Monday, September 24, 2012

Museum Feasts for the Eyes and Ears

Hi everyone,

I put down my markers and got out of the apartment this month to see some nearby exhibits. Once I heard that The Art of Video Games exhibit at the American Art Museum was hands on, I had to go! But, since a bunch of little kids were swarming around Pac-Man, I didn't end up playing.

Instead, I traveled through the 40-year history of video games. Although my 8-year-old nephew sometimes pulls me into a random game on wii, he knows how to use it better than I ever could. I think the last video game I played well was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for Windows, so this exhibit was mostly a journey in foreign territory.

It was really fun too! Entering the exhibit was a bit like entering an arcade – remember arcades? – with the same kind of noise and lighting, but you get used to it. One room included actual artwork, such as drawings of game characters, a timeline of the technological advances of video graphics, and a fascinating video that filmed the facial expressions of individuals as they played these games. In the next room, Pac-Man wasn't the only game you could play yourself. You could also play Super Mario Brothers and three other games I'd never heard of – Monkey Island, Myst, and Flower. (Am I showing my age?)

The next room spanned the history of video games from its beginning in the '70s. Tall columns, organized by playing device – from Atari to PlayStation – each displayed images of four games. You could push buttons to hear the history and impact of each one. I was most excited to see Space Invaders in the Atari display. I loved shooting at those aliens. Those were the days....

Earlier in the month, I toured the Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. This exhibit, organized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, was Cyndi Lauper's idea: When she visited the rock hall in Cleveland, she asked, "Where are the women?" This exhibit answers that call, highlighting the role of women in rock history and celebrating how they made their mark.

Lady Gaga's childhood piano and mementos.
It's a cheery, colorful, mini Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the girls. As you stroll through to the tunes of all the women being celebrated, you'll find costumes, artifacts, hand-written lyrics, personal notebooks, and videos. The exhibit, which showcases the history of women's impact on music since the 1950s, provides short biographies of girl groups, songwriters, divas, and legends. On the walls, year-by-year timelines listing significant accomplishments by women in music were complemented by notes on what else was happening in the world at the time. These not only included world events but accomplishments by women (and men) outside of the music business.

I was happy to find that the exhibit not only focused on the music but also on how these powerful women were driven to do what they love. Everyone from Wanda Jackson and The Runaways to Aretha Franklin and Taylor Swift were included, showing that girl power was and is a force to be reckoned with.

Dresses! (Tina Turner's and Aretha Franklin's to be exact)
Of course, I loved all the clothes – Tina Turner's shimmery minidresses, Cyndi Lauper's red dress from the "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" video, a concert outfit of Gwen Stephanie's own design. My favorite exhibit case was Marianne Faithfull's. I don't know much about her or her music, but her silver bejeweled outfit was designed by Karl Lagerfeld, who creates all of her outfits. It must be nice to have the head/creative director of the House of Chanel as your friend. Aside from his work of art, there were other envious items in her case: two hand-written faxes from Keith Richards and an old photograph of her with David Bowie. I'm not a singer and don't play any instruments, but can I wear that dress and hang out with those people?

In conjunction with the museum, a slew of special events and workshops will be offered by Girls Rock! DC. This grassroots organization provides week-long camps for girls age 8 to 18 to support confidence, creativity, and a sense of community as they educate and showcase aspiring musicians. You can find information about the museum's Girls Rock! DC workshops here.

While there, I attended a Girls Rock! DC concert. Teen group, Bass be Louda DJ Crew, successfully transformed the museum's auditorium into a hopping club, inviting volunteers and the rest of the audience to dance by the stage. Downbeat Beatdown, a band of the organization's own founders and volunteers, also played their own compositions. But my favorite performance was by Nox, a band of four 12- to 14-year olds who follow in the footsteps of post-punk rockers. They had me with their cover of Blondie's cover of "Hangin' on the Telephone" and David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel." Even more impressive than their good taste was that they could play their own good songs. Rest assured, women will continue to rock well into the future!

Catch The Art of Video Games at the American Art Museum while you can: The exhibit closes at the end of this week, September 30! You have more time to visit the Women Who Rock at the National Museum of Women and the Arts, which closes January 6, 2013.


Photo credits: Video game image © Smithsonian American Art Museum, Women Who Rock images © Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and Girls Rock! DC logo © Girls Rock! DC.

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