Spanish Artwork and Aquatic Life

Washington Travel Blog

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outside the NGA, sign for one of the art exhibits

While traveling on the Metro this past Monday, I noticed a sign advertising an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art related to Spain.  Being a Spanish teacher, I immediately started wondering when I could return for a visit.  I found out that there were actually two special exhibits that focused on Spanish art and one of them would be leaving after this weekend.  Therefore, Saturday morning instead of going to my trailer to try to get some extra work done, I decided to go into DC.

Once at the National Gallery of Art (NGA), I got directions to the two exhibits: The Art of Power in the West Wing and Luis Meléndez: Master of the Spanish Still Life in the East Wing.  I walked quickly through the galleries, saving a glance for one of my mom's favorite pieces, the only da Vinci work in the permanent collection.

the Budapest Stallion, possibly by da Vinci
  At the Rotunda I got distracted by a sign describing the Budapest Stallion, a da Vinci puzzle.  I detoured downstairs and discovered the museum's sculpture collection, something I did not remember seeing before.  They had a number of casts of pieces by Rodin and Degas.

The Budapest Stallion was in its own little room with placards breaking down the evidence for and against da Vinci as the creator of the small sculpture.  Also a few related pieces on display helped to bring the evidence discussion to life.

Back upstairs I found The Art of Power easily.  The entrance was very impressive with a photomural of a 16th-century fresco in the Hall of Battles in Spain.  The reproduction flanked the doorway and unfortunately was the only part of the exhibit I could photograph since special exhibits usually do not allow photography.

mural replica
  The exhibit displayed portraits of kings and princes in regalia, full sets of armor for both men and horses, and other related accoutrements.  In the second room, I found a horse covered in armor very impressive.  An intricate tapestry provided an impressive backdrop for three suits of armor.  In another room two detailed tapestries filled the walls; one depcited dozens of mythological and historical figures while another showed the meeting of Hannibal and Scipio.  A small suit of armor had been produced for Phillip IV (I think) when he was only seven; however, artwork created when he was in his teens shows him wearing the same suit.  The last room of the exhibit spoke of armor's diminishing role, first in warfare where guns made it obsolete and then finally in diplomacy.
walkway between the East and West wings of the NGA

I headed downstairs to the underground walkway between the older West Wing and newer East Wing.  To my surprise I noticed little sparkling lights all around the moving sidewalk; an LED sculpture will decorate the passageway until November.

Aboveground again I climbed up two levels to the two rooms that housed the still lifes by Meléndez.  Originally planning to become a court painter, the Spanish artist gained fame with his still lifes.  On exhibit were 22 pieces, 9 from a collection in Madrid.  I'm not normally much of a fan of still lifes, but I really enjoyed the simplicity of these works.  They were beautifully done and made me think of delicous meals, the artist's intention.  Meléndez never painted a finished meal, just the raw ingredients, and left the rest up to the viewer.

images outside the Melendez exhibit
  Fruit and bread featured in many of the pieces, the fruit placed prominently in the front, the bread often in a basket.  Meats made a few appearances (2 with fish, 2 with birds, 1 with red meat).

Walking in front of the West Wing, I paused to notice roses and a fountain.  I crossed a street and then cut through the Sculpture Garden.  I visited the garden this past winter.  Now a large fountain filled the space that before was a skating rink.  I walked around the opposite side of the fountain from my previous route to see the remaining sculptures.  I found two of them a little disturbing (not a fan of spiders, therefore a huge one is not going to make me happy) but was pleased to discover a Miro piece.  Another photo to add to my collection of Spanish artwork.

"Nemo"

I passed behind the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of American History before crossing another street to my right.  In the basement of the Department of Commerce, the National Aquarium awaited me.  I had to go through a metal detector before heading down a narrow stairwell.  I paid my entrance fee and then began wandering the small aquarium.  The exhibits were arranged in a long U-shape with the freshwater fish to the right.  The ocean life tanks to the left were each designed around a national seashore/marine sanctuary.  Another row of tanks down the middle increased each theme's capacity.  The pictures above the tank helped identify which animals are floating/swimming/sitting around inside.  However, several species needed no introduction.

  As I watched the orange clownfish poking its nose into an anemone, the three-year old next me excitedly squealed "Nemo!"

The headliners were the alligators and sharks, so they were in the largest tanks.  The alligators were actually in the first tank once I reaced the main part of the aquarium.  On the marine sanctuary side each tank had an informational placard about the sanctuary represented.  In most tanks the wildlife was easy to spot overall.  The sea turtle was a definite crowd pleaser with its tendencies to swim right next to the glass.  The octopus however was squished back in the far left corner of its tank.  Combining the location with the lowered light levels in the habitat, I'm not sure I would've spotted the creature if not for the help of another visitor sitting nearby.

  The tanks representing the Monitor sanctuary and the articifial reef were unique amongst the habitats; they had obviously manmade structures to provide refuge for the fish.  The tropical tanks were the most colorful.  I took my time here, playing with the camera and waiting on fish to slow down or be in the right position for an attempt at a decent shot :)

On the freshwater side a few tanks housed airbreathing critters such as poisonous frogs and some snakes.  Overall, I found this half less impressive although they did have the electric eel over here.

With a half hour before the shark feeding at two, I tried to fill the time.  I browsed the shop (very small and no postcards), checked out the interactive area (1 display), and stopped in the restroom (also small and the stall door stuck).

leopard shark
  Giving up I returned to the area near the shark tanks which was quickly filling up.  Around 2:00, one of the curators gave a short speech about the impending feeding.  Then he went behind the scenes and dropped in chunks of fish.  It was interesting to watch as the sharks noticed the locations of the food and then swallowed the chunks whole.

The feeding complete I climbed the stairs back up to street level and headed towards the Metro to go home.

Vikram says:
Good read!
Posted on: Jun 21, 2012
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outside the NGA, sign for one of t…
outside the NGA, sign for one of …
the Budapest Stallion, possibly by…
the Budapest Stallion, possibly b…
mural replica
mural replica
walkway between the East and West …
walkway between the East and West…
images outside the Melendez exhibit
images outside the Melendez exhibit
Nemo
"Nemo"
leopard shark
leopard shark
on the main level of the NGA
on the main level of the NGA
looking up into the Rotunda
looking up into the Rotunda
from an Italian town hit by an ear…
from an Italian town hit by an ea…
model of a Degas work
model of a Degas work
mural replica
mural replica
entrance to the armor exhibit
entrance to the armor exhibit
by the cafe
by the cafe
atrium of NGA
atrium of NGA
looking at the West Wing
looking at the West Wing
large sign for the still life exhi…
large sign for the still life exh…
roses outside NGA
roses outside NGA
fountain by the West Wing
fountain by the West Wing
fountain in the Sculpture Garden
fountain in the Sculpture Garden
Gothic Personnage, Bird-Flash
Gothic Personnage, Bird-Flash
Typewriter Eraser, Scale X
Typewriter Eraser, Scale X
going down the stairwell
going down the stairwell
by the ticket sales
by the ticket sales
alligators!
alligators!
re-creation of the Monitor Sanctua…
re-creation of the Monitor Sanctu…
nautilus
nautilus
gar
gar
newt
newt
piranhas
piranhas
emerald tree boa
emerald tree boa
electric eel
electric eel
lionfish
lionfish
anemone
anemone
sea horse
sea horse
sign in Metro
sign in Metro
Washington
photo by: b93sp