I only routed us through Reno for convenience, but this Nevada city turned out to be one of the more pleasant surprises on our recent trip. Surprise #1 was the newly renovated (ready for business on Memorial Day, 2014) and truly excellent casino-free Whitney Peak Hotel that used to be Fitzgeralds. The famous, street-spanning neon sign that challenges the night is a few steps from WP’s entrance. Surprise #3 was Campo, the best restaurant in town.
My initial goal was to visit Reno’s #1 TripAdvisor attraction, the National Automobile Museum; but Ruth and I ended up instead at #8, the Nevada Museum of Art because TripAdvisor reviewers raved that it was an unheralded gem. It is, in fact, the only museum in Nevada accredited by the American Association of Museums. This may sound like a commercial-filling boast, but it’s not. Only 5% of U.S. museums earn this accolade.
NMA’s far-reaching quest for display-worthy art, Ruth and I quickly learned, is well represented by the current Paruku Project. Mulan is a small community in Western Australia. When the Mulanese source of food was threatened by a red worm parasite, they sought the help that resulted in a 2 year effort involving scientists, artists, and writers. Some of the AbORIGINAL art that resulted is on display until December 7, 2014.
The other exhibit that instantly grabbed our attention closed on September 7. I don’t usually write about museum shows that are going away soon. However, this one, Doris Duke’s Shangri La: A House in Paradise, was so 5 Compass that I decided to make an exception. Moreover, it’s on its way to the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery after leaving Reno and will be there from October 23 until December 28, 2014. It will then move to a final venue, the Honolulu Museum of Art, from March 4, 2015, until July 5, 2015. If you can’t get to any of these 3 cities to see the first traveling exhibit inspired by Doris Duke’s totally unique Hawaiian home, you can locate a copy of a very fine book, Doris Duke’s Shangri La: a House in Paradise: Architecture, Landscape, and Islamic Art, published by Rizzoli.
As I watched a virtual tour of Duke’s painstakingly put together home, I decided that seeing this exhibit was almost as good as being there. Among the displayed items were lots of personal photos of Duke and many of her personal possessions, like the steamer trunk she and James Cromwell used on their honeymoon in 1935. But the bulk of this intimate glimpse of Shangri La is the furniture, doors, screens, hanging lamps, etc. that decorated her Honolulu estate. Doris married James, a diplomat, when she was 22 and he was 39. The marriage lasted 7 years. Her 2nd attempt at wedded bliss to another diplomat, Porfirio Rubirosa, was extremely controversial. Indeed, Duke’s whole life was tabloid-worthy. But her philanthropy is disputed by no one, and the 50 years of effort she expended beginning in the mid 1930s to turn Shangri La into an Islamic dream house is commendable.
Situated on 5 acres near Diamond Head on Oahu, Shangri La can be visited. The best way to book the popular $25 tour sponsored by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art is on-line and long before travel. But there is, at least for now, a worthy alternative–visiting Reno, LA, or Honolulu to see House in Paradise.