On our first full day in DC area, we decided to do all the Smithsonians. Okay, maybe not all. Just eight. And we managed to do all the Smithsonians (save the Postal Museum and closed buildings) in our two trips. Woohoo! So below, I’ll talk about our times at four of the museums: Freer and Sackler Galleries, African Art Museum and the Air and Space Museum. Then the next part will cover the American Indian Museum, the American Natural History Museum, the Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum. Woohoo!
After our last trip, I was really intrigued by the Freer and Sackler Galleries. I had never been to those museums before the last trip. So we started with those museums, in part, because they were closest to our metro stop. I wanted especially to check out the Sackler, since I felt that we had only seen a small portion of it.
We decided to say hello to the Peacock Room and Filthy Lucre rooms again. Both are truly marvelous rooms. I took a closer look at the Peacock Room since we knew the back-story about the artist and patron. I also noticed that some of the pottery was broken. I hadn’t noticed that before. In the Filthy Lucre room, it connected even more with the smashed pieces on the floor!
This visit to the galleries gave me a finer appreciation for the museums. It’s incredible that the building housing the two galleries is mostly underground. The main collection of the Sackler is in basement level one or two. We saw some incredible Indian sculptures along with some sculptures from regions that are controlled by ISIS. My fiancé pointed out that artifacts like these were the ones currently being destroyed. What a shame.
Then we finally followed the rest of the “Monkeys Grasping for the Moon” by Xu Bing. It’s this suspended sculpture a chain of words spelling “Monkey” in different languages. The last trip we only saw the very top. This time we followed it all the way tot he bottom. At the very bottom, the last two languages were English and Arabic. To be fair, I couldn’t really read the English section. But marvelous nonetheless.
Then we found ourselves in the American Museum of African Art in basement level 3 (I think). It was a delightful surprise. Their current exhibition is “The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists.” It was amazing. The lowest basement level had representations of hell. Sadly, I wasn’t permitted to take photos. But they had some incredible sculptures including a wooden boat that was filled with black heads, that looked like coal. Wow. Then there was this amazing tribute of the famous Laocoön sculpture in the Vatican. The statue is Prism 10 (Dead Laocoön) by Win Botha. The basic story is that Laocoön tried to stop the Trojans from bringing the horse into their city. So Poseidon sent a sea serpent to prevent him from making the warnings and it eats Laocoön and his sons. The statue shows that epic struggle. This version in the museum was in dark granite like material and very angular. All the features have been swept away leaving just the figures in anguish. Very powerful.
This page has the piece on it: http://africa.si.edu/exhibitions/current-exhibitions/divine-comedy-2/hell/
Then as you ascended, there were pieces from Purgatory and then finally Paradise. Inspired. I loved how we ascended from Hell like Dante.
They also have an exhibition called “Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue” that is owned by Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. It was rather an impressive collection of African and African American works. The art was organized around a theme. My personal favorite was the room about jazz and public spaces that had paintings by Archibald Motley Jr. and Jacob Lawrence. There were also political pieces too. The centerpiece was a statue made of cloth and other perishable pieces about a triumphant Toussaint Louverture, Very cool.
When we emerged from the museum, we found ourselves in the midst of July 4th parade preparation. 100s of people were getting ready for the parade on the National Mall. There were about 10 marching bands simultaneously warming up. That really read America to me more than anything else that weekend. There were floats getting ready. There was even an Abraham Lincoln impersonator. We saw a float that looked like an extravagant Indian wedding. There was even a marching band for the Falun Gong. And there were balloons of bears and dinosaurs. It was so much fun. Probably more fun than if we had tried to see the parade.
Our next stop was the Air and Space Museum. Despite my love of pretty much everything, space travel really does not appeal to me. I don’t know why. My feeling that space is scary might be part of it. But I’m not sure. However, the Smithsonian recently collected some items from the Soviet Space program so that made me super excited. They had space suits from the Russian program including Yuri Gagarin. So cool. They even displayed it side by side by the comparable US suit. Things have really changed since that time in space suits.
We did walk through a Space shuttle on display, which was neat. So tiny! We also checked out some of the WWI and WWII planes. And we got to see Charles Lindberg’s Spirit of St. Louis. But the best was the Air Force brass band playing in the middle of the main hall. That was super neat. I didn’t think I’d enjoy going to DC on July 4th as much as I did.
Anyway, that’s all for now. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the other four museums.