Sunday, March 13, 2011

Orchids: A View from the East

Where: National Museum of Natural History

When: through April 24, 2011

I realized as I was walking through this show that it's the first time I've been to see an exhibit of living things. I'm usually looking at artwork, or historical artifacts - all of them inanimate objects. In this exhibit, it's all about real, live flowers, and beautiful flowers they are too. The show is actually fragrant - another first for me - what my father would have called "Smell-o-vision." It's a really gorgeous show, even if, like me, you're not much of a horticulturist.

I noticed that this was listed as an annual event, and I had wondered how I missed it last year. Turns out the show rotates between the Botanic Garden and the Natural History Museum, so I didn't see it last year, as it was on display at the other venue. When I was working at my last job, I was able to walk to the Botanic Garden and went there regularly. Now, it's a bit far afield for a lunchtime stroll, which is why I don't blog about it. Nevertheless, if you have an opportunity to go over there, by all means do - it's full of interesting plants, and is a wonderful way to unwind.

But back to this year's orchids... It's not a terribly large show, so it's easy to see in a lunch time. I learned that in the Qing dynasty, orchids, bamboo and rocks were often pictured together. Orchids represented integrity; bamboo was a symbol of resilience and rocks depicted endurance. Since all of these are qualities I greatly admire, I'm now on the lookout for a print featuring all three that I can hang in my office. The art in the exhibit is borrowed from the Freer and the Sackler, so in a small way, we've returned to the days when Natural History housed art and history exhibits, as well as its general collection.

The orchids are wonderful - every color and pattern imaginable. The entrance to the exhibit is set up in a way very similar to a traditional Chinese garden; I was reminded of a trip I made several years ago to Portland, Oregon, and the Chinese garden I visited while there. The idea of a scholarly retreat from the hustle and bustle of the world is very attractive, and it's easy to indulge such fantasies while in the show.

Verdict: Don't miss this exhibit, especially if you like flowers. The sights and smells are not to be found anywhere else on the Mall.

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