Monday, February 18, 2008

A Day off from Work but still Broke. What to do... Thank God for the Smithsonian!

The National Portrait Gallery was our destination today. (There may be a follow up post on museum etiquette since we had some very unpleasant run-ins on this trip, but for right now I just want to talk about how much I love this museum!) If you haven't been since the renovation a fews years ago, you haaaaaave to make it out there. It is a fabulous museum. Everything from the grand stairways to tucked away corner rooms with impress you. Although, nothing is as breathtaking as the enclosed courtyard. Here's Erin and my friend, Amy, checking it out.

The courtyard is a great space. You feel like you are outside, but it is actually covered by this undulating glass ceiling. The best part is not, however, the ceiling or the landscaping or the yummy smells wafting in from the cafe. Although, those are all great. The best part is the flat fountains that you can play in!

That would indeed be me acting like a child. You have to go and try it.

Ok there are actually some pictures in this museum as well. I know it doesn't seem like it, but you really can't blame me for getting distracted by a museum fountain that one is actually encouraged to play in. It was so contrary to the stuffy old marble museum image that I've always had, and don't pretend you wouldn't have been equally as distracted by the possibility of tromping around barefoot in a fountain. I know you would have. However, if you do ever get past the courtyard, there is a ton a fantastic exhibits to check out. We saw all 4 temporary exhibits, and each one was unique and taught me something. The first was a variety of artists' take on the hip hop culture called "Recognize." It combined photography of influential hip hop artists by David Scheinbaum (check out his picture of DJ Shadow, probably my favorite for its use of light), paintings by Kehinde Wiley (which updated classic works of art with hip hop artists and graffiti-like color schemes), graffiti by Tim Conlon and Dave Hupp, a video installation by Jefferson Pinder, AND (my favorite part) the mixed media installation collaboration between Nikki Giovanni (love her!) and Shinique Smith. There's only a few rooms in this exhibit, but there's a ton going on.

The next exhibit we hit was right around the corner. A mini exposé into the lady who was Katherine Hepburn, "One Life: KATE, A Centennial Celebration" is chock full of great Hepburn quotes (most concerning how fascinating she saw herself) and interesting bits of trivia. Plus it also has her 4 best actress oscars! (The most won by any actor or actress!)

There is also an extremely moving photography exhibition of African Americans who have made an impact furthering their race and culture called "Let Your Motto Be Resistance." They have portraits tracing from the early 19th century all the way up to some of the most recent movers and shakers in the black community. My favorites were 2 men. One was an impressive but sad story of "Blind Tom" Thomas Greene Wiggins. Although blind from birth (and possibly autistic), he learned to play the piano simply by listening. By 8 he was a touring prodigy, but Tom never was never able to free himself from under his owner's control. The profit of his whole life work went to someone else. The other was the story of William Edmundson, which has a much happier ending. He spent most of his life working handyman jobs, but one day when he was 59, he believed that he received a message from God. It inspired him to begin sculpting. With no training, he used railroad ties and a hammer to sculpt limestone. A critic stumbled upon his work, and shortly after in 1937 he became the first African American to have a solo exhibit at the MOMA. Those were just a few of the stories, but there were so many more inspiring ones. The exhibit ends on March 2nd. So you really should try to get out there while it is still there.

The final temporary exhibit, which you just CANNOT miss, is Colbert's portrait by the bathroom! You can see the skit related to his campaign to have his portrait put up in the Smithsonian at Comedy Central.

What a handsome devil. Ok, in addition to all of that stuff (which is a lot - I'm super impressed if you made it all the way through this post) there is rooms upon rooms of equally fabulous work from the museum's permanent collection. We spent almost 3 hours touring around and still skipped over at least half the museum. Seriously, you haaaaaave to go.

O yea, there are some pictures of presidents and stuff too I guess. They are by Colbert's portrait, so we gave them a peak. I mean, just because it was President's day and all. We kinda felt obligated.*

*Ok that was a lie. The President's Gallery is sweet, especially the picture of Bill Clinton. His ears and nose look absurd in it! You have to go see. You'll totally giggle and wonder why on Earth he chose that as his portrait.

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