Thursday, April 16, 2009

yeah baby, hold it right there

Smithsonian, round 3.

I decided it was time to hit American History, so went down sorta first thing in the morning. Mildly alarmed by the crowds of descending school children, I got to the door and saw that they also had extended hours until 7:30. I decided to come back later.

What to do until then? The nifty thing about the Mall is the amount of free museums to see, all within walking distance. And did I mention free? All the Smithsonians, and a few other non-Smithsonian museums are free. Free free free. I haven't dropped a dime for admission anywhere. DC residents, you don't know how lucky you are to have this. I surveyed my options:

The Holocaust Museum has lines coming out of every orifice.

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing tours were fully booked for the day.

I dropped in briefly at the Museum of African Art. African art doesn't stir any passions in me, but according to their website, there is one Yinka Shonibare piece in the collection. I stopped at the info desk to see if it was on display, and the woman there didn't know offhand, but started calling the docents to see if they knew. No one knew about it, which didn't bode well. I wandered around for 15 minutes while info lady Rosalie did some more research for me, and most of those 15 minutes were spent finding and walking the stairs. It isn't a very big gallery, and half of it was closed of for installations. I can't recommend it, except for the information desk service.

Seeing as it was cold and rainy, the next closest museum on the list was the National Gallery of Art. I totally recommend this. Art and sculpture from everywhere, predominantly (if not all) Western. Starting out in the medieval and renaissance galleries, I amused myself by picking out oddball details in religious and allegorical painting, since they are always loaded with imagery and symbolism, most of which I don't understand and only read about afterwards. Is this supposed to be a cherub? If one of these came fluttering up to me I'd probably reach for the nearest rolled up newspaper. And check out the chompers on the happy horse from c. 1500.

It took me over three hours to wander through. I realized near the end that my shoes were squeaking really loudly every time I crossed a gallery.

Best in show - Jan van Eyck's Annunciation (for superb technique, not subject matter).

Museum of American History - I finally got there around 4:00, and it was still an utter zoo. As if every middle school within ten miles was having a field trip day. I made an attempt to escape into exhibits less attractive to teens (Jazz Composers), but really, it was lost cause. I just had to endure sweaty screaming bedlam for a couple of hours before it cleared out enough to wander freely. I don't know what's up with the newer museums here, but they all suffer from poorly-designed layout. I felt like I spent more time than I should walking between exhibits. Granted, I was moving around to avoid the crowd, but I lost track of how many times I went up and down the escalators, then crossed from one wing to another. Going late is really the way to do it. When I first arrived, long lines were waiting to get into several of the more popular exhibits (Lincoln, First Ladies), but biding my time in the less crowded exhibits allowed me to waltz straight in after most of the tweeners and families had left. There really are bunch of fine items to see - the Star Spangled Banner, displayed in low light to slow its deterioration, Lincoln's top hat, the be-sequined ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, engines enough to put a sparkle in any steampunk's eye. Some of the exhibits, or certain aspects within, are obviously geared more towards the kiddies, and I suppose American History, Natural History, and Air and Space more than the other museums have an inherent appeal to the masses of all ages, and the curators need to find balance between displaying what they have in their collections, displaying what they have in their collections in the context of a themed exhibit, being educational, and being fun. I don't think they always succeed. But should I really complain? It's all free. And...

Best in show - Oscar the Grouch!

Yesterday was tax day. I walked by the IRS a couple of days ago. I bet it's a feeding frenzy in there today. They probably hand out celebratory cupcakes.

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