Sunday, August 23, 2009

Smithsonianity...Smithsonian insanity?

I'm going to visit every one of the Smithsonian museums. I have no reason not to! They're FREE! Now, I've been to several of them multiple times, but there are others that are probably only going to get one visit, and I haven't even attempted those yet, mostly because they happen to be more than a mile from my apartment.

These guys can get checked off the list:
  1. National Museum of Natural History! Multiple visits to this one, and I'm sure there will be more - it's a crowd-pleaser. Science rocks!
  2. National Museum of the American Indian! I hope eating in the cafe counts, because I've done that three times. I did check out the canoe exhibit at the entrance of the museum...that definitely counts.
  3. National Portrait Gallery! I love their collection of Presidential portraits and the special exhibits that rotate through. Oh, and it's two blocks from my apartment, so ease of access is a big thumbs up.
  4. Smithsonian American Art Museum! It shares building space with the National Portrait Gallery, and the courtyard the two share is one of my favorite D.C. places.
  5. National Zoological Park! Although I did miss the pandas because of the I'll probably go back.
  6. National Air and Space Museum! Another one with multiple visits, and I'm just fascinated by this place - I could spend hours and hours exploring every single exhibit.
  7. National Museum of American History! Hello, Julia Child's kitchen AND Stephen Colbert's portrait? You can't keep me away from this one.

And as of today we can mark off two more:

  1. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden!
  2. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery!
We'll start where I started today - with the outdoor sculpture garden at the Hirshhorn, which is set below street level on the National Mall and is really a very peaceful outdoor space until you encounter the "sound installation" lurking in one of the corners...but other than that, some really cool pieces by Giacometti and Rodin mixed in with the more modern stuff that tends to be shiny and/or just plain odd. One thing I found pretty interesting was a wish tree installation at the front of the garden where visitors can write wishes on paper tags and hang them from a tree - there were so many different languages hanging from that tree on little tags, which helped me appreciate just how many people roll through our nation's capital.

After making my way around the sculpture garden, I headed across the street to the museum itself, which is somewhat affectionately known as "the doughnut" given its architecture - circular with a giant hole in the middle, which actually helps with working your way through the exhibits in a fairly efficient manner. The Hirshhorn showcases modern and contemporary art, and while I've had houseguests experience its offerings, I hadn't made it over there yet myself. Ummm...I think once might be enough for this one. I do appreciate the modern/contemporary take on things and respect artists' visions and acknowledge all of the work that goes into these pieces, but...

Yes, that face pretty much sums it up. I'm in the midst of the Strange Bodies: Figurative Works from the Hirshhorn Collection, wondering why there's a large, sad, naked man in one corner, severed limbs in the other, and a humanish Bedazzled Christmas-tree-like creation in the middle. Now, I did gain some knowledge and experience some artistic "oooh!" moments out of this museum visit - did you know Alexander Calder invented the mobile? Or that many of Alberto Giacometti's emaciated, roughened sculptures were inspired by prisoners liberated from concentration camps? I worked my way through all three levels and admired many a sculpture, but I also contemplated wrapping aluminum foil around objects in my home, calling them art, and selling my way into early retirement. Hmmm.

Time to move on to the Sackler Gallery, which is connected to the Freer Gallery - the two together consist of the National Museums of Asian Art, so I think I can safely say I've seen approximately half of that endeavor. One of my favorite pieces here was one of the few contemporary pieces (I know, I just went all "hmmm" on contemporary art, but when you're up against room after room of Southeast Asian ceramics and ornate saddle stirrups, contemporary starts to look pretty cool again) on display - S-Curve by Anish Kapoor, the same sculptor who created Cloud Gate...the giant bean in Chicago's Millennium Park. There's just something about those highly reflective surfaces that draws me in and compels many, many clicks of the camera button.

I did learn about the tale of Shuten Doji, the story of the conquest of the monster Shuten Doji by the hero Minamoto as told through screens, scrolls, and fans...and did you know that there is Japanese calligraphy? Check out my sneakily-taken picture from the "don't take pictures in here!" Shuten Doji exhibit (no flash, so no damage caused to ridiculously old Japanese scroll - I feel no guilt for breaking this particular rule). Major props to Minamoto for conquering the red-headed beast. There, culture!

I think I might need to take advantage of some of the docent tours to better experience several of these places. I'm quite capable of amusing myself and learning fun facts in the Air & Space Museum, but I might need a little more help in analyzing Asian pottery.

And still to come:

  1. Anacostia Community Museum. This might be exciting, but the name definitely doesn't get me all thrilled about it. I promise I'll give it its due, though.
  2. Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum - this one is actually in New York, which presents a small problem of geography. I'm going to make it there, though.
  3. Freer Gallery of Art
  4. National Postal Museum. Yes, there's a museum dedicated to the USPS. It does kinda fascinate me that mail actually gets from one place to another, so maybe this will provide some enlightening moments.
  5. Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center - it's out by Dulles airport, which is a small drawback, but...they have a space shuttle!!
  6. National Museum of African Art
  7. Smithsonian Institution Building - the Castle! This actually serves as the information center for all of the Smithsonian museums, so I might save it for last just to do the whole thing completely backwards.
Honestly, if I was going to go all gangbusters on this one, I could theoretically visit ALL of them in ONE DAY. That just seems a little ridiculous, though, so I'm going to set myself a deadline of December 31, 2010, which should be completely manageable. Phew.


Trinity said...

Please don't ever make that face again. And I would wait until that castle gets rid of the American Idol thing. It is just wrong that they have it in a Smithsonian.

Sarah said...

Oh so agreed on the Hirshhorn! The large, sad, naked man in a corner was quite disturbing!

Erin said...

I realize, not my most attractive face, but I think it adequately displayed my feelings. Oh, and the desk is only there through 9/13, so I think I can manage to miss this "icon of American amateur entertainment in the mass-media age."

Sarah, he was scary!! I didn't realize from your pictures just how large he was - eeekk!

Sully said...

The more you described the Smithonians, the more I wish to venture back your direction and view for myself. I'm intrigued by the art inspired by the concentration camps . . .when you said "emaciated figures," that's the first thing that came to mind.

Oh, and your "less-than-impressed" face was an enjoyable addition to the overall mood of the blog comment at the point . . .since you're ok with that one, may I post that one of you on Carrie's couch? lol. j/k

Erin said...

Come visit again, Kerry Marie, for more than six hours in D.C.! =) We can go see some happy art, too.

That picture must stay tucked away - it was a tired, just-rode-the-bus/subway-for-8,000-hours, surprised face that should not be shared with anyone. Ever.