Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cyprus: Crossroads of Civilization

Where: National Museum of Natural History

When: through May 1, 2011

Cyprus is a product of geologic uplift; it literally rose from the sea. For centuries, it has been the meeting place for Eastern and Western influences. The earliest civilizations on Cyprus are extraordinarily old. Archeologists have found a tomb containing a cat which dates from more than 3,000 years before cats were domesticated in Egypt.

The early Cypriots venerated a Mother Goddess and many figurines in the shape of a woman giving birth have been found on the island. This goddess eventually morphed into and was replaced by Aphrodite. The exhibit features some lovely pottery; it's hard to believe that it is as old as it is; I saw a piece composed of three conjoined bowls that I could make use of today!

The show also features an example of Cypro-Minoan script. This language was used for approximately 500 years, beginning in 1550 BCE. Scholars have not been able to decipher it, so it's exact purpose is at present unknown.

As time passed, and farming relied more heavily on cattle, representations of cows and bulls made their way into jewelry, pottery and metalwork. I hadn't really thought about how human adornments take on the shape of things we commonly use, but I'll keep my eyes open for this from now on.

Another piece on display is a fragment of a tax record - quite appropriate for April!

Verdict: I was a bit disappointed in this exhibit. It might be because I've seen such terrific shows at Natural History, and my standards have gotten too high, or it might be that there was something lacking in the display. Whatever the reason, this show didn't speak to me; it was informative, but lacked something that would allow me to connect with the people of ancient Cyprus.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Kinsey Collection: Shared Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey

Where: National Museum of American History

When: through May 1, 2011

Until the National Museum of African American History opens in several years, those looking for exhibits with African American themes can see the shows at the American History Museum, in a space on the 2nd floor dedicated to aspects of the African American experience. It's no substitute for an entire museum with both permanent and special exhibits, but it's better than nothing.

Previously, I've seen shows on the Apollo Theater and on a Washington DC photography studio that specialized in portraits of African Americans, both of which were quite interesting. The current show, pieces from the collection of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, continues this run of good exhibits.

The Kinseys have been collecting art and historical artifacts for decades, and what I can only imagine is a small part of their collection is on display here. Some of the items that drew my attention were:
  • Blue Jazz, a wonderful painting with absolutely gorgeous colors, blue, aqua, black and silver
  • a copy of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, written by Harriet Jacobs, who was a slave for 20 years, then spent 7 years hiding in an attic before escaping to the North - her story reminded me of Anne Frank and her family
  • a bronze bust of Frederick Douglass, which sat on the Kinsey's kitchen table for years before they acquired a stand for it
  • Mt. Tacoma from Lake Washington, by Grafton Tyler Brown, a painting in shades of gray
One area of the show is set up as a model of their home. It's lovely, with art on the walls and rare books to examine on the shelves. The show is as much a testament to the hard work of the collector, as it is to the items on display.

Verdict: This show is worth a trip. Even if you can't spend as much time as you might like here in one lunch hour, you can get a good feel for the collection in a short time.

Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef

Where: National Museum of Natural History

When: through April 24, 2011

People never cease to amaze me - the things they create can be truly jaw-dropping. Take this exhibit, for example. A slew of volunteer crocheters (is this a word?) working individually have created these representations of coral reefs.

Every color, every shape - the picture seen here is of one part of the exhibit; there is much more than this to be seen. The volunteers worked on their own, and then the pieces were put together to create the finished product. In much the same way, individual animals work to put together the actual coral reefs. It took over 8500 hours of work to build the reefs on display.

There are several different displays; one is a toxic reef, which features lots of black. There's also a bleached bone reef (lots of white here) which shows the effect of climate change on reefs. I learned that some coral reefs are so large that they can be seen from space - who knew?

Verdict: Do go see this exhibit - it's easily seen in a lunch hour, and the work involved is mind-boggling. If you ever think that one person doing some crochet can't produce anything worthwhile, this show will prove you wrong!