Exploring DC: Modern Art and Sculpture Gardens

Recently Dear Husband and I took a trip that we are calling “Autumn Back East 2021”. Our goal was to visit friends and family, and I wanted to show DH what autumn leaves really look like in a region that isn’t primarily covered in evergreen trees, and introduce him to our nation’s capital.

We flew to Atlanta, picked up a rental car, then drove to Alabama, North Florida, Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and then drove to Washington DC by way of Virginia. Then we flew back home.

It was an amazing trip which lasted 15 days, and since I’m now only blogging every other day, if I gave you a day to day account like I have on trips past, it would take a month, and you’d be heartily sick of the subject before we even left peach country. So I’ve decided to focus on highlights, which I’ll do my best to keep in order. You can find the first post in the series here, and a link to the next post in the series, when it becomes available, below.

True confession: I used to be really intimidated by art. I worried that I wouldn’t be capable of understanding what I was seeing. What if I didn’t interpret it the right way? I felt a huge responsibility to artists to “get it right”. I also didn’t want to be perceived as a fool.

With age, I stopped caring about what people thought of me and my opinions. I focused on the fact that I loved art and I was delighted that humans were capable of creating such a variety of lenses through which to view the world. What I chose to see through those lenses should not matter to anyone but me. I also learned that my appreciation of an artist’s work could be greatly expanded by reading about his or her vision for the project, but even if I saw things that the artist hadn’t intended for me to see, I still took pleasure in my observations. Finally, I concluded that, as an overarching definition of what art is meant to be, I had somehow gotten it right after all.

Now when I see a pool of art, I jump right into it without even testing the water, because I know that I’ll enjoy it come what may. It’s rather liberating. I’m able to emotionally skinny-dip in the art world without any shame. (Just please don’t steal my clothes on the shoreline.)

I woke up smiling, because this day in Washington DC we planned to dedicate to art. We would visit the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and then check out another sculpture garden at the National Gallery of Art.

I happen to love modern and contemporary art, and the Hirshhorn Museum is one of the most visited museums of this type in the United States. I was looking forward to seeing the works of many groundbreaking artists. I was not disappointed.

First, a bit about the building itself. When it’s not being renovated, it looks to me like a giant concrete snare drum. It’s basically an elevated cylinder that’s hollow in the center. Many people consider it a sculpture in and of itself, but I’ll be honest. It’s not exactly my favorite architecture in our Nation’s Capital.

Well, I should say that it isn’t usually. But right now, it’s being extensively renovated to increase its energy efficiency and their ability to control the humidity levels in the galleries. To hide the unsightly renovation work, the whole building has been draped in an amazing piece of art called Draw the Curtain by Nicholas Party.

This curtain is a series of women, depicted in Greco-Roman style, peeking from behind a variety of lush curtains. Backlit at night, it positively glows. And it does make you want to go into the building, despite the construction, to see what’s hidden behind those curtains. And enter we did.

The first exhibit we saw was called The Weather by the artist Laurie Anderson.

She has an eclectic body of work. The first thing you see is a video of a mesmerizing performance piece by the artist herself. It makes you realize that you’re in for a treat.

In another room is an installation called Salute. You walk into blackness, and then see two rows of silky red flags waving at each other. They’re moving mechanically, but the implication is that there are people who you cannot see who are waving the flags. The music is ominous. Sometimes the flags are imitating each other, or at least moving in harmony. Other times they are working at cross purposes. Sometimes even the ones on the same side don’t agree with each other. What a simple, elegant way to depict the precarious state of international relations. It gave me goose bumps.

Some brief footage I took, but the movement was constantly changing.

Much of Anderson’s work is based on stories. She’s an amazing writer. Her words transport you to another reality. Sometimes they make you question reality. In one room, once again black, you enter a word of chaotic white graffiti. You never want to stop reading the fascinating vignettes that are interspersed with odd sculptures. I won’t even pretend to describe this place. Pictures will have to suffice. I did, though, look at the guard that was standing in the midst of all this fascinating chaos and said to him, “You must have really weird dreams.” He laughed.

Here are a few of Anderson’s stories on display.

The last room in the Anderson exhibit was entitled Habeas Corpus. She does love her black rooms. This one had lights shining on a disco ball chandelier, and in the corner is a gigantic pillow in the shape of a man sitting on a recliner, and projected on that pillow is a video of Mohammed el Gharani, talking about his life.

He was captured by our government when still a child, and was accused of being a terrorist. He was sent to Guantanamo Bay and was tortured for seven years. Finally a judge ordered him returned to Chad as we had no legitimate evidence against him. He is now in Chad, but still has no identity papers and is essentially stateless. Google him for more information, and ask yourself, “How dare we?”

The next exhibit was called Pickett’s Charge, by Mark Bradford. These were very large textured works. They were 400 linear feet long, so they were displayed in a circle. The work is based on an 1883 painting of this particular civil war battle. He used colored paper, what appears to be twine, and ripped up reproductions of that painting to create a body of work that really made me feel the true chaos of war. Here are a few pictures.

Next, we enjoyed the work of Marcel Duchamp, a French artist. He believed that an artist’s ideas are more important than craft or aesthetics. I was particularly fascinated by his work called Hat Rack. Seeing it floating in mid air with no visible support was surreal, and the shadow cast on the wall was as beautiful as the rack itself. There were also a steady stream of quotes from Duchamp that made me stop and think, as did the semi-transparent chessboard that you were invited to sit at, and take photos from below.

The whole museum was absolutely mind blowing, even the linoleum floors and walls by the gift shop. We didn’t want to leave. Dear husband and I agree that it was one of our favorite places in DC.

It was a beautiful Autumn day, so from there, we headed outside to the Hirshhorn’s sunken sculpture garden. I love how sculptures can be seen from various angles, and the time of day, the lighting, and even the weather can make them look different, as if these things have lives that you’d love to know more about. My words won’t do this place justice, so here are some photos.

After that, we walked across the National Mall to the sculpture garden in the National Gallery of Art. It’s a lovely place full of winding paths and plenty of benches. It’s the kind of place that begs for a picnic lunch. Again, words aren’t sufficient. Enjoy the photos below, but I also urge you to visit their excellent website to see every single one of the sculptures, complete with detailed descriptions.

I would have loved to have seen the National Gallery itself, along with the Freer Sackler Galleries, the African Art Museum, and the Portrait Gallery, just to name a few of the other amazing art venues that are on offer in Washington DC, but unfortunately our time was limited. Even so, I must say that I ended the day feeling that my cravings for art had been satisfied, indeed.

Hey! Look what I wrote! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5


Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

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