7:28 p.m. — Dupont Circle, 19th & P
Three women in saris are undulating around the central fountain. Their bracelets jingle as they do, with one woman in a 216-foot garment wrapped around her countless times.
She is pulled and unwrapped — perhaps symbolizing the restrictive nature of longstanding cultural traditions. The aesthetic of the long, airy garment reinforces the other undertone, though: it’s luxuriantly beautiful.
At intervals, another woman grabs the protagonist, played by artist Monica Bose. Is she being protected or subdued?
According to the program, this dance speaks to climate change. But if Pope Francis’ remarks on the issue Wednesday were vague, this is downright inscrutable. Maybe the long sari flooding the plaza symbolizes rising seas. It’s open to interpretation.
Art All Night: Nuit Blanche D.C. infuses six Washington, D.C., locations with contemporary art: Dupont Circle, North Capitol, Congress Heights, H Street, Shaw and Mount Vernon Square. It’s a mix of fantastic haute-bourgeoisie chic, underwhelming aloof performance pieces, welcome windows into other cultures and insights into the dynamics of Washington neighborhoods.
What makes Art All Night beautiful is not what is presented but the throngs of captivated visitors who take it in. It’s lovely to see so many people entranced by art.
8:08 p.m. — Residence of the Colombian Ambassador, 20th & Q
In the mirrored, molded and impeccably decorated foyer to the Colombian ambassador’s residence, members of the El Tayrona dance troupe are models of classiness and seem to match the grandiose, old-guard room.
Beatriz Echeverri’s sculptures dot the elegant room, interpreting the fluidly danced human form in the similarly flowing but all-too-solid medium of leather.
The first dance is a two-person seduction of red and white called “San Juanero.” At one point in the brazen drama, the gentleman attempts to steal a kiss behind his perfectly peaked Panama hat. At another, he cheekily lifts the ruffles of the woman’s dress. Have no fear, though: this is a happy dance, and eventually the woman takes his knee.
In “Joropo Llanero,” gauchos with heavy boots and double-entendre-laced horsewhips pursue the lovely, flower-haired maidens with loud stomps and contagious smiles.
“Bullerengue,” the third dance, is of African origin and was intended as a debutante dance for newly marriageable young women. The rhythmic jumps and salacious shakes were no doubt intended to accentuate the one taboo undercurrent of all dance: sexuality. The folds and ruffles of the dresses, at one point held above dancers’ heads like a Georgia O’Keeffe painting, recall the folds of something else entirely.
The final dance, the liveliest, is the “Pollera Colorá,” a glorious whirl of red, yellow and blue that places visitors at a Bogota outdoor cafe, not a rainy embassy in Northwest Washington. “¡Viva Colombia!” a man shouts to raucous applause. The atmosphere is electric.
9:00 p.m. — The Embassy Row Hotel, Massachusetts between 20th and 21st
Downstairs from the lobby of this ultra-vogue $200+ per night hotel, artist Jonn Marc is listening to Bebe Rexha on a paint-splattered, olive green ladder. Block letters in blue painters’ tape on the wall outside Marc’s stairwell reads “Live Painting,” and inside, the artist is interpreting the oscillations of his brush onto the beige walls.
Live painting, Marc says, is different from planned artworks. “This is a little bit more interpretive to the space, a little more reactionary to where you are and what you’re doing,” he said.
“It was such a thrilling experience to have the pressure of making it up while people are watching you,” Marc added. “I jumped at it because it was a fantastic adrenaline rush.
“It kind of makes painting more of a sport and less of an artistic pursuit.”
Art at the hotel stretches from the basement to the roof. A nine-floor elevator ride and another flight of stairs transports visitors to a poolside, neon-blacklight rooftop party complete with freshly spun beats from DJ Ausar, a game of giant Jenga, more live painting (this time on canvasses) and a video installation projected on the elevator head house.
There’s too much to describe, but the totality of the party is what gives it appeal: all artsy, all hip, all undeniably fun — with the twinkling Washington skyline for a backdrop. The rain certainly hasn’t dampened spirits (bottled or otherwise).
9:52 p.m. —The Carnegie Library, 7th & K
A Metro ride away, Gallery Place lacks some of the au courant charm Dupont Circle had. On the three-block walk to the library, a fantastic gentleman gleefully announces to our group that he’s “got something — but it ain’t baking soda!”
The Art All Night nexus, though, erases all previous qualms.
The Carnegie Library is alight with knowledge and a video projection by artists Monsieur Arthur and Riki K. “Science,” “Poetry” and “History,” the edifice’s stone-carved mottoes, radiate Prometheus’ fire once more.
An indoor exhibition hosted by Strathmore’s Institute for Artistic and Professional Development features six local artists. One is a leaf-inspired suite of pieces by Alexandra Chiou, layering watercolored cutouts to create precisely jumbled leaf piles. Other Chiou works hint at landscape: a bat-watched jungle waterfall here, a mossy rock tipple there. Works by Ariel J. Klein recall the very earliest Picasso.
In the next room, artist Brendan L. Smith shows his wares: artworks made from spray-painted, melted vinyl records centered around an inspiring object, like humorous, well-framed iconographies. One almost looks like a triangular hamantasch cookie stuffed with a Mexican wrestler.
10:59 p.m. — College Park Metro
The night young but the college student tired, Art All Night for me comes to a close. I never quite know how to cover the cacophonous creativity, even in my second year doing so. Perhaps that’s because it’s so radically different from everything in the art establishment.
But it’s unequivocally art nonetheless.