Another Perspective on Art
Washington Travel Blog› entry 18 of 27 › view all entries
After the extreme heat of the last few days, I was a little surprised when I got up this morning and discovered that we were experiencing light rain. Undeterred, I tossed a rain jacket into my purse and headed out.
The rain was a bit heavier by the time I came up from the subway at the Smithsonian stop, so I had to pull on the jacket. I discovered that the National Museum of African Art would not open until 10, another 15 minutes. I detoured into the Castle and looked at a new exhibit: Read My Pins, a display of the many different pins worn by former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. The cases did a nice job explaining the symbolism behind the jewelry. She had quite a varied collection: butterflies, birds, patriotic symbols, hearts, celestial objects, frogs, spiders, snakes, foods, big cats.
Out the back of the Castle and through the rain, I ventured underground and discovered a zoo of animals in Artful Designs, one of the main exhibits in the museum of African art. I picked up a brochure and had fun following the scavenger hunt-like method of learning about the artwork. I loved reading about the symbolism behind the different animals depicted. Examples: turtle--royalty, strength, authority; hippo--good fortune, fertility; crocodile--transformation, power, hunting. It was amazing all the different ways the animals were worked into the design of pieces. Some were obvious such as the tapestry with animals woven into it or the sculpture in the shape of an elephant. Subtle pieces relied on patterns such as a snake's scales on a bowl.
The other main exhibit displayed a collection started by only two pieces that Paul and Ruth Tishman purchased while in Benin. Twenty-some years later, they owned over 500 beautiful artworks from the African continent. Desiring to share with as many people as possible, the couple sold the collection to the Disney company. The company loaned the pieces out various times until finally giving the art to the Smithsonian in 2005 and making the African Vision exhibit available to the entire nation.
Grass Roots was the last exhibit I visited in this museum. It really was interesting to see how the tradition of basket weaving remained a part of an area's culture through the years, how there were similarities across an ocean but adaptations for a local environment.
On the bottom level of the museum, I wandered into the Ripley International Center which now hosted an exhibit looking at healing artwork done by the children survivors of the Haitian earthquake.
Up on the surface I darted through the rainy weather to the circular Hirschhorn modern art museum. I am not really into modern art, but I know I need to see different things, expand my horizons. Plus, at this point the Hirschhorn was the only Smithsonian museum on the Mall left for me to visit. A few sculptures sit in the grass on the outer edges of the property; a huge fountain spurts up in the middle. The entrance was on the far side of the circle; once inside I headed up a narrow escalator to the special exhibit by Yves Klein.
Up on the third floor I looked at a lot of sculptures including a few by Picasso and Calder. I like their works. I found other sculptures that I liked such as Column of Peace with its wooden rods twisting skyward. Other sculptures did not appeal to me, a few made me think of pain even.
The lowest level hosted a few pieces meant to stimulate senses other than sight. In fact one led the viewer into a darkened room, nearly pitch black at first, muted colors visible once your eyes adjusted. Another room had flashing lights and high-pitched noise. One bright yellow patch on the floor came with a warning: the material was actually hazelnut pollen and could spur allergic reactions in some. After my time at the Hirschhorn, I am still not as big a fan of modern art as I am of other time periods, but I did find some more pieces to like.