All Photographs + Text Copyright 2013 Christopher Keeley

Dada to the Bone

Being a Dadaist myself for many years, without knowing the true concept of Dada, going to the Dada exhibit at the National Gallery was a complete adrenaline rush. For a period of about eight years I made collages, sent out mail art while receiving art in the mail on a daily basis, and I considered it bad luck not to reply to everything received no matter how absurd. Collages became compulsive and I obsessively filled these books with everything that moved me, scared me, depressed me, and what gave me compassion for life.

The excitement of dreams, fantasies while living as a surrealist gave me hope in my own private way through the construction of paradoxical political collages. I also glued into the pages love letters, rejection letters from publishers, and potential art projects. It occupied my every day and night.

The Internet basically killed the mail art and collages for me. I don't regret it, as I have been able to move on in a totally new form to be a Dadaist and surrealist through the means of mass communication via email, web logs, live journals, and eventually posting every photograph and collage on the web.

The day started out with a date in Georgetown, on a mission to stock up on shower products for two at the Lush store. My new bathroom will encourage or entice any shy person to take a shower together, even though the biggest sacrifice is missing my therapeutically relaxing baths. B. and I popped into a Tea store only to find out that if we wanted to have a cozy meal both prime tables were already taken.

We head towards the Dada show, but B. unexpectedly decides she can't go on to the exhibit without eating something first and is considering bailing on me, asking if I like to go to art exhibits alone. She may cramp my style. I refuse any compromise and insist that the whole point of us getting together is to share in the joys of Dada art together. She is feeling like a diabetic without insulin because she had been Flamenco dancing all morning without breakfast. The Cosi on Capitol Hill is our next stop for a club sandwich. I practice my voyeur skills while watching a young pregnant woman and eavesdropping on a handsome white-haired elderly gentleman whom B. has pointed out who is interviewing an artist of some kind. He has an Instamatic camera while taking notes on a steno pad.

We make it to the National Gallery and find a parking space. The line is half an hour long. Luckily, while B. is getting a Dada Newspaper program I spot an attorney who works in the General Counsel's office at our Agency. He’s with his wife and kids. He is grinning at me, in a friendly cynical mode, and commenting to me that his wife told him that the Dada exhibit wouldn't be that crowded on a Sunday afternoon. This wouldn't be the first attorney to see me out on a date with B., because while going over a case at work the previous morning with another (female) attorney, she remarked on having seen us together with my mother at a Greek restaurant and assumed we were married. I said wife no. The attorney says, yes, she works at the Agency, I have seen her around. I give her the Chris Keeley silent treatment. We move on. But only after a terrible no compromise discussion about Hamas. I am pro-Palestinian.

B. arrives with the programs, and I then notice another friend in line, Bill P. This time I am proud to show off my date, as this guy's family has donated tons of Picassos and other priceless works to museums. B. is also beautiful, sophisticated, and polite. Bill also is with his beautiful wife. He has a cane, which disturbs me. However, when I approach him he lights up like a Christmas tree and shakes my hand. I immediately produce my business card. Any opportunity to obtain a wealthy patron. Bill says, coincidently, I was reading your book yesterday. He bought my book in 1994! He is so connected to the art world, coming from a philanthropic family. If my memory serves me well, his father founded CBS and collected art in Paris in the 30's and 40's. I am thinking: why does Bill have to wait in line like the rest of us common people? Maybe he didn't go to the fancy opening for the VIP's. When I see people I know in strange places, I look at it as a coincidence, or as God's way of telling me I am on the right path doing the right thing.

I should have left my camera at home because I frequently get into trouble. The guards at the Corcoran are kind and somewhat tolerant of first offenders. The guards at the National Gallery have no mercy and take prisoners. Last week my friend Rick, who was eating grapes near some French impressionists paintings, was arrested and thrown in jail. Rick's obnoxiously rude and entitled behavior did not help the matter.

I took a picture of the first Dada painting in the first gallery and a guard said you may not photograph the artwork. I said ok. In my obsessive mind, I changed the guard’s warning to: I might not get caught. The next gallery had too many guards, so I was being cautiously careful, but not thinking rationally. My criminal mind led me to believe that I could at least steal a few shots. After all, this is a Dada exhibit, and mischievousness is all about this art.

Anti-authoritarianism goes hand in hand with being a Dadaist. People were encouraged; at least men were encouraged to wear a pink bra on the outside and to randomly talk absurdities at every fourth work of art. I was too much of a coward to do anything of the kind. All the gallery viewers were super art serious. I was looking around for surrealists while watching every guard for my opportunity to take the ultimate Dada photograph.

I took a shot with my flash like a Nimrod. In the next three galleries I attempted to take a shot of a Max Ernst painting, not something I really needed to do. I could always buy the catalogue, which I do frequently, finding the same book on the Internet at a cheaper price. But no, I have to compulsively take a photograph. The gallery is crawling with guards. I did make a pan and saw no one in uniform. My forte is with portraits, and shooting works in a museum is really not going to be of the quality that satisfies my artistic urge. I have to do it anyway.

I aim at the Max Ernst surrealistic oil painting and a female guard puts her hand on my shoulder and shouts: Mister, you have to leave the gallery now. She escorts me along with another guard and says to her burly supervisor: He has been taking photographs all over the place. Having been in similar circumstances before, I immediately drop into my completely courteous, compliant, apologetic, I'll do whatever you say mode.

I apologize to the guard, confessing I know I was wrong. It is too late at this point to say I won't do it again. Anticipating my biggest fear, which is: are they going to confiscate my camera? My embarrassment is that I am now trying to blend in with the art so that I am not noticed as a stupid criminal. Did anyone I know see me being escorted out of the National Gallery? My next thought is: where is B.? I am whisked away into a back elevator.

It may have been God's plan all along because had I not been escorted out, I would never have captured this truly amazing portrait of the elderly Sikh grandfather, being at the right place at the right time. I call B.'s cell phone, leaving a message that I am out front because I have been escorted out of the National Gallery. B. soon arrives, commenting that she observed me with the guards in the elevator and the door closing in on her before she could say Dada.

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