Monday, April 13, 2009

need more craft, fewer artifacts

Visiting DC started out as wanting to visit the Smithsonian, so without further ado I hoofed it down to the Mall to start my excursions. First stop:

Renwick Gallery. Home of American Art and, more of interest to me, Craft. It's gotta be in one of the smallest Smithsonian buildings, a house from 1861 that was DC's first art museum. The downstairs was devoted to an special exhibition of the architecture and decorative arts of Henry and Charles Greene, which is quite good - lots of furniture, right up my alley. Bits of the permanent collection are displayed upstairs, and the best in show is i am no one by Beth Cavener Stichter. holy moly. It's unsettling to look at, yet I couldn't stop. It's not Craft, at least not in the manner that I think of as Craft, but I've been mulling over whether or not it's Sculpture. I suppose technically it is, but it's not the first term that comes to mind when I look at it. I'm content to think of it as Art. Whatever it is, it's riveting. Tucked into one corner of the room, it made everything else in that space not matter. I took a bunch of photos, but will be violating some copyright law if I post them, so you'll need to go look at her website. The pictures there are better, anyway.

Museum of the American Indian = information overload number one. Stymied perhaps by my admittedly limited-to-high-school education of the Native American, I had some trouble grounding myself anywhere in the exhibit. Objects from 10,000 years of Native heritage in both North and South America, from all tribal affiliations, with descriptive and historical literature splashed everywhere, and multiple television screens broadcasting interviews and videos, over speakers gently pumping out Native recordings left me lost. And the layout of the exhibits follow curving walls that separate different points of interest, but also make it sort of hard to navigate with any sense of order. Maybe you're not supposed to. I think I spent almost three hours in there, which was a bit too long, although some of that was at lunch. It's actually sort of hard to find food on the Mall, unless you want a hot dog from a cart. All the buildings are hulking, federal institutions, and anything not one of those is at least one block away. I think this is actually a good thing, because the architectural presentation of these freaking huge buildings isn't interrupted by some food joint. Instead, lots of the museums have cafes, and the one here is the best, featuring foods from different Indian cultures. It's typically overpriced, but worth at least one meal. I might even go back for another some day. You grab a tray, browse what the various sections have to offer, and pick up what you want, cafeteria style. I got fry-bread with berry compote and a rather delicious veggie tamale. Sturdy vittles. Fortified, I went back to the exhibits, by which point things were making a little more sense, or else by then I had stopped caring about my fragmented viewing experience.

One of the current temporary exhibitions is Comic Art Indigène, which explores storytelling through comics and comic-inspired art, mostly focusing on contemporary art, but there are a few examples of ancient rock and ceramic art. I liked the women superheroes by skater chick Jolene Nenibah Yazzie, because women superheroes are always badass, and also because Jolene received early inspiration from Wonder Woman's long luxurious black hair. But, there are at least two glaring oversights in this exhibition; first, not a scribble from the Hernandez Brothers. How could an exhibit on comics + Native Americans not include Palomar? Second, an issue of The New Mutants is in the Stereotype Cavalcade (reflecting both good and bad stereotypes). I'm not sure if the curator thought Psyche/Dani Moonstar is a good or a bad stereotype, but what they really should have included is Bill Sienkiewicz's cover art for the Demon Bear run, because, damn, that's one amazing cover.

Other than the comics, the random object of interest was a pair of bull-roarers, and only because I made a bunch of these for a sound designer a couple of months ago. Before then they wouldn't have turned my head, because I didn't know what a bull-roarer was.

Museum of Air and Space = information overload number two. I sorta only went there because it was (a) right across the street from the Museum of the American Indian and (b) open late (seeing as it was past 5pm). I think I would have gotten more of a kick out of this if I had visited when I was twelve. Rockets, planes, capsules, astronaut fecal matter bags, missiles, stewardess uniforms, lumps of lunar rock, you name it, anything that can fly, anything that has flown in a manmade contraption, and anything related to flying is probably there in one form or another. Eyes glazed over by all the shiny surfaces, I found the more vintage displays more to my taste. In WWII, airmen were distinguished by their soft caps, which had to be that way to allow headsets to fit around their heads. Hats repeatedly jammed into bags and pockets would crumple them at an accelerated rate, allowing the wearer to appear more veteran than they perhaps really were. I'm not sure if this was to impressive senior officers or dames. I'm guessing dames. Those dashing white parachute silk scarves didn't do anything to hurt the cause, either. Plus they kept necks warm and prevented chafing otherwise caused by the constant swiveling of the head to scan for enemy fighters. Who woulda thunk that something so simple would be so multipurpose? I'm pretty sure those high tech fecal matter bags had only one purpose.


Anonymous said...

Well shoot, I guess I shouldn't have skipped the Renwick. Happy you're enjoying yourself!

Cybele said...

i'm really enjoying your blog, elise. many giggles here. now i want a budgie. and stichter IS amazing!! thanks for sharing her link. i look forward to more.