Sunday, May 20, 2018

There's No Place Like Home

Where: American Art Museum

When: closing August 5, 2018

The artist Do Ho Suh has lived in several places in his life; unlike most of us, he's taken those places with him when he moves and made them into art.  He has recreated hallways, doorknobs, light switches and other architectural elements from his various residences out of colored fabric.  Most of them are small enough to display on a wall, but the hallways are large enough to allow visitors to walk through them, just as you would walk through an actual apartment.

Setting aside the fact that this is different, and most of the stuff is colorful and engaging,  the show is about home.  What is a home?  Is something as utilitarian as a thermostat part of the concept of home?  What about a decorative doorknob?  Or a wall?  Or a microwave?

Each place that we live leaves an impression on us; we take something of that place with us throughout the rest of our lives.  It might be a longing to return to a place where we were happy, or a desire to get far away from a place that was unpleasant.  But even less intense residences provide us with memories, things we learned, or news we heard when we lived there, or people that we met.

Suh has said that home is an endless passageway with no fixed destination.  I'm not sure what that means exactly or that I agree with what I think it might mean.  I think if one looks back on one's life (and obviously, some of us have more to look back on than others), one can identify places that felt like "home."  One of the pieces on display is a fabric rendition of a radiator; it reminded me of my childhood home, a place that made its impression on me, for sure.

Verdict: The interactive nature of the show reminded me of installations I've seen at the Renwick.  Worth a visit - it's both attractive and thought-provoking.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Two Displays at Natural History

 When: closing July 9, 2018

How much life is contained in one cubic foot of earth or water?  Turns out the answer to this question is "a whole lot."

Scientists use something called a biocube to explore the mid-water - the part of the ocean below the surface.  The description of this area is great: it's cold, it's dark and everything is hungry.  This is not a place for humans, so they send a remotely operated vehicle to place the biocube and then watch everything that floats through it.

Sound fun?  You can make your own biocube and use it in more accessible areas.
When: closing sometime in October 2018

This is a library display in those two big cases on the ground floor.  No matter how busy the museum gets (and it gets really busy), I'm always the only person looking at those exhibits.  I feel bad for the people who clearly spend a lot of time setting them up, having had that thankless task myself in a library I once worked in.

This display is about insects - they are the most diverse group of animals on Earth and make up over two-thirds of Earth's species.  The Biodiversity Heritage Library is the largest open access digital repository of biodiversity literature in the world, and it's operated under the Smithsonian's auspices.  Scientists can use it to identify new species and track variations in species they already know about.

What I particularly liked about this display is that the open books look like butterflies - nice touch.

Verdict: Two interesting displays - if you're at the museum for one of the larger exhibits, give these a glance as well.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The People's Choice

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: closing May 28, 2018

It's always wise to see the portrait in the RECOGNIZE space as soon as possible.  It's also the "In Memoriam" space, and famous people die all the time.

This photograph of Marc Anthony was chosen from among people turning 50 this year.  Not only is Marc Anthony 50, but ADAL, the photographer turns 70 this year.

His success marked the beginning of the Latin pop explosion, has it really been 20 years ago?

Verdict: Worth a look on your next trip.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Even Parts of Calvin and Hobbes Are Worth Seeing

Where: Hirshhorn Museum

When: closing May 28, 2018

I loved "Calvin and Hobbes."  I miss it still.  Other comics involving a young person and a pet or other companion do not compare.  The artist Tony Lewis clearly shares my feelings about the strip, as he has used it in an exhibit now showing at the Hirshhorn.

He's covered all the drawings, and erased most of the dialog, to leave only a few words, which are now poems.  Most of them are dark, which seems in contradiction to the light-hearted surface of the original comic.  I think they reveal the darkness beneath - the death and sadness and isolation that was always there.  Now you don't have to look for it.

I think some of the poems work better than others, and I found them sometimes hard to follow.  I wasn't sure in what order the words were supposed to be read, so it's possible I didn't quite get the point of all of them.

My favorite was the one I photographed for this post - about monsters.  It leaves in a big chunk of the original dialogue - "Thrashing about in a desperate bid for freedom, he only becomes more entangled!"  Love that.

I chatted with two docents about the show afterwards and discovered that the husband of one of them went to college with Bill Watterson.  To find out I'm now just three degrees of separation from him made my day.  Almost as good as actually meeting Berkeley Breathed.

Verdict: Don't miss this show if you're a C&H fan.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

While I Was Walking on the Mall

Where: National Mall

Not sure how long this will be around; it may be gone already.  I was walking back from Air and Space, and wandered into this display of a  Cadillac (I think).  It's a car from WWI, the only known passenger car still remaining.  It carried Eleanor Butler Roosevelt (Theodore's daughter-in-law, not to be confused with Eleanor Roosevelt, his niece).

Interesting old car, if you go in for that sort of thing.  It's all WWI, all the time in 2018, so more pop-ups will not surprise me.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

You Really Need to See the Movie First

Where: National Air and Space Museum

When: closing May 28, 2018

The title of this post could easily be: "What if They Gave a Blockbuster and Nobody Came?" but that's awfully long.  It is, however, an excellent description of this recreation of the penultimate scene in "2001: A Space Odyssey."

In checking the Smithsonian website for details of current exhibits, I saw this one required advance tickets.  Since I tend to head out when I have time, making plans can be an issue, and so it was with a grumble in my heart that I signed up for a time and headed over.

Expecting to see a long line, imagine my surprise to be greeted with...nothing.  No lines, no wait, no one checking my ticket.  I just walked right up, put on the foot covers necessary to walk into the recreation, and that was that.  I was reminded of the time I needed tickets to see an original Leonardo da Vinci notebook they had on display some years back.  Ticket in hand, I walked over to the museum, and walked right in, no muss, no fuss.  They don't seem able to judge what will be popular and what will not.

I dutifully walked around the "room" and noted all the details.  Never having seen the movie this is meant to recreate, I am in no position to say if they've done a good job or not.   And, in fact, if you've not seen the movie (and I realize I may be a minority of one here), don't bother seeing this, as the grandeur will be lost on you as well.

Verdict: If ever I watch "2001,"  I'll be in a better position to tell you what I think of this.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

This is Why You Don't Want to be Too Holy

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: closing on July 8, 2018

I think even people who are not Christian, or not religious at all, know something about St. Francis of Assisi.  If nothing else, I think many people know of his association with animals.  If I remember correctly, he was part of a wealthy family, who gave up his worldly possessions (of which there were many), in order to become a monk.  What I had forgotten about is the fact that he received the stigmata, which means that the recipient bears the wounds suffered by Jesus on the cross. 

Only very true believers receive these marks, so I always made sure to be at least a little bit bad growing up, just to be on the safe side.  Now that I'm an adult, my skeptic-o-meter is turned up to 11 when it comes to stigmata, so I will make no statement about if or how St. Francis received these wounds.  True or not, the story has been the focus of artistic renditions for centuries, and some examples are currently on display at the National Gallery.

St. Francis is said to have received his stigmata after a 40-day fast at a place called La Verna.  He was accompanied by Brother Leo, who seems to have been a sort of "Sancho Panza" equivalent.  The depiction of the actual event usually involves a floating cross with rays that come down and pierce St. Francis' skin.  There are a variety of different media in use: woodcuts, paintings, drawings, and the works span several hundred years.  One common feature I noticed was the presence of a skull - a memento mori, apparently.

Verdict: i can't advise a trip solely to see these works, but if you are interested in St. Francis or depictions of religious events generally, it's worth a look if you're in the National Gallery for another show.