- - Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pick of the Pack

Exhibit: ‘Inventing a Better Mousetrap: Patent Models From the Rothschild Collection’

Thanks in part to the borderline-esoteric nature of modern software patents, most Americans don’t know the strange and fascinating history of U.S. patent law and the lengths inventors once had to go to gain government protection for their creations. According to the Smithsonian Institution, which once housed the U.S. Patent Office, “American patent law in the 19th century required the submission and public display of a model with each patent application.” That meant that no matter how large or intricate the patented device would be when produced for sale, it needed to be rendered in miniature. (In the spirit of job creation, most of the models were made by craftsmen who set up shop just outside the Patent Office.) At one point, the Smithsonian was home to 200,000 such models. The largest collection now numbers just 4,000 and is owned privately by collector Alan Rothschild, who has lent his pieces to the Smithsonian.

Through November 2013 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Eighth and F streets NW

Phone: 202/633-7970

Web: americanart.si.edu

Concert: Gossip

On Monday, one of the greatest female vocalists ever to escape Searcy, Ark., will play the 9:30 Club. Lucky for you, the show is not yet sold out (and it really should be). The Gossip (now generally just called Gossip) is helmed by one Beth Ditto, a large gal with a voice that can punch a hole in your chest. Miss Ditto has been touring her unique brand of indie rock-and-disco since 1999, but didn’t get her big break until the 2009 release of “Music for Men,” which featured the insta-classics “Heavy Cross” and “Dimestore Diamond.” (If you don’t own them already, buy these tracks ASAP.) Gossip’s latest album, “A Joyful Noise,” hasn’t met with the same acclaim. It’s not nearly as rough around the edges as Gossip’s previous efforts, probably because the band’s fortunes have improved so much in the intervening years. While that’s unfortunate — true grit is so rare these days — it’s nevertheless still an acceptable showcase for what makes Gossip worth listening to: Miss Ditto’s incredible voice.

Gossip plays with Magic Mouth and Bonnie Montgomery on Monday at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW

Phone: 202/265-0930

Web: www.930.com

Exhibit: ‘Likeness / Interpretations of Portraiture’

The best contemporary artists occasionally fail to deliver when they are asked to depict themselves. Edgar Degas and the Impressionists had no trouble with this assignment, but then, they sought to render the world as they saw it. Contemporary tastes, however, encourage transcendence: of genre, form, tradition and convention. As such, the self-portraiture on display at Athenaeum’s Likeness/Interpretations of Portraiture features pieces that would seem downright alien to artists who, in past epochs, worked for hours in front of a mirror attempting to replicate their own visages. But then, Degas never had a digital camera at his disposal, nor was his audience bombarded daily with perfect head shots on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace (if that’s still a thing). Perhaps at a time when realistic self-portraiture is available even to Neanderthals, unconventional self-portraiture is exactly what we need.

Through Sunday at Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., Alexandria, Va.

Phone: 703/548-0035

Web: www.nvfaa.org

Miscellaneous: ‘Cavalcade of Street Cars’

D.C. urban-planning enthusiasts continue to dream of streetcars to H Street Northeast, no matter how inconvenient, expensive or hopeless the project may be. While the District likely won’t have trolleys anytime soon, Silver Spring’s National Capital Trolley Museum has tons of them. On Sunday, the best models will be arranged in a “Calvacade of Streetcars.” Visitors will be able to ride the best European trams and classic American streetcars to their heart’s content — they just won’t be able to ride them back to D.C.

Sunday at the National Capital Trolley Museum, 1313 Bonifant Road, Silver Spring, Md.

Phone: 301/384-6088

Web: www.dctrolley.org

Exhibit: ‘Blood and Ink: Front Pages From the Civil War’

With the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in full swing, the Newseum is providing an opportunity to relive America’s most important war, one seminal news report at a time. Front pages from newspapers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line allow visitors to see firsthand contemporary reactions to “the election of Abraham Lincoln; the opening shots of the war at Fort Sumter, S.C.; the Battle of Gettysburg; the fall of Atlanta; the South’s surrender; and Lincoln’s assassination.”

At the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Phone: 888/639-7386

Web: www.newseum.org

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