Thursday, August 11, 2016

July 21 -- National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum, part 1


I had never visited either the National Portrait Gallery or the Museum of American Art.  I sweated up there from the Mall.  (The 21st was one of the hottest days we were in Washington on this trip.)  How nice to enter the nice cool building, AND and find that they didn't think they needed to search me for signs of harmful intent.

This was also the only place where anyone saw fit to sympathize with me for so many things being closed during my visit.  A woman I think was another visitor to the museum told me quite genuinely "I wish to apologize to you, for the city of Washington, DC, for closing so many things during your visit!  How frustrating!"

It always helps me deal with frustration when someone else legitimizes my annoyance.................

(I wish I had a way to let her know how much her identifying my issue and acknowledging my annoyance helped me let it go.  I did thank her, but somehow that seems inadequate.  I hope I can take a leaf from her book and step up and help others in this way.............)

At this point I am hot from walking outdoors, but am feeling quite well disposed toward this pair of museums.

They share a building (or maybe their buildings are connected?).  They have a roof over the courtyard surrounded by the building(s).  It was air-conditioned, but still too warm for me to want to sit in the sun.

I got some iced tea and sat in the shade of that honey-colored building, cooling off.

Ok, let's look at some portraits.

(Did not know these things about Charles.  I knew he was a painter, but did not know the rest of it.)

Hmm.  More and more well-to-do white men.  However interesting they may have been.  Where are the women?  Where are the people of color? 

I remember learning in art history classes, many years ago, that what gets displayed in museums changes from time to time, as tastes change and different things are identified as "the right things to showcase."

For most of human history, men have controlled most of the resources, and so things men want to see have been recorded.  And preserved.  And displayed.  This would include lots (and LOTS) of portraits (and other representations) of those men.  And their favorite possessions (animate and inanimate).

This time, when I was in Washington, I had the distinct impression that efforts are being made to diversify collections.  I saw more (as in "any") portraits of American Indians in the National Gallery of Art (I use "American Indian" because it is the verbiage I understand is preferred by the people in question for the name of the Museum of the American Indian).  I think I saw more portraits of women (though this has the "possession" issue for me, and so feels like a mixed "blessing").  I saw statues of African American civil war soldiers.

We can't go back in time and see to it that more art is made by more different kinds of people, and we can't go back and see to it that more art portrays more different kinds of people, but we can surely make sure we display the diversity of work we have, and we can SURELY make a concerted effort to tell stories about what is displayed that recognize the contributions of a wide diversity of people.

And we can ***SURELY*** do our best to collect a very wide variety of current work, produced by a diverse set of artists!

I think the Portrait Gallery is trying to do these things. Good on 'em.

Look who was displayed within several yards of Ben and Chuck.  Recognize her?  It's Pocahontas, in Elizabethan finery.  Or Jacobean finery, I guess.

Now that I'm thinking about all of this, I'm also paying more attention to the stories......

As I walked through the museum, I gave short shrift to the portraits of yesteryear, and found myself in a hallway filled with people whose names are well known to me.  The art in this part of the building was diverse.  From serious portraits, to posters, to not-so-serious portraits.  (I suspect most of the artists are men, but I hope the museum is actively seeking out portraits by women.  And I hope they are thinking about diversity of media, too.  Not just works on paper or canvas..............)

I like that the stories share the impact of a lot of diverse personalities on our culture and our country.

Wow.  Here is a really big STATEMENT piece.  I think it is something like 9' high, including the monumental frame.

Hooray that women are taking their place on the Supreme Court!  And hooray that their portraits are being painted and displayed in big important venues!

One wonders how it is that a piece like the one above is privately owned.  I'm glad it's publicly displayed.

In the area right in front of the Supremes is this.  I failed to capture its identifying info, alas, and have also failed to find it online.  Apparently they don't call it a "cabinet of curiosities," which is what I would call it.....  (I note that I've been very successful finding other work in various other national museums.  Good job, Smithsonian, making sure your collections are documented online.  Maybe I'll think about forgiving you for that rotten lettuce..............)

I think this next piece is very cool.  I wish I'd spent more time enjoying it while I was there.  As someone who has a large collection of ... random small things ... I can very much appreciate what's here.  Perhaps I ought to reconsider my immediate "but I'd never want to take time to make that elaborate mosaic floor!" thought, and consider instead that this large piece is displayed in a major museum...............

Here are a couple of details of things in the bottom center of the image above.  Fancy little birdies.  The red stick thing at the top is coral, I think, and the greenish thing below that is a copper nugget, I bet.

Lenses, rocks, and the Grim Reaper....................  And I think those jaggedy things top center are fish jaws, but I could be wrong. 

I could totally do a piece like this, with things I already own.........  Hmmmmmmm.........................

Pausing to admire the floor..................

They have a whole section devoted to sports figures.  You know I love the colors of this next one.  I also like the way they've shown him twice, so they could show him poised for action, and also while taking action.  Love the way the swing of the bat is visible.............

There is also a section with portraits of performers of various sorts.  Love the impressionistic ... jazzy ... way Benny Goodman is portrayed.


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