TAM goes to Washington: Part II

by Heidi Obermeyer

Once our site visits were over, our group had another few days to explore the city! I was on a mission to find the art museum that appears in Night at the Museum II (a fantastic movie, by the way… you should check it out. It is hilarious. Actually, let’s watch the preview right now! …

… wasn’t that great?) “You’re evil, you’re asthmatic, and what’s with the cape, are we going to the opera? I don’t think so.” Go rent it! Guaranteed laughs.

Anyway, our search for the art was somehow unsuccessful! I had figured that it would be pretty easy to find, but no such luck.

We started off the day by catching the metro. It was actually pretty nice! I was impressed. It definitely made me miss the U-bahn in Munich- subways are fun.

I was surprised to see that most of the metro stops looked the same- I guess I got spoiled by the variety in Germany. Oh well! The industrial look was actually very clean and crisp. And very “Washington,” if that can be a design style.

We had amazing weather once we got to the national mall. Perfect! We walked through the Smithsonian’s sculpture garden on our way, where we saw this really neat tree sculpture constructed out of steel.

It was so intricate for being so large- it was the size of an actual tree. What a cool idea! I think it would be really fun to learn how to weld sometime. You could make so much random stuff! I don’t have a project in mind, but if I ever want a custom wrought iron gate or something I’ll have to figure out how to do it.

I also enjoyed the Paris Metro posts that were in the garden- they really are iconic pieces of sculpture. Plus they’re so art nouveau-y- I dig it!

After our jaunt through the sculpture garden, we arrived at the Mall! Heyyyyy Mall!

The Washington Monument was key to our my navigation throughout the trip. I always like having something tall around to figure out directions by.

I don’t remember a whole lot of my last trip to D.C. as a child, but I did remember the Smithsonian castle and the open spaces of the National Mall. Actual museum contents? Not much, besides astronaut ice cream at Air and Space.

The Smithsonian castle really is a beautiful building. I’d be interested in learning more about why they built it- was it the original museum? Answers would be appreciated.

On our search for the art museum I wanted to visit, we walked through the courtyard of a museum that displayed contemporary/modern art, including this fountain/sculpture combination of the Chinese Zodiac by Ai Weiwei, who is very popular in Germany. I went to see an exhibition of his work in Bregenz, near my family’s home and Lake Constance in Austria.

After an unsuccessful art search and some wandering of the Mall, we dove into the Museum of American History.

I have to say that in general, I was somewhat disappointed with the curation of the Smithsonian Museums that we visited. American History could be an epic museum, and you know that they must have all kinds of great artifacts and memorabilia stashed away- so why isn’t it all displayed?! We first went to the arts and entertainment section, which turned out to be 3 or 4 small rooms, including one full of old violins. What?! I thought this was supposed to be America’s ultimate collection of our country’s history and culture! Given, the star spangled banner exhibit was very nice (having been recently redone; I didn’t get to see the flag when I was there last in 2000 because of rennovations) but the rest of the museum seemed like a sad shadow of what it should be. There was only one exhibit on “American Wars”, including both World Wars and presumably all the other wars we’ve been in. That could (and potentially should) be an entire museum on its own that could be extremely interesting and informative.

I understand that the Smithsonians are (and probably should) be free to the general public, but I don’t think I’d be opposed to paying for the exhibits if it drastically improved the quality of the museums. I don’t mean to put down the Smithsonian Institution (let’s be honest, at least they’re trying), but a little extra effort could go a long way. I believe in you, Smithsonian! Anyway….

The American History Museum actually does have a wonderful exhibit on the presidents and first ladies. Here’s Michelle Obama’s inaugural gown- how neat to see so many dresses from the first ladies! You also get a sense of how tall (or short) they all were, which is a strange feeling. These people… they all actually existed at one point! Haha. Fun Fact: First ladies don’t have to be the president’s wife- sometimes they were a daughter or niece of the POTUS. Cool!

Another cool (and temporary, if I remember correctly) exhibit was the stools from the Greensboro Sit-ins! What a great idea. This was basically the kind of stuff I wanted the entire museum to contain.

Since most of us had been to the Smithsonian before, we also visited a smaller gallery that had lots of ancient Turkish and Islamic tiles and art. It was very quiet and made for a good break in the middle of our day. The building had a lovely courtyard. This trip made me realize how much I miss having art museums to go to! That’s definitely a big city livin’ benefit.

Last of all, we visited the Natural History Museum. I always enjoy a good exhibit on early hominids, so I had a good time checking that out. Some of these buildings are just gorgeous.

There was also a little exhibit about the history of pachyderms. What a weird group of creatures- they’re so intelligent!

That about does it for our trip to the Smithsonian- it was fun to revisit somewhere I hadn’t been for over 10 years! I still feel like I’m too young to be able to say something like that. What are your thoughts on the Smithsonian? Think they should charge an admission fee? What is your favorite museum on the National Mall?

Have a great Wednesday and a Happy Halloween! 🙂