Museums flashback

Smithsonian castle
The Smithsonian Castle

Last year when I went to the East Coast on vacation, I started writing about all the museums I visited, but I was overwhelmed with material. Subsequently I ran out of steam and forgot to finish this post in a timely manner. But I want to take a moment now and share a few insights on my museum viewing back  in 2014.

First of all, I love the concept of free museums, which are ubiquitous in DC along the Mall. When you fork over $20 just to enter, you feel obliged to see everything, which makes for a less-than-leisurely visit. And planning is crucial. Otherwise, you end up not reaching that exhibit you’ve really looked forward to until ten minutes before the guards start ushering you out because closing time means closing time, dammit. It’s not that I begrudge museums reasonable entrance fees. But it did feel luxurious wandering in and out of several museums in one day without having to break out the wallet each time. So the whole chain of Smithsonian museums gets a big thumbs-up from me for being free.

dollhouse in Smithsonian
A doll house in one of the many Smithsonian museums
garden fountain
garden fountain outside Smithsonian

DC is nothing if not security conscious. At one museum, the guard had a wooden stick that he used to probe the innards of my bag, whereas at another museum the guard had a similar tool, but it was made of clear acrylic. The guard at the Phillips actually used his hands, though they were gloved. The Newseum guard just peeked into my crowded disorganized bag and sent me on my way, though I’m not sure what he could have seen. I suppose a saber or shotgun would have been hard to hide in there, but I could easily have hidden something dangerous in my little purple zippered bag that Kylie used to house her headgear back when she wore braces. (I had to re-purpose it as an organizational bag within a bag because on the first day of vacation, the strap broke on my cute little leather backpack).

The Phillips has an impressive permanent collection, but I particularly enjoyed the neo-Impressionists on exhibit there. By the way, you may think that Camille Pissarro was a woman because Camille is so obviously a female name. But he wasn’t. I’m only telling you so that you don’t make an embarrassing mistake, like gushing “Oh, Pissarro is one of my favorites— isn’t she great?” Because someone is likely to peg you as someone who doesn’t know any better. I’m just saying…

Sailboats on the River Scheldt by Theo van Rysselberghe

I was introduced to a painter I was unfamiliar with—Theo van Rysselberghe. (And although I do know a woman named Theo, I’m pretty sure this one is a man.) I’d heard of and seen works by other neo-impressionists—Seurat and the aforementioned Pissarro—but I’d never seen Rysselberghe’s paintings. Unfortunately, it was one of the places that did not allow photography of any kind, but through the magic of wikiart, I can give you a feel for it here, though this reproduction does it no justice…

garden path
a garden path outside the Smithsonian Castle

The Smithsonian, in all its forms, had some great exhibits, but one of my favorite spots was a garden, and the weather was perfect for casual strolling. (And I finally got to wear my summer clothes without feeling woefully under-dressed.)

The Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston was worthwhile, with some exhibits definitely more interesting than others. I quite liked The Visitors, which was a multimedia piece that included music and video.

Cherokee flag
Cherokee Nation flag



We arrived at Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian too late to see very much of it, but I did catch a glimpse of the Choctaw Nation flag displaying the seal.

In New York, I loved Sebastiao Salgado’s black and white photos from all over the world showing at the International Center of Photography. In contrast, I felt nothing for the Robert Gober exhibit at the MOMA, which featured sinks, chairs, and body parts, and not in a particularly interesting way.

In DC, I enjoyed Barbara Kruger’s Belief+Doubt at the Hirshhorn and the neo-Impressionists at the Phillips.

unabomber cabin
Unabomber cabin inside Newseum with sign that reads “Please do not touch the Unabomber’s cabin.”

The Newseum (or as Stephen Colbert calls it, the Newsoleum) is quite the spectacle. Before you even enter, you see the current front page of just about every major newspaper in the world posted outside—over 600 of them changed daily. The 50 Years of Civil Rights exhibit was well done, and the First Dogs photo gallery was fun to see. The chunk of the Berlin Wall and a portion of its guard tower (named the Tower of Death) was impressive, and the FBI wing was teeming with life-size photos, documents, and even the Unabomber’s shack.

Don’t bother with the 4-D movie though, unless you like bad acting and your chair moving around for no reason…

I brought home all these tickets and maps, fully intending to create a scrapbook of my trip. But I think this post will have to serve as my souvenir.


2 thoughts on “Museums flashback

  1. I’m jealous – we used to live in DC and strolled down to the Mall all the time to visit the museums (this was obviously in the pre-kids days.) We moved before Newseum opened, I’ve heard it’s fantastic. Glad you had fun!

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