May in Washington DC: Part 2

Washington DC Part 2

Our second day on the trip was quite a bit more pleasant than the first. We were going to spend most of the day hanging out at the Smithsonian. We took the Metro into DC proper and struck out for the Smithsonian. We briefly wandered around the outdoor sculpture garden where I met Aragog…or a wonderful spider sculpture by Louise Bourgeoise. We also saw this incredible Silver Tree and 2D house sculpture. We also meandered in the butterfly garden, which was sadly lacking in butterflies. Perhaps too early in the day.

Spider sculpture

Our first museum was the American History Museum to which was dubbed “auntie’s attic.” It’s a wonderful mix of artifacts from American history. In the main lobby, I found Duke Ellington’s electric piano (!), a painting still for a Robin Hood movie, a boater with Reagan’s face on the top of it. We first checked out the famous flag from the battle of 1812 that inspired our national anthem. That flag is huge. They showed how big the stars are close up; it’s like three hand lengths across!

We then went to the Hall of Presidents which has a lot of presidential artifacts. They had a room with snippets from popular movies about presidents. One was from the 1950s (I think) about a woman who becomes president. The little bit we watched made our blood boil. Eek! I also checked out the First Ladies’ exhibit that had a bunch of dresses and other artifacts, including china. It was neat to see all the ball gowns worn by Michelle Obama, Nancy Reagan, and even Mary Todd Lincoln. She’s so tiny!

The museum also had the famous counter from the Woolworth’s Lunch Counter pivotal in civil war history. Very impressive to have it there. They just opened a series of galleries that I think is the National Museum of African American History and Cultural Gallery. It was pretty neat. They had costumes from Soul Train and James Brown’s jumpsuit and piano.

We made a stop at the gift shop where my fiancé picked up a plastic sword and our friend bought a claw named “Mr. Bite Stick.” This would prove pivotal later.

My choice of Smithsonian was the Freer Collection. It’s a museum I had never been to before. And there was also something on Twitter about a Peacock room. I was naturally curious. The museum is a mix of Asian art and American art. Whistler proved pivotal to the museum so they have a bunch of his paintings. One room has beautiful ancient Chinese bronzes, another paintings by Whistler. We learned that there was actually two Peacock Rooms. The original one was magnificent. The walls are dark teal with golden shelves. On one wall, there are golden peacocks, one sitting on coins. The other side of the room had a painting of the original patron’s daughter. All around the room are shelves with Chinese pottery. It was spectacular. Apparently, the backstory is fascinating. Two friends had discussed the creation of the room. The patron went off leaving his artistic friend to make the piece. Apparently, he went overboard with the room while also letting in press to see the room. When the patron saw the 3/4th finished room, he was displeased with his friend’s work and actions so he declined to pay. The artist finished the room despite this fact. The room was kept and eventually sold to someone in the US who shipped it over. Wowza! Also, a tour guide mentioned that no one knew how the owner made his money but we suspect it was slavery.

Peacock Room

The second Peacock Room was called “Filthy Lucre” by Darren Waterston. The piece referenced this backstory. The artist created the rooms but in disarray. Shelves are broken, pots are smashed on the floor. The two peacocks are eviscerating each other and bleeding golden paint down the wall and floor. There are discordant sounds that occasionally play. Really neat.

Filthy Lucre

On our way out, we found two other contemporary pieces. One was by Chiharu Shiota called “Over the Continents.” The piece was composed of 100 or so shoes tied to a single red string attached to the wall. All the shoes are different and have attached tags written in Japanese. The second piece was a ceiling installation composed of alphabets. There were 16 segments where each was a different writing system: Arabic, Italian, Braille, etc. Each spelled out the world “Monkey” in the language. Super neat.

Shoes

Then we wandered in the garden of the Smithsonian castle. It’s a neat building but with little inside (besides an overpriced café).Sadly, the fountain was under construction so our mischief was limited. Our friend did use Mr. Bite Stick to grab a Buddha’s Hand fruit off a tree. An attempt at baseball was made using the tools but it didn’t work. We did get a lovely smell of lemon.

Our last museum for the day was the National Gallery. When we checked in, the guards were really unhappy about the plastic sword. We respectfully went to check it (with the claw). However, one of the guards decided to lecture us about having a plastic sword out and about in DC. It was rather troubling to have this conversation. But we decided to enjoy ourselves despite this. We spent much of our time wandering the Impressionist galleries and hanging out with the Gilbert Stuart paintings of our founding fathers. What I was keen to see was an exhibition on photography that included a silhouette of Kara Walker by Chuck Close. It was pretty neat. All the photos were fascinating in the exhibition. One was a series of small snapshots of body parts commenting on race and stereotyped body parts, which was really cool. Another was a series of photos of a Lincoln penny in various states.

Tomorrow will be the National Archives, the Hirshhorn Museum, and the National Zoo.

That’s all for now!

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