Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The usual...art, history, etc.

Last Saturday I wanted to take full advantage of Museum Walk Weekend, an annual event where ten museums in the Dupont Kalorama Museums Consortium feature free admission (yes, some places actually charge admission here, which is much needed to keep them operational, but it makes you appreciate the Smithosonian that much more...I'm a faithful contributor, though!) and all kinds of crazy special stuff going on. This year it also happened to fall on the same weekend as the annual Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, so a couple of the museums had some extra events planned in conjunction with the jazz festival. Rather than completely exhausting myself and attempting to hit all ten museums (I love this stuff, but not at the expense of my sanity), I went to my #1 choice first, spent the most time there, and then hit up two more that were relatively close by and not at the bottom of the "possibly interesting" list.

#1 choice? The Phillips Collection! I've actually been wanting to check this one out for a while, and while I was concerned that it might be a little bonkers given that it was a summer weekend coupled with free admission...it really wasn't too bad. Maybe a few too many young hooligans running around, but I've accepted that as an inevitable fact of life, especially when I live in the land of tourists. This museum has pretty much my ideal mix of art housed and displayed in a really great way - modern and Impressionist art in an old mansion coupled with bright, open spaces. They have a number of pieces from Rothko, O'Keeffe, Hopper, Klee, Matisse, Picasso, van Gogh, Degas, and C├ęzanne, and I loved how the museum is organized - rather than grouping it by artist (with the exception of the Rothko Room, which I think is better experienced on a weekday afternoon when absolutely no one else is around) or genre or time period, the art is organized in "conversational groups" (sorry if I'm getting a little artsy on you here, but I think it's interesting), encouraging you to look for similarities and differences in the paintings and/or sculptures in the different rooms. It's definitely a different way to look at the art, which I appreciated.

The museum space is a combination of the Phillips house (a Georgian Revival home dating to 1897), a former apartment building next door to the Phillips house, a modernist wing, a courtyard, and other amazing gallery spaces. I really enjoyed taking in not only the art, but also the details of this remarkable old home. One of the fireplaces had marble tiles, each one intricately detailed with its own fleur-de-lis, and they actually encourage you to take a seat on the furniture in the home and admire the art...as opposed to roping it off and yelling at you when you come within five feet.

In connection with the jazz festival, I listened to a great pianist in one of the larger rooms in the Phillips house along with some interpretive fiddling/violin/impressive-foot-pedal-action that was the musician's interpretation of the art in one of the larger modern gallery spaces. Also in connection with the jazz festival...an "instrument petting zoo" where kids (or anyone, really, but you can bet I wasn't going anywhere near the germ collection known as the reed instruments) could try out all kinds of different instruments. Allow me to describe this for you. Ummm...loud. Yup, that pretty much sums it up. Although one of the little guys was actually getting pretty good with that snare drum.

I absolutely loved the Phillips Collection, and I will definitely be going back for their extended hours on Thursdays and Sunday concerts starting back up in October. Isn't this city great?

From the Phillips Collection I made my way over to the Woodrow Wilson House, which happens to be Washington's only presidential museum. Wilson lived here after his presidency, and it houses quite a few historical artifacts and gifts he received from diplomatic leaders. Did you know that diplomatic relations with Ethiopia were established during the Wilson administration? Neither did I, but I became acutely aware of it when I encountered native dances and all kinds of coffee in Woodrow's pretty nice gardens. I think I'll call him Woody from here on it - Woodrow just sounds so stiff and formal. Anyway, I think I would get more out of the home by actually taking a tour, but it was interesting to walk through the home and check out some of the items on display (they had a movie room!), and I always find it fascinating when these homes smack in the middle of the city, have expansive lawns and gardens. So pretty! And outdoorsy!

After Woody's house, I was up for...the Textile Museum! That's right, textiles. Have their own museum. Right here in our nation's capital. It's conveniently located about two houses down from Woody, so I figured a fairly quick stop would be worth the short trip. I didn't spend too much time there, but I did invest in a little quality time with the Amish quilts and turbans and ceremonial robes from all around the world. Oh, and you know how I mentioned special events were going on this weekend in conjunction with the whole "free admission" bit? Apparently that includes sheep shearing demonstrations at the Textile Museum. That's right, back on the huge lawn behind the museum they had a couple of sheep. I definitely was not expecting to see any sheep on my museum adventures, but I patted them on the head and went on my merry way.

Having not quite tapped out my art limit for the day, I decided that my merry way should take me over to Artomatic, a massive collection of local artists' pieces spread over nine stories in a warehouse, complete with music stages, dance troupes, and all kinds of other crazy artsy stuff. It's basically intended as a gallery space for all of these local artists over a month-long spread, and if I had some extra cash to throw around and some more space on my walls, I might be tempted to pick up some really great photography shots to liven up the apartment. Right besdie all the art I might actually want to purchase...resides all kinds of crazy stuff. A display of art made out of Peeps (yes, those marshmallow guys that pop up around Easter - my personal favorite was "Top Peep" where they were displayed in a kitchen setting ala "Top Chef"), life-sized Obama family finger puppets, miniature drag queen Presidential busts, and plenty of other crazy stuff. There was so much I didn't even get to, so odds are I might make a return trip before it closes on July 5. Not necessarily to buy anything, but I could take in a concert while wandering an industrial space filled with crazy art - pretty cool in my book.

After all of this art and history business (which gave rise to a totally-Picasa-worthy kind of day...I'll let you know when the pics are all up, you know I needed some serious food. Another DC Tex-Mex attempt at Tortilla Coast...and it was ok. Not stellar, but not terrible. At least the chips and salsa were tasty! Such an important benchmark. Rio Grande is still winning in this Texan's opinion. And even though I'm sure I had plenty to eat, it didn't stop me from picking up a toasted marshmallow shake at Good Stuff Eatery, snapping a sneaky picture of Spike (of Top Chef fame, which isn't really that famous, but is kinda food-famous in my world), and walking as far as Union Station before giving out and taking the Metro two stops home. Oh, and I'm quite partial to seeing the Capitol from the back...much fewer people, and it's pretty peaceful to sit on one of the benches with a milkshake and take in the sunset. Not a bad way to end the day.


Belinda said...

Is it bad that after reading this whole day's blog, I'm most interested in how the toasted marshmallow shake was???? Sounds so yummy and different. Miss you Erin!

Erin said...

haha, not bad at all - I'm GLAD that's what you're thinking about, because it was AHHHH-mazing!! Come visit me and we'll go get one. =) Heck, we'll get two and you can even have your own.