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Michael A. Lang: A Nice Clean Room—Pool Hall Portraits From 1950s Baltimore

The worst part about not being 20-something anymore is that I can’t leave the house at the drop of a hat to spend a few hours at my one of my old hangouts. Even if I could, it’s unlikely that there’d be a bunch of my friends there just waiting for me to come by and chill with them; they, like me, seem to be available by appointment only these days. In his new exhibit, artist Michael A. Lang revisits Baltimore’s Belvedere Billiards (known to its patrons as “Benny’s”) and his gloriously misspent youth in a series of photos taken decades ago but printed only over the last few years. Accompanied by a soundtrack of taped reminiscences by other 50s-era Benny’s regulars, the images are strong, if not entirely unexpected: Young men trying to be James Dean until—as Lang remembers—someone’s mom would call with a shopping list or a message that it was time to come home for dinner. The most engaging pieces in the show depict not rounds of pool, but card games. In several sequences, Lang moves in close to capture the poker player’s conflicting goals of concentration, bravado, and casualness, showing young men learning how to handle themselves in a setting where the social stakes are as high as the monetary stakes are small. (An untitled work is pictured.) But Lang’s work isn’t really about pool or poker: It’s a bittersweet look at a lost time of life when a common age and spare time were enough to build a community. On view from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, to Sunday, April 9, at the Touchstone Gallery, 406 7th St. NW. Free. (202) 347-2787. (Jandos Rothstein)