Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Project 30: FREE Museums

Task 15/30: Get Cultured and Stuff in the District of Columbia.
Complete: April 11, 2008

After 3 days pounding the pavement in New York and Philly, I had seen quite a few museums before I even got to DC. The Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Sex and Madame Tussand's Wax Museum were all quite spectacular to take in. I saw so many famous things, and felt so excited when I would see something in person I had seen on a test or in a book. Even once in the MOMA, I saw a big mixed media piece I had seen at the University of Texas museum in Austin last May, so I was feeling pretty well traveled and learned. In Philly, I missed the art museum with the fabulous Frida Kahlo exhibit and Rocky steps, but I did make it to the National Constitution Center and saw samples from the baseball museum in Cooperstown, and was feeling anxious to get to the "big time" in DC to see what treasures awaited me.

Smithsonian Sculpture Garden

My first day in DC I took the tourmobile around Arlington and then sat for the whole mall tour to get my bearings. I ended up asking the tour guide how much the museums in DC cost, and was shocked to learn that they were free, after having plucked down $20 average for each hour I spent speed walking past exhibits in NYC. I'm quite the impatient museum goer, and I hate when people pack in, ignore personal space and other's around them, and generally don't spend much time contemplating things, I'm more about seeing volumes of things, so admission prices can quickly add up when hitting many in one day. The whole taxpayer dollars thing was handy in a city that had dozens of museums now at my easy access, and a whole day to see as many of them as I could on Friday. The museums close at 5:30, so by the end of Thursday with the tour and my hotel issues, I was only able to swing into the sculpture gardens, which were pretty interesting and surprisingly entertaining after viewing hundreds of paintings in days. I was becoming able to start to name the sculptors before even looking at the name plate, so was feeling pretty proud about my art education and went to bed in DC excited with how much learning I was doing. I knew Friday would be great.

US Constitution

I got up early Friday to get my ticket to go inside the Washington Monument for the afternoon, having been told if you get up early to get a ticket to anything, that was it. I got mine for the end of the day and then booked it over to start off in the National Archives line. After waiting an hour and a half for it to open and once again making friends with everyone around me, again, as usual on my trip, I was the fast one through the queue and security, and made my way to the front of the pack to see the documents I had been marveling over my entire trip. I saw the pages of the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution & Bill of Rights as well as many other "Charters of Freedom". It was pretty moving after all my contemplating of the writing of these pieces and how we got to where we were, but it was a quick trip, having only the small rotunda to view in the midst of so many children I wanted to scream, so I quickly made my way out.

Contemporary American Art

Next was on to the National Portrait Gallery & American Museum of Contemporary Art. In general, the portraits were less photographs and more oil paintings of generals, which was fairly boring, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the contemporary art. Usually I just laugh, but I saw some geniunely inventive things, and was fairly inspired to create Burning Man art after the exhbit. One of the neater things shown was a giant neon map with TV's behind it showing representative movies from each state. Kansas had Wizard of Oz playing, Alaska had a reel of whales, and Oklahoma had what else but Oklahoma the musical. Just very clever and well executed.

Grand Opening - Newseum DC

In retrospect, I think the Newseum was one of my favorite experiences of the trip. If we are checking off "I've never's" this was one to celebrate, joining the first people to ever view the exhibits in the Grand Opening of the museum dedicated to the history of journalism. This being a private museum, the normal $20 admission was waved for the first day to entice people to enter, and the front of the museum had a line down the block. Me, being aware of short cuts anywhere I could save steps, heard the guy send people to the door in the back without a line and made my way easily and carefree inside, joining the hoards packing in like sardines. It was definitely full inside, but also full of some of the most amazing things I've ever seen and I was so glad I gave up my crowd issues to join in the viewing. A self-declared "News Junkie", and now with a magnet that says the same, I marveled at the collections of the world's press. A wall showing every world newspaper the day after 9/11, another showing every news paper front page from the current day blew me away. It was so spectacular to see how the world shared their news, to celebrate how free we are here. I saw a giant piece of the Berlin Wall, pages of the newspaper that spoke of Prohibition, a car riddled with bullets showing the dangers of the job. It was beautiful, and I don't think I enjoyed it as fully as I should have with all the people and a full list of things to do, but looking back, I feel so lucky to have been there and seen so many of the things there. I will definitely make it a stop on my next visit.

Hope Diamond

While I have become much more of an outdoorsy girl over the years, the earth and it's happenings really aren't my thing. This is the girl that failed astronomy twice and oceanography once. How things work isn't really my care, I just want them to, and appreciate the people who study it so I don't have to. I likely would have completely skipped a place filled with dead butterflies and stuffed cheetahs had the tourmobile guy not noted that this delicate beauty was housed at the Natural History Museum. The Hope Diamond is so precious, that once, the Louvre traded the Mona Lisa to us for a short amount of time so that they could exhibit it. It is just as gorgeous in person as you would think, and it glistened and gleamed perfectly. But I spent less than 15 minutes of other time looking at Petrified Wood and the giant dead elephant, happy that the hundreds of people buzzing around me gave a reason for the place, and booked my way back into the heat.

0804 2096

The Smithsonian Castle is the original Smithsonian museum, and home to the Smithson crypt. I enjoyed it, being able to see samples from every Smithsonian Museum in one swoop, but marveling in the pretty cartoonness of the castle itself most. The gardens in the back were divine, and I could have sat all day in the shadows appreciating all the flowers popping up in brilliant colors. You just don't see gardens like that on the west coast and I soaked in the rainbow shades like a sponge, but wasn't about standing in the heat very long and had to move on.

Treasures of American History

What do Seinfeld's Puffy Shirt and Lincoln's Hat have in common? They are both treasuires of American History, joining Archie Bunker's chair, a cheesehead, R2D2 and carrie bradshaw's computer in the part time exhibit in the Air & Space Museum while it's own home gets remodelled. I'm not really sure how these things are chosen, but I did appreciate seeing the things they had chosen and thinking they were important to someone. The ruby red slippers and kermit have their place, but I have to admit Jackie O's ball gown looked a little more fitted to Liberace. I also got to catch some of the Air and Space museum, but didn't spend much time since I had to get on to my tour of the Washington Monument and didn't want to be late. I'm not so much of a plane and space person, but I did enjoy seeing the missles we kill people with and the hatches that spacemen live in. I'm not sure how much more time I would have spent in there given the chance, but it was neat enough and I was glad to have gone in.

I didn't visit the National Art Gallery, I just didn't have time. I missed the American Indian Museum and next time I'll probably go to the Bureau of Engraving to see where money is made. I want to try and visit a Mint as well, since I had my camera in Philly and no where to stash it, so couldn't get in, but now really want to go. There is also the Spy Museum, which got mixed reviews and had a fee, so since I was rushed, figured I would fit it in another time. Since I saw so many other things in DC that I'll have to write about as well, seeing as much as I saw for museums was really pretty fulfilling, and I'm not disappointed with how much I fit in one short day.

National Cherry Blossom Parade, DC

I had thought I would maybe fit in more the next day, but after it rained on the National Cherry Blossom Parade, and coming down with a cold, I spent the rest of my DC time in bed. The parade was pretty neat though, and thanks to the kindness of strangers got to share in an umbrella as we giggled about how great our seats were. Miss America's mom was only a row down, and every performance was pointed straight at us, even the other side would have sucked. While we were at the end of the parade route, I managed to get the best bleacher seats possible in the grandstand, it was cool luck. I was so happy I spent the $15 to do that, and it made getting rained on at the beginning and end worth it. So even though it rained on my parade, it closed out a fun trip to DC, and so I didn't feel the need to pack in more and called it MISSION COMPLETE.

See all my DC Museum Pictures here.

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