aaa.si.edu/.

Concert Brad Paisley

The motivation for Brad Paisley’s first No. 1 single, “He Didn’t Have to Be,” according to his writing partner, Kelley Lovelace, was to “make a song about you two that will make your wife cry.” The track was about Mr. Lovelace’s relationship with his stepson, who Mr. Paisley correctly surmised was as dear to Mr. Lovelace as if he were his own flesh and blood. That track was released in 1999, and seven records later, it still perfectly captures Mr. Paisley’s knack for plucking at the human heart as if it were a guitar. On his latest album, “This Is Country Music,” Mr. Paisley said he “almost [broke] down crying” while recording the title track. But it’s not all tears with country music’s wunderkind - unlike many of his acoustic-strumming peers, Mr. Paisley has guitar chops as good as his vocals. The West Virginia native is also a skilled pro at weaving tongue-in-cheek pop satire into his work. See, for instance, “Celebrity” from 2003’s “Mud on the Tires,” a song about a small-town mechanic who claims while helping a stranded celebrity, “I’m the most famous person in the country” - the country being the backwoods. Regardless of what Mr. Paisley plays this weekend, you can bet you’ll laugh and cry, possibly during the same song. Sept. 24 at Jiffy Lube Live, 7800 Cellar Door Drive, Bristow, VA. Phone: 703/754-6400. Web: www.livenation.com.

Play ‘Happy Days’

Being stuck up to one’s neck in a mound of dirt, with no promise of release, is how roughly 10 percent of Americans feel these days. If you count not just the unemployed, but also the underemployed and the unhappily fully employed, half the country probably feels stuck. If you find yourself among the miserable, Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days,” about a woman named Winnie who protrudes from the earth like a plant, will either depress you or put your problems in perspective. Winnie does the same thing every day. She wakes to the sound of a far-off alarm, takes stock of her belongings (one of which is an ominous but never-used pistol) and talks at an inattentive husband until another bell indicates it is time for sleep. Nothing changes from day to day, save for Winnie sinking a little deeper into the Earth with each rotation of the clock. Yet even when she recedes up to her chin in the quagmire, she still manages to chirp her tag line: “Oh this is a happy day.” What else can one do in the midst of a literal recession? Through Sept. 25 at Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. Phone: 800/494-8497. Web: www.washingtonshakespeare.org.

Readings Amy Chua and Ron Suskind

“Tiger mother” Amy Chua and Pulitzer-winning journalist Ron Suskind are living proof that writers and books can still rile us up in an age when low culture is nearly the only culture. Ms. Chua made waves last year with an autobiography titled “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” which detailed her stern - some would say dictatorlike - parenting methods. Ms. Chua’s claim that her children were deprived of television, video games and boyfriends and were berated if they brought home anything short of straight-A report cards earned her the wrath of pop psychologists and overnurturing helicopter parents. Mr. Suskind, meanwhile, is making waves this month with the release of a lengthy tome titled “Confidence Men,” which details the economic cluelessness of the Obama administration. Allegations of fiscal flip-floppery and West Wing sexism have been met with hems and haws from the left and weak attempts at character assassination from the White House’s current occupants. In neither case is the avalanche of hate mail necessarily a bad thing. Public scorn is the new black. Ms. Chua reads Sept. 24 at the National Book Festival on the Mall (www.loc.gov/bookfest); Mr. Suskind reads Sept. 24 at Politics & Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Phone: 202/364-1919. Web: www.politics-prose.com.

Exhibit ‘I Love Lucy: An American Legend’

Lucy Ricardo, America’s chocolate-eating foible-prone sweetheart, turned 60 this year. To mark the occasion, the Library of Congress has gathered a veritable treasure trove of mementos, keepsakes and photos from the years before, during and after “I Love Lucy” established itself as the sitcom to beat in the 20th century (and beyond, seeing as syndication deals likely will keep the show on the air long after yours truly has kicked the bucket). Thanks to the library’s Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Collection, visitors can get a glimpse of scripts, show notes and off-set photos and also remnants of Ball’s life before (when she was a model and B-list regular in romantic dramas) and after (when she had to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee for having once registered as a communist) the six-season sitcom that came to define her entire existence. Through Jan. 28 at the Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave SE. Phone: 202/707-6400. Web: www.loc.gov.g

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