Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Great American Hall of Wonders

Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum

When: through January 8, 2012

This exhibit showcases the accomplishments of the American people of the 19th century.  If the Founding Fathers saw the United States as a "great experiment," then subsequent generations saw themselves as an inventive people.  They invented many things that we still use, in some form or fashion, today; they explored the North American continent, and we live with the consequences of their views of themselves as masters of their environment to this day.

The exhibit covers many aspects of 19th century invention and exploration, beginning with the hunting of the buffalo.  I came away thinking that technology can be a wonderful thing, as it increases efficiency, but that sometimes a little inefficiency is not a bad thing.  Buffalo used to exist in such enormous numbers that it seemed incredible that they would ever be endangered.  They were no match for rifles, however, and now their numbers are considerably diminished.  It reminded me of the book Cod, which details the same story as regards that fish.

In the room dealing with railroads, there is a painting entitled Two Artists in a Landscape by Harrell.  It is on loan from the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, NY, which I visited when on a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Also in the room is the last spike of the transcontinental railroad.

In the botany room, I was struck by Rubens Peale with Geranium, by Rembrandt Peale.  Apparently, this was one of the first geraniums in the United States, and was described as a finicky, exotic plant.  That has not been my experience - I've found they'll put up with even my neglectful watering, so I'm guessing they've gotten hardier over time.

Verdict: This is a large show, difficult to take in if you have only an hour.  It also feels a bit disjointed, as if there are so many things to cram in, that you only get a bit of each one.  It might be worth choosing only two or three rooms to visit, in order to get a better sense of what's contained in each one.

No comments:

Post a Comment