Spring into the National Children’s Museum

April 10, 2013

Now that spring is upon the capital city and parents are looking for activities to entertain the little ones, consider a visit to the National Children’s Museum.

The new museum picks up where the Capital Children’s Museum left off when it closed its doors in 2004 after Congress designated and renamed it as the only nationally recognized cultural and educational museum devoted to children.
Relocated to National Harbor, Md., the new, interactive 18,000 square foot museum is designed with children ages eight-years-old and under in mind.

“One of the things we do is promote child directed, open-ended play,” said NCM president, Willard Whitson. “All of our exhibits allow kids to create their own narrative.”

The museum includes two exhibits designed with specific age groups in mind.

The 3 & Under gallery aims to help little ones develop and discover their fine motor skills and stimulate their senses.
Babies ages one year and younger can experience the gallery’s Infant and Crawler Zone, while toddlers can engage in “pretend play” and navigate climbing structures surrounded the classic Sesame Street characters.

“We have a significant partnership with Sesame workshop, evident in the 3 & under,” said Whitson “They helped develop other areas in the museum. It’s the home for Sesame Street in the D.C. area.”

The Our World gallery invites older children (ages 3 to 8) to explore community and the world around them with interactive exhibits. Visitors can actively engage in their own hypothetical community through the My Town exhibits that features a pizza parlor and a campaign center. The other exhibits, Map Zone and World Cultures, uses touchscreens and collaborative maps to show kids the similarities and differences between global societies.

Whitson says the exhibits aim to inspire children to use their imagination and learn to play cooperatively. “We provide the props and sets for them to interact in a different way every time they visit,” said Whitson. “The purpose of that is to show we have common needs but there is a diverse ways we meet those needs.”

In addition to the galleries, NCM houses a 130-seat theatre that presents original productions by the in-house theater company, as well as guest performances.

The NCMs Center for Learning and Innovation, winner of the Judith P. Hoyer Award for Outstanding Service to Children, presents educational programs that reflect the core initiatives of the museum, including literacy, culture and art, health and wellness, and global citizenship.

The museum also offers a Free Family Night sponsored by GEICO the third week of each month that includes free admission to the museum and themed hands-on activities.

Since opening its doors on December 14, 2012, NCM has welcomed approximately 65,000 visitors and anticipates 200,000 visitors annually.

Open seven days a week, admission to the museum is $10 and parking is available in the National Harbor’s parking garage.
For information on hours or to plan your trip, visit (note website url) www.ncm.museum. [gallery ids="119381,119388" nav="thumbs"]

Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet at the Phillips Collection

Abstract Expressionism is forever the American art movement. Like the myth of the Old West, with its solitary heroes and uncompromising visions of greatness, it has become an archetype of the freedom, boldness and gut instinct brilliance that, despite doubts, convolutions and conflicting social mores, is synonymous with our Land of the Free.

Among the mystifying surface aspects of Abstract Expressionism, and one that also borrows from the Wild West playbook, is the seeming lack of narrative convention. It alludes to an intelligence of history from which it stands drastically apart, searching in its wildness for something new and bountiful that lies beyond the horizon.

There are many artistic predecessors of Abstract Expressionism—from the Russian painters Wassily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich, to the European surrealists and early American modernists like Arthur Dove—but for much of the American public around 1950 who had not been privy to this work, it was a cultural ambush. Picasso was still the apex of contemporary, and French Impressionism was still perfectly in fashion. Then Jackson Pollock walked through the door with his cowboy’s swagger and a cigarette dangling from his mouth like a weathervane and began flinging paint like he was fighting off demons.

The creative force of Abstract Expressionism impelled the global shift of artistic prominence from Europe to the United States, and its singular significance in shaping postwar American culture is widely noted. What is less broadly discussed, but equally important, is the movement’s effects on Europe, which up until then had been sole sovereign of its artistic legacy since before the Roman Empire.

At the Phillips Collection through May 12, “Angels, Demons and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet,” examines this transcontinental arc with a gorgeous exhibit that focuses on the relationship and mutual artistic influence between Pollock (1912-1956), the French painter Jean Dubuffet (1901-85), and Alfonso Ossorio (1916-1990), a lesser known American painter and collector who served as conduit and liaison. Featuring major works by all three artists, as well as ample prints, drawings and works on paper, “Angels, Demons and Savages” takes its audience into the rapidly evolving process of these artists during the postwar period of 1945 to 1958.

The great thing about Pollock’s representation in this show is how clearly his process and influences are displayed. Pollock has become an artistic entity since his death, referenced more frequently as a signifier than a painter. Here he is shown not as Pollock the myth, but as Pollock the artist, with drawings, prints and collages exhibiting a deeper contemplation and calculation behind his work than his adulated drip paintings allow.

A small, untitled ink drawing shows a paw-like foot in the bottom corner spiraling out of a tornado-like black mass. Here Pollock’s exalted slashes and curls are more determined, coming not from the unrestrained momentum of a paint-sopped mixing stick, but executed directly by hand. This and other stylized figurative works on paper illuminate his ongoing pursuit of figural expression, as well as his compositional tendencies, which owe greatly to Eastern calligraphy and tapestries.

It is worth noting, however, that Pollock’s large drip canvases on display are still among the most stunning painterly opuses ever created. They are even more powerful when displayed beside Dubuffet’s soil-deep landscapes.

A master of surface texture and comic brutality, Dubuffet, with his signature “low art” art brut style, simultaneously lambasted and reinvigorated the European scene. Dubuffet littered his paints with sand, tar, rocks pebbles and other earthy materials, and his subject matter at the time walked a fine line between abstraction and visual mockery. The result was as if all the landscapes and portrait studies from the previous centuries were scorched and burned, and all that remained were ashes and mutilated fragments, completely unraveled and deformed.

More so than Pollock or Dubuffet, Ossorio is was driven to implement his philosophy and intellect directly into his work. Like the surrealists that influenced him, he was interested in the idea of art as actively permeating the subconscious. He was a technical dynamo—he worked as a medical illustrator during the war—and his smaller works are like ghoulish illustrations. His paintings, whether figurative or abstract, are like gaping holes in the earth, out from which the core boils. He contained and manipulated his expressions and gestures impressively, turning drips into faces or bodies, as if taming an explosion.

Early into their developments, Pollock, Dubuffet and Ossorio all mastered the understanding of a structure and insistency that thread their oeuvres together. There is a successful suggestion, if nebulous, that finds the proper marriage of mood, color, tone and style.

The artistic and conversational exchanges between these three artists can be traced throughout the rest of cultural history up until now—our collective appreciation of overcoming traditional boundaries and ceaseless interest in innovation that has now reached a subliminal level can probably find its roots in the unpredictable art of the 1950s. As the focal point of the art world shifted from Europe to America, the exchange between these protagonists helped bridge the ever-widening gap between the continents and paved the road for generations to come.

“Angels, Demons and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet” at the Phillips through May 12. [gallery ids="101214,144986,144983" nav="thumbs"]

Exquisitely Evil Arrives at Spy Museum

December 5, 2012

Nov. 16 marked the opening of Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains at the Spy Museum. Tied in with the recent 50th anniversary of Dr. No and the release of Skyfall, the exhibit commemorates a different side of the James Bond franchise – the villains of the series. Exquisitely Evil looks at Bond each villain and how his nemeses have evolved over time.

This was one of the first times that the villains of the series were a main focus, and many of the museum staff were eager to see the franchise in this light.

“Where would Bond be without villains?” asked Milton Maltz, founder and chairman of the Spy Museum.

Exquisitely Evil aims to cater to a wide audience. Accordingly, the Spy Museum worked for fifteen months on an exhibit that would engage everyone, from Bond aficionados to families with children. Numerous articles are on lend from EON Productions, the London-based producer of the James Bond films. The exhibit’s displays are both interactive and static and are full of Bond related information and artifacts.

Items on display include Jaw’s teeth from The Spy Who Loved Me, the destroyed satellite from Goldeneye and Dr. No’s infamous tarantula from the first Bond film. The exhibit’s interactive displays include a very dynamic, motion activated shark tank and the opportunity to create a villainous persona and lair.

“My favorite part of the exhibit is the shark tank,” Maltz said, “People will find it interesting – it’s safe danger.”

Profiles of Bond villains can be seen throughout the exhibit. These feature a biography and a summary of their evil schemes. All of Bond’s major nemeses are present, from Irma Bunt to Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

The exhibit also features stories from real spies, made possible by former members of the CIA that shared their experiences.

With the 50th anniversary of the series, Bond has been on everyone’s mind recently. Exquisitely Evil brings the villains to the forefront, and the exhibit’s visitors will be surrounded by characters that so many have loved to hate.

Many people have their personal favorites among Bond’s nemeses.

“Rosa Klebb [is my favorite villain],” Dame Stella Rimington, former head of MI5 and attendee of the exhibit’s opening, said, “When I first became head of MI5, I had a journalist tell me that I wasn’t at all like her, like she had expected. I was kind of offended.”

Exquisitely Evil will remain at the Spy Museum until 2014.
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No ‘Doubt’ about Barbara Kruger at the Hirshhorn

November 6, 2012

Words civilize us. They separate us fair-haired and dexterous animals of intellect from the world of beasts. A baby’s first word is perhaps the first great milestone of their life because words denote the very wonder and intelligence of humankind.

Words can also make us stupid and unbearable.

We often use our words to equivocate, deceive and inflict pain. With them we can distort reality, underscore prejudice, betray one another, and lie to ourselves.

This sort of linguistic relativity—the intention versus perception of our words—is a chance we take every time we open our mouths or put pen to paper. We try to deliver out into the world our thoughts and imaginings, in essence our very selves, and this is perhaps where words seem to falter. Words fail us ¬– or we fail our words – when they do not do justice to what we feel inside.

In her current installation at the Hirshhorn Museum, Barbara Kruger (b. 1945) takes this chance on a monumental scale, releasing her words to form a lexical portrait of our country. With phrases, questions and verbal symbols cramming the walls and floors of the gallery, “Barbara Kruger:

Belief+Doubt” paints a contemporary silhouette of a thoughtful but frustrated American society.
By the 1980s, Kruger was at the forefront of artists who brought photographic illustration and mass media techniques into the mainstream. Pulling from her experience as a magazine photo editor and designer, she reproduced large-scale photomontages from old books and magazines emblazoned with banners of her own text, turning conceptual art into a vibrant public discourse. For instance, across a Rockwellian image of a grade-school girl sweetly poking the curled bicep of her young friend (triggering an image of innocence, sentimentality and the romantic heroism of the 1950s), a bold red banner reads, “We don’t need another hero.”

Since the 1990s, Kruger has focused increasingly on creating environments that immerse the viewer in language. She has employed sound and video projection, orchestrated landscapes of words and, as in this current installation, enclosed her viewers in entire rooms wrapped in text.

However, this installation does not just stand out for its satirical witticism. In “Belief+Doubt” Kruger moves beyond pointing at the vagaries of our social mores in an effort to tackle them head-on.
Descending the escalator to the Hirshhorn’s basement galleries, the trim beneath the ground-floor banisters has written on it four questions. “Whose body?” “Whose beliefs?” “Whose power?” “Whose values?

This is the primer for the sociopolitical labyrinth you are about to enter.

The front wall of the installation, covered from corner to corner in white letters that stretch from floor to ceiling, reads, “Belief + Doubt = Sanity.”

With three words, Kruger offers a hopeful equation that encapsulates our country’s current state of erratic political discord. Though we are at polarizing odds, we all have our tenets and our reservations—and these are often things we struggle to put into words.

Taking up the walls and floors of the large room, including the adjoining gift shop and undersides of the escalators, Kruger’s words become an accumulation of social taboos, moral inevitabilities and political ponderings. “Believe anything. Forget everything. Look for the moment when pride becomes contempt. You want it. You buy it. You forget it.”

The words point to bigger questions beyond themselves. “Who prays loudest? Who is free to choose?”
There aren’t any answers, and maybe these words form the wrong questions, but she is unafraid to ask them. This project is wildly sincere and yet, in a way, unsettlingly ambivalent. These cultural ellipses are bracingly direct, but without the usual soapbox posturing we are inured to witnessing from the political milieu. I think Kruger just wants us to think, to confront our angels and demons in ourselves and in each other, honestly and simply.

“Barbara Kruger: Belief+Doubt” is on view through 2014. For more information visit www.Hirshhorn.si.edu.

Women’s National History Museum Inches Closer to Reality

Washington is a town of monuments. It is also a town of museums.

We have museums of art, history, modern art, science and natural history, a Holocaust museum, the National Museum of the American Indian and the soon-to-be Museum of African American History and Culture.

Yet, there is still no museum that honors the achievements of American women or role of women in American history.

That cause for women came a little closer to reality recently when Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., introduced a bill to create a federal commission to determine the feasibility of constructing a National Women’s History Museum in Washington. Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, is introducing a companion bill in the Senate.

For the National Women’s History Museum organization and its president and CEO Joan Wages, the news brings them one step closer to making the dream of a National Women’s History Museum a reality. “We are thrilled to have this legislation introduced by such distinguished national leaders as Sen. Collins, Rep. Maloney and Del. Norton and ten prominent senators as co-sponsors,” Wages said. “The establishment of a commission would be a giant step forward to help obtain an all-important site for the National Women’s History Museum on or close to the National Mall—the place where our nation shows what it honors.”

Aside from the Women In Military Service For America Memorial at Arlington Cemetery, there is no institution in the capital region which is solely dedicated to honoring women’s role in American history.

Bills to create a National Women’s History Museum have been passed in the Senate and in the House in various versions, but no bill has ever established a commission.

The other co-sponsors of the Senate bill include Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Sen Mary Landrieu, D-La., Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Sen. Amy Klobucher, D-Minn., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Video Games Make It to the Level of Art

August 10, 2012

We talk a lot these days about the effect of technology–sweeping, growing like mushrooms, constantly changing every nano-second–of our lives.

We talk about smart phones, iPhones, iPads, Kindles, texting, tweets, blogs and e-mails (already considered a dated technology). We talk about aps, wi-fi and the net.

We still talk about video games, as in “All they ever do is play video games.” That means these days Nintendo, XBox as well as games that resemble movies and games that become movies. Rarely, however, do we talk about the art of video games.

Now, though, you can talk about the art of video games. At the Smithsonian American Art Museum, there’s a popular (and big, big, big) exhibition called “The Art of the Video Game.” Oddly enough, it focuses not only on the art of the video game but — just as important — on the history of video games across five eras and 40 years of video game development. It focuses on graphics, technology and storytelling by way of examining 20 gaming systems that range from the Atari VCS to the Play Station 2, which continues to wreak havoc with the budgets of the parents of budding gamers all over the United States.

“Video games are a prevalent and increasingly expressive medium within modern society,” said Chris Melissinos, the former chief gaming officer of Sun Microsystems and founder of Past Pixels, who is the guest curator for the exhibition. “In the 40 years since the introduction of the first home video game, the field has attracted exceptional artistic talent. Video games, which include classic components of art, offer designers a previously unprecedented method of communicating with and engaging audiences by including a new element. The player who completes the vivid, experiential art form by personally interacting with the game elements.”

There are 80 video games in the exhibition, which were selected with the help of a popular vote. The games are represented by way of images, video footage and interviews with game developers, graphic artists, backed up by actual game consoles and large screen shots from current and past video games. If that sounds a little bit dry, the reality is far from dry or academic.

You may, at first, not be able to concentrate on getting your mind around the thematic “Art of the Video Game.” Try “Sounds of the Video Game,” bells and whistles of the video game, or the sheer presence of so many video games in one place, making that area set apart for the exhibition, a giant arcade.

Best of all for gamers of all ages, you can even play video games: five of them, to be exact, from each key era in the history of video games. For this writer (and video game luddite), it doesn’t go back far enough, given that I used to play pinball machines at a time when whatever remaining arcades survived were being taken over by, you guessed it, video games like Pac Man, Space Invaders and Donkey Kong before the revolutionary arrival of Super Mario Brothers. We remember playing Pong, a kind of electronic ping pong game which could be played by two people at a bar table, which was as slow as molasses, perfect for people who were drinking and playing at the same time.

When you walk into this exhibition, you might feel as if you’re being ambushed. It’s alive. Located near the entrance are the five playable games, where at an early visit to the exhibition back in April (it runs through September 30), we watched a father and son–two generations of gamers–take turns at Pac Man, where ravenous heads-with-toothy mouths–ate their way through mazes–or not. “I thought dad did pretty well,” the son said. “Naw, I was a lot quicker back in the day.” Pac Man, from 1981, was a game impossible to forget probably because of its figures and their voracious appetites, which would eventually expand to include a Pac Woman.

As art goes, it was simple, like an early Disney cartoon or a Japanese comic book. The other four games which visitors can play all advance the “art” of the video game. You look at Super Mario Brothers, which was actually made into a movie with their villains and heroes and bouncing characters, and the plot line and atmospherics of The Secret of Monkey Islands, and later the much more intricate Myst and Flower. You begin to see the creation of stories with sequels, increasingly difficult environments to navigate, requirements for imagination, the ability to think ahead and faster and faster reaction times.

If you go through the exhibition, with all its noises and high-spirited colors, the energy created by older visitors (nostalgia) and younger visitors (excitement along with a nerdy feel for gaming esoterica), you get a good sense of the boundless potential for the world of video games. More than that, you get a hint of how games are connected to everything else that’s going on inside smart phones, on computer screens, in the wired, miniaturized, instantaneous world we live in, as well as its explosive nature.

Thousands of gamers attended back in March when the exhibition held a three-day, “GameFest,” with talks, discussions, open game playing, music and movies. Attendance remains high: it’s after all about the gamer generation, triumphant and validated.
[gallery ids="100799,124445,124439,124418,124432,124427" nav="thumbs"]

WAR OF 1812 Gets Its Close-Up at Portrait Gallery

Pop quiz: See if any of these persons, events, battles and none such ring a bell.

Isaac Brock, Tenskewatawa (The Prophet), Red Jacket, Fort Erie, Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry, Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton, James Lawrence, Thomas Macdonough, General Robert Ross, General Edward Pakenham, the Hartford convention or Leap No Leap, Lord Castleragh, the “Wellington of the Indians,” the Bayonne Decree, the Non-Intercourse Act (not what you might think), Spencer Perceval, the Battle of Beaver Dams, the Battle of Queenston Heights, the River Raisin Massacre, Battle of Sacketts Harbor, Provo Wallis, Lewiston and Youngstown and Manchester, Buffalo and Black Rock and the USS President.

No bells? You’re not alone, I’m embarrassed to say.

How about these?

The Battle of New Orleans (in addition to the Johnny Horton song), Andrew Jackson, Tecumseh, Oliver Hazard Perry, Stephen Decatur, the Battle of Lake Erie (“We have met the enemy, and he is ours” . . . “Don’t Give Up the Ship”), the Treaty of Ghent, Charlton Heston, James Madison, Dolley Madison and her red dress, the Burning of Washington, John Quincy Adams, Francis Scott Key (in addition to the park in Georgetown), “What so proudly we hail,” the Star-Spangled Banner, Fort McHenry.

Feel better now? A little iffy on the Treaty of Ghent? And what’s Charlton Heston doing here? (He played Andrew Jackson at least twice in the movies – “The President’s Lady” with Susan Hayward, playing his beloved wife Rachel, and in “The Buccaneer,” a Cecil B. DeMille movie which was more about the rascally pirate, Jean LaFitte (Yul Brynner), who helped Andy defeat the British at the aforementioned Battle of New Orleans.

Sometimes, we imagine we were there when the British occupied and burned Washington (at least most of the few government buildings and the White House as well as the offices of a newspaper which had been unkind to the British commanding officer). But the British also burned the towns Lewiston, Youngstown, Manchester, Buffalo and Black Rock — arsons which are less famous that our hometown blaze.

All of these people, events, decrees, happenings and pieces of history can be found in one form or another in “1812: A Nation Emerges,” the grand exhibition which includes paintings, drawings, sculptures, artifacts (the red dress, a flag or two, decrees and proclamations, a compact and comprehensive catalogue, videos, — including one narrated by the Who’s lead singer Roger Daltrey — and documents, now at the National Portrait Gallery through Jan. 27.

On the occasion of just celebrating the bicentennial of the War of 1812, which went on until 1815, blazing on oceans and lakes, the lower parts of Canada, and as far away as New Orleans, the NPG has come up with a vibrant exhibition that should excite the imagination of viewers with its depth, breadth and sweep, with its great art (yes, there is lots of it) and with a new — or renewed — sense of the young, bursting and eager American soul of the times.

Having said all that — forget about all those obscure facts as well as the celebrated ones. It’s just a way to get you into this story and get you to go and make you feel either very smart or not so smart. Go into this with a pure heart and sharp eye. It will feel like being in a De Mille epic just to be there, although one with smarts, intelligence, a point of view and a focus.

Note the subhead, “A Nation Emerges.” The War of 1812 is always confusing in its highlights — there’s big set pieces, like the burning of Washington, Francis Scott Key inspired to write “The Star-Spangled Banner,” after watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry, the post-peace-treaty victory by Jackson over the British at the Battle of New Orleans, the naval heroes at their finest — Decatur and Perry, as well as the above named Johnson who died bravely on his ship, the Chesapeake, and left us his immortal words, “Don’t Give Up the Ship.”

But the start of the war — in which President James Madison saw British restraints on U.S. commerce and shipping as a cause to start the war — are less noted. The war aims of the U.S. — including an invasion of Canada which was essentially a debacle, are less clear, meanwhile. The war in U.S. history is seen essentially as a kind of draw, and to the British, as a footnote, a theater of small importance. Neither Wellington nor C.S. Forester’s fictional hero Horatio Hornblower fought here, being busy fighting Napoleon. To the Canadians, it has some significant iconic value, but Canada has not had as many wars to choose from as their cousin to the South.

What you feel in the many rooms of the exhibition is a kind of vivid energy. The War of 1812 can be felt here as a kind of second wind birth of the nation — the founders played significant roles, but the results fed into a restlessness that brought America westward: it was a bloody invitation to expansion, imagination, and invention. All this can be seen in the exhibition — beginning with a rather bucolic painting by George Beck depicting Georgetown and the budding City of Washington in 1795.

The war itself is loud — you can almost smell the gunpowder from frigate broadsides, feel the billowing sails of the USS Constitution, hear the roar of cannons on ships and the screams of men in battle on land and sea. “Those cannons make a lot more noise than even The Who,” a commentator says to Daltrey who narrates a video on the battles on Lake Erie.

The War of 1812 resulted in heroes, myths and policies, such as Jackson and John Quincy Adams who helped negotiate the treaty at Ghent. The Native Americans in the eastern United States suffered badly in the conflict, no matter which side they took — including U.S. allies who ended up on Jackson’s “Trail of Tears.”

There were plenty of heroes and sad stories to go around: Tecumseh, called by one observer “the Wellington of the Indian tribes,” fell in battle, as did the beloved British generals Robert Ross near Baltimore and Edward Pakenham (Wellington’s brother-in-law) at New Orleans, and, even in the end Decatur, killed in a duel because of, but years after, the war. We learn, too, that Herman Melville was a sailor in the war and that Key became a noted prosecutor.

We learn again that Gilbert Stuart was a genius, perhaps the most brilliant and evocative portrait painter of his time, if you discount Gainsborough from an earlier time. The famed painter of Washington was also a noted painter of the heroes and generals of the war, and you can always tell when it’s a Stuart: the faces take on energy, passion and hyper-character, and there’s music in their cheeks and eyes, martial or otherwise. His portraits of fallen naval heroes James Lawrence and Thomas McDonough, of Decatur and Dolley (Madison) are almost precursors to the not-so-distant impressionists. Only Rembrandt Peale can rival him in America.

The exhibition is, in the end, about history, what you know and what you don’t know. It echoes loudly in our own sense of American self even if, like this writer, you’re an immigrant. It’s a portrait of an America about to take its place in the world after a war, an America rich in imagination and energy, warts and all. ?

“1812: A Nation Emerges” is on view at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery — www.npc.si.edu — through Jan. 27, 2013. [gallery ids="100875,127384,127381" nav="thumbs"]

Joan Miró’s Work Examined in Landmark Exhibition

July 24, 2012

Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape, (its final and only venue outside of Europe ) will be on view at the National Gallery of Art from May 6 through August 12.

Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape traces the arc of Miró’s career while drawing out his political and cultural commitments. The exhibition presents these themes through three principal periods: Miró’s early work, rooted in the Catalan countryside, and then transformed under the influence of the surrealists in the 1920s; his artistic response to the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), the fall of France, and life under fascist rule; and the artist’s late work just before the demise of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in 1975. [gallery ids="102446,121173" nav="thumbs"]

Smithsonian Craft Show Celebrates America’s Creative Spirit

May 17, 2012

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Smithsonian Craft Show Celebrating the Creative Spirit of America which will take place April 19 through 22, with a preview benefit on April18 at the National Building Museum. First Lady Michelle Obama has agreed to be the honorary chair of what is widely regarded as the country’s most prestigious juried show and sale of fine American craft.

On April 19, Michel Monroe, former curator-in-charge of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery, will present an illustrated lecture, “The White House Collection of American Crafts,” featuring the collection of contemporary American crafts he curated for the Clintons in the White House. On Sunday, “The Craftful Table,” a panel discussion with leading designers on creating a table that is a feast for the senses will be followed by White House florist Laura Dowling’s demonstration of gracing the table with flowers.

One-of-a-kind or limited edition works in 12 different media—from furniture and ceramics to glass and wearable art—will showcase the work of 121 distinguished craft artists, 44 new to the show this year. In addition, students from the Savannah College of Art and Design will present their innovative work in a special exhibition of emerging artists.

The Craft Show is even going green. This is the first year of a “Repurposed Materials” award. Artists have been asked to include in their artist statements the use of repurposed materials, including found objects given new uses and meanings.

An online auction, running April 11 through 25, will feature more than 100 exceptional craft objects generously donated by current and past exhibitors and other talented artists, as well as a limited number of tickets for local attractions and special tours. Visit SmithsonianAuctions.org

Anne-lise Auclair-Jones and Ann Peel are Craft Show co-chairs. Wendy Somerville Wall is president of the Smithsonian Women’s Committee which produces the annual event to support education, outreach and research at the Smithsonian Institution through an annual competitive grants program. More than $9 million has been awarded since 1966.

For additional information, see www.SmithsonianCraftShow.org [gallery ids="100736,121499,121474,121493,121481,121489" nav="thumbs"]

Tour Like a Local, Live Like a Tourist

May 3, 2012

Tour Like A Local
Are you tired of looking at the same sandstone buildings during your vacation? Bored by innumerable, serious looking statues? This is the nation’s capital, but not everybody works on the hill, or talks about polls or the next election nonstop. We like to do other things, too. Like free concerts? Local dives? Skee ball? If you’re in Washington this summer, look beyond the federal district. Abe will still be here for your next visit.

Fort Reno Summer Concert Series
Mondays during the summer, Fort Reno puts on a series of free concerts featuring local rock groups. All the concerts begin promptly at 7:15 p.m. and end at 9:30 p.m. The atmosphere is very casual. Concertgoers sit on the grass or dance along. Babies are welcome, alcohol, however, is not.
Visit FortReno.com for this summer’s schedule.

Millenium Stage
The National Opera may be great for some, but it’s not for everybody. The Millenium Stage at the Kennedy Center puts on free concerts every day at 6 p.m. This is a great way to experience KenCen without tying on a tie. Performers come from around the world, so check out the Kennedy Center’s website for the full schedule.
Price: FREE – every day at 6 p.m.

Jazz in the Garden
The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden hosts weekly jazz concerts every Friday during the summer. A wide range of jazz styles is featured, so there is something new every week. Performances start at 5 p.m. and end at 8:30 p.m. Visit NGA.gov to find this summer’s schedule.
Fridays 5-8:30 p.m.

H Street Country Club
Tour the monuments in a way you never expected. H Street Country Club is the only bar in Washington with an indoor miniature golf course, billiards, shuffleboard, and skee ball. It’s whimsical astro-turf décor will be sure amuse any tourist in a city that can sometimes take itself a little too seriously.

Ben’s Chili Bowl
Can we write a tourism guide without including this D.C. landmark? I don’t think so. Ben’s is the only place in the world you can find the original chili half smoke. Since 1958, the Ali family has served their signature chili dogs to everyone from President Obama to Nicolas Sarkozy. Ben’s is the perfect launch pad to a night out on U Street.

Granville Moore’s
Granville Moore’s is a Gastropub with big Belgian Flavor in the Heart of the H St. Corridor, named after the doctor who used the building as his practice. It is best known for its selection of mussels, frites, and vast beer selection. As impressive as the food is the pub’s cozy, cavernous atmosphere. Great for anybody looking to skip another burger place!
1238 H St. NE
Hours: Mon-Thu, Sun 5 p.m.-12 a.m.; Fri-Sat 5 p.m.-3 a.m.

Jumbo Slice Pizza
Walk down 18th Street in Adams Morgan, and you will likely find a place advertising the “Original” Jumbo Slice. Pick any of them, and prepare yourself. Generally speaking, a jumbo slice will take up 2 paper plates. Brooklyn we’re not, but the novelty of being able to purchase a month’s worth of pizza at once is pretty enticing if you ask me.

Live Like a Tourist
Living in Washington affords one unlimited time to take advantage of the major sites in the city. “Wow, everything is the national this, and the national that,” one friend told me while driving on Pennsylvania Avenue. If you live here, you’ve probably visited all the major monuments on the mall, and maybe a few of the galleries. It can be easy to take so many great resources for granted, though. Cruise through the National Mall on Duck Boat or Segway, or get up close and personal with hundreds of butterflies and other insects at the National Museum of American History. See the Marine Corps Band on the steps of the Capitol Building. See where money’s made! Best of all, most of these things are free. Don’t be the jaded local – if you don’t take time to tour your own city, you’re missing out.

DC Ducks
You’ve seen them on the street. You’ve seen them in the water. Now hurry up and ride one! Originally developed for the military, Duck boats are able to carry passengers around the National Mall and the Potomac River.

Segs in the City
Seeing all the sites in Washington can be hell on your feet. Segs in the City offers many different tours to choose from, like monument tours after dark, and Embassy Row. These tours are a real blast, and are great ways to test ride a Segway scooter.
$31.50 adult, $22.50 child

United States Marine Band
See “The President’s Own” live in Washington! Founded in 1798 by an Act of Congress, “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band is America’s oldest continuously active professional musical organization. If you’re into pomp and circumstance, this is right up your alley. The band gives free concerts on Wednesday on the West Terrace of the U.S. Capitol, and Thursday at the Sylvan Theater on the grounds of the Washington Monument.

The Smithsonian Castle
The Smithsonian Castle predates the Civil War to 1855. One of the original landmarks of the National Mall, the castle served as the original Smithsonian museum. Today, it holds the permanent exhibit, America’s Treasure Chest, as well as the final resting place of James Smithson, founder of the Smithsonian Institution.

Butterfly Pavilion at the Museum of Natural History
Have kids who love bugs? The Butterfly Pavilion at the Museum of Natural History has dozens of foreign species of butterflies on live display and demonstrates the evolutionary relationship shared by butterflies and plants. The exhibit closes on September 4, so don’t miss this unique opportunity.
Admission, $6, FREE on Tuesdays

The Textile Museum
The Textile Museum has probably one of the most unique collections of any museum in Washington. Through September 11, the museum’s main exhibit, “Green: The Color And The Cause,” charts the history of the hue’s use, as well as its modern association with environmentalism. People swear by the museum’s gift shop, which carries garments and jewelry as interesting as anything else in the museum.

Hirshhorn Museum
The Smithsonian’s museum for contemporary art. The Museum is featuring four exhibitions this summer. Friday, July 15 and July 22, the gallery is hosting free talks about its exhibit “Fragments in Time and Space.” The Hirshhorn also has its own sculpture garden. Most importantly, The Hirshhorn is the building on the National Mall that most resembles a doughnut.

Right on Pennsylvania Avenue, the museum of news has an amazing collection of photography and artifacts covering world events. A visit to the museum is always enlightening. After your visit, you can stop next door at Wolfgang Puck’s The Source for a very classy, very gourmet meal.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Ever seen a million dollars? The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is the place to go to see where the Benjamins come from. Learn all about the new 100 dollar bill, and the process by which greenbacks are made.