April 8th, 2008

Corn rows

From Iowa, with theater

A group from the Des Moines area visited London this past week, from the Des Moines Art Center and the Civic Center. They were here to see plays and exhibitions, gallery tours, London tours, and choice theatrical highlights. At the last minute, they had a cancellation, which is how I came to spend my weekend in a whirl of theater-going, seeing God of Carnage, Speed the Plow, and The 39 Steps.

I lucked out in other ways too. For months I've been meaning to see the terracotta warriors exhibit at the British Museum. About a month ago, I finally checked the website and realized that all the advanced booking tickets were sold out. To see it, I would have to get up early in the morning and stand in line. Thanks to that cancellation, however, the group had a spare advanced booking ticket for the second-to-last day of the show. I'm so glad I was able to go. I knew a certain amount about about Qin Shi Huangdi's tomb from having taught it for "History of Civilization" several times. What I hadn't realized was that the tomb itself remains unexcavated, and is not likely to be dug up in our lifetimes. The terracotta figures come from pits spread over a few kilometers around the tomb, thematically grouped by their roles in Qin Shi Huangdi's afterlife. I loved seeing the segments of drain, the lavishly huge bricks, and, of course, a sampling of the terracotta figures themselves: a muscleman, an acrobat, charioteers, horses, archers, generals.

I went along with the group to the new show at the Britannia Street Gagosian. I could take or leave most of Howard Hodgkin's work at a distance, but up close, they become immersive, eloquent paintstrokes evoking movement and light, with beautiful handling of the paint's texturality.

Several of the people on the trip were long-term family friends. Many more are friends of my parents I'd not previous met. It was a wonderful way to spend a weekend, talking of Des Moines to people who care, and seeing shows and exhibits.