Art is hard for me to describe to people, but sometimes I leave museums and galleries feeling as if I had just been to a Sting concert. Here are some highlights from exhibits I saw around town last year.
The National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum
The National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum are located in the middle of downtown D.C. and always offer something interesting to see whenever I venture inside. The two buildings are connected by an enclosed bright and airy courtyard, where visitors can have lunch, study on their laptops, or even catch a free performance.
Last year, I saw three inspiring exhibits, including the Obama presidential portraits, Don Ho Suh's Going Home, and Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now.
I waited a while to see the Obama presidential portraits because they drew such heavy crowds. The crowds are still there but have become more manageable since they separated the two, moving Michelle Obama's portrait to a different floor. When I was there, an older lady had a friend take a photo of her in front of each portrait. She smiled sweetly, holding up a cardboard sign that read, "I miss you so much, it hurts." Amen, sister.
Barack and Michelle Obama were the first to request African American artists – Kahinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively – to create the presidential portraits. Both works are as unique as their subjects, and they make me feel proud. See the gallery website for more information about these historic works of art (images below, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery).
|President Obama by Kahinde Wiley|
|Mrs. Obama by Amy Sherald|
|Installation from Don Ho Suh's Almost Home, |
courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum,
photo by Libby Weiler
|Profile (new version), work and photo by Kumi Yamashita|
The Renwick Gallery
The Renwick Gallery is located in the middle of D.C., near the White House. The first time I visited it, it showcased American craftsmanship in ornate furniture. Then, it shut down for renovation for a while. When it reopened, it felt like a different museum because the exhibits were installations you have to walk through, in, or under, offering a more immersive experience.
Closeup shot of a section of David Best's Temple,
where visitors can add their own memorials
Some art installations were planted around the city, which is a fitting match to the festival's reputed spectacle. The Renwick may have been just as crowded as the festival too but with good reason: pieces included giant colorful moving mushrooms, crafty sculptures made of scraps, outlandish costumes, intricate wooden cutout structures with lights that displayed patterned shadows on the walls, a memorial room with walls layered in similar wooden cutout patterns (where visitors could write notes to lost loved ones on blank wooden pieces and add them to the installation), and a historical timeline of the Burning Man festival itself. Visit the gallery's website for more information about this touring exhibit and to see its online gallery.
American University Museum at Katzan Arts Center
|Courtesy of Ralph Steadman Art Collection|
Although Ralph Steadman may be most famous for his collaboration with Hunter S. Thompson, Ralph Steadman: A Retrospective proved that he is a well-rounded artist with a variety of impressive work that continues to grow. While he documents the times through social and political commentary, he can just as easily capture the whimsy of a classic children's story. This exhibit provided a free audio download that shared stories behind most of its pieces, so visitors could gain a clearer view of the artist's motivations and techniques. While everyone swarmed around Steadman's unflattering, accurate take on Donald Trump, my favorite pieces were his delicate and detailed illustrations of Alice in Wonderland, two of which are below. Visit Ralph Steadman's website to learn more.
Which are your favorite museums? Make a plan to visit one soon. You never know what you'll find.