Out There :: Reno, Nevada, Mon Amour
Everybody had an opinion when we told them we were spending Christmas in Reno, Nevada.
"It's no Vegas!" said our barber.
But that is exactly the point, we didn't say to our barber, because he was the one wielding the scissors with sharp steel points. We weren't going there for the casinos or for the floor shows.
Our bartender allowed that she had once been to Reno, on the occasion of her mother's remarriage, but that she and her sister so hated their stepfather that they beat a hasty retreat as soon as they could. She had no happy memories of the place.
But we were Reno-bound because that's where our beloved Pepi has family - his dad "Big Pepi " and his sister Sweetie . (Pepi did, in fact, grow up in Las Vegas, which explains one or two things. But that is a story for another column.) So this was our first official visit with la familia de Pepi in their natural habitat.
Our ears popped from the change in air pressure as we drove over the Sierra Nevada mountains at the Donner Pass, and later so did our toothpaste tube when we opened it. Still, unlike the unfortunate Donner Party , we made it over the Pass all in one piece.
The Truckee River Walk, on a bright, sunny Christmas day, was a perfect urban stroll that took us clear out of downtown to a pleasant idyll in Idlewild Park. The river sparkled in the sunlight, but there were patches of ice in it, too. Ducks and large, honking geese flew in for perfect three-point landings. The surrounding mountains sported glistening white caps of snow.
We stayed at one of the big casino hotels, the Eldorado, not because we gamble (we don't) but because it was a deal. The view from our 18th-floor window encompassed all of Reno, the breakfast buffet was cheap and plentiful, and we found a good place within for steaming bowls of pho.
We visited the Nevada Museum of Art downtown, a compact showcase of modern art housed in appealing contemporary architecture. Inside, we were immediately wowed by the sculpture Transamerica (2013) by the Ball-Nogues Studio, inspired by architect William L. Pereira's iconic Transamerica Corporation HQ Tower (1973). The piece recreates San Francisco's famous Pyramid skyscraper done up entirely in metal chain, suspended upside-down from the ceiling into the museum's atrium. It sounds unlikely, but it works as a captivating art-piece.
"Frida Kahlo: Her Photos" (through Feb. 16) is an unusual exhibition devoted to this seminal artist in that its focus is not on her art, but rather on her photography collection. This was a medium with unquestionable resonance for Kahlo, since her father was a professional photographer, so she was attuned to its artistic properties from the time of her earliest youth. Her collection includes examples from such important contemporaries as Edward Weston , Manuel Alvarez Bravo , and Tina Modotti . A section of the exhibit entitled Frida's Lovers makes explicit the fact that this group included both men and women.
"Toulouse-Lautrec and La Vie Moderne: Paris 1880-1910" (through Jan. 19) is a crowd-pleasing show of posters, prints and lithographs by the featured artist and others in his milieu.
"Franklin Evans: Timepaths" (through April 20) is a multimedia installation by the Reno-born artist that leads the viewer to the conclusion that Evans has led the gay life, during his student days at Stanford on through an itinerant path as an artist.
"Lauren Bon & the Optics Division Team: Transforming Inert Landscape into Agency" (through May 25) is an intriguing exercise in earth art and process art. LA-based Bon and her team of fellow artists reclaimed silver, water and chemicals from the dry bed of Owens Lake, on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada in Inyo County, California, to create photographic panoramas of the area, scarred and desiccated from invasive mining.
They created a camera obscure -- that is, a natural walk-in camera -- out of an abandoned mineral silo on the site. The results of their intervention are compelling: Portraits of the wasteland landscape, made from its very own materials. Can we therefore call the Liminal Lake Bed Panorama a self-portrait in earth tones?