Wednesday, May 14, 2008

DC: Museums

As tough as the memorials were, the museums were tougher. When I was young, I wanted to "finish" any museum I was in - after all, everyone put so much effort into the work, who was I not to read every plaque, study every exhibit, and search for every hidden gem? In truth, the feet gave out sooner than anticipated and the eyes got that "museum glare" that you see parents get as their kids pinball from display to display. Probably, there has been a study about how much information a museum can contain before the patron's head explodes, but I feel I am below that national average.

The National Air and Space museum was a great example, jam-packed with original equipment and reproductions, packed into a series of huge hangers. Paul Allen's spaceplane it up among the rafters, right next to the Spirit of St. Louis. Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules. The Wright Flyer. The helicopter Ross Perot took non-stop around the world (no, I didn't know he had done that). The original model of the Enterprise (tucked in the toy section of the gift shop - the Lovely Bride had to ask to find it). Interesting, interesting stuff, but by the time I had hit the exhibit on modern aerospace design, I was lagging, and we missed the carrier operations hall entirely. Literally too much stuff, but a harbinger of the future.

It is up in the air which is more depressing, the US Memorial Holocaust Museum or the Museum of the American Indian. The Holocaust museum is still as real and as tangible and as stark as the Vietnam War memorial, and you can see it on the faces of those going through its austre, stark, dramatic halls. A special exhibit on the Munich 1936 Olympics echoes modern situations (I did not know that the Olympic Torch was started for those games, a trek from Greece through territories that would soon be occupied by the Third Reich). The LB and I got into a discussion about whether Olympic boycotts work as far as reducing the evil of hosting countries, or if the Jesse Owens solution (go and beat them) was preferable.

The National Museum of the American Indian is one of the most beautiful buildings on the Mall, but brings with it a different sense of sadness, of the great and diverse cultures that have been lost over the past few centuries. Direct, honest, and up to date (the section on treaties includes the recent Makah whale hunt) it is overwhelming in its force of presenting both an ancient and a modern people.

A small gem was the US Botanical Garden, a small conservatory to one side of the Capitol. They were preparing for a larger show on the ground, but the conservatory itself was a nice stopping point, but I spent way too much time on the benches, resting my aching feet.

Finally, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which shares a building with the National Portrait Gallery. The LB and I, now knowing our limits, chose to eschew the portraits, and even then we were dragging by the time we hit the contemporary phase. A beautiful overview of the American art experience, punctuated by brilliant special shows (Harlem Jazz Era artist Aaron Douglas and a display of movie posters as portraits in particular).

And the frustrating thing in all this is that we had barely scratched the surface, avoiding the Natural History museum and dealing with the American History museum being closed. I suppose there is a next time, but even since one museum may be too much for a day, the host of mall museums may be too much for a typical tourist.

More later,