Tag: washington d.c.

Monday Miscellany: Museum Musings (plus photos!)

Despite my inability to concentrate on any one object for more than ten minutes, or to spend more than a couple of hours, max, on an art stroll, I adore museums.  Perhaps it’s because of their variety:  there’s a museum for everyone and for every mood and personality type.  Interested in the history of fire alarms?  The next time you’re on the Baltimore Beltway, take a detour to The Fire Museum of Maryland, which has one of the world’s greatest displays of working fire alarms.  Want to see some interesting stuff without getting out of your car?  Well, the Museum of Wonder in Seale Alabama (which claims to be the world’s only drive-through museum) is where you need to be!

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The Museum of Wonder (drive-through) in Seale, Alabama. Note the sports trophies glued onto the 1992 Cadilac.
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Butch Anthony, founder of the drive-through Museum of Wonder. As Butch puts it, “I let people self-serve.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you an aficionado of the circus?  Then go immediately to Sarasota, Florida!  It was formerly the winter home of the Ringling Brothers Circus (many circus performers settled there, not to mention John and Mabel Ringling themselves) and has a really great circus museum, founded in the late 1940s.

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Ringling Brothers Circus Museum, Sarasota, Florida
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Ringling Brothers Circus Museum, Sarasota Florida (interior)

 

And, of course, there are the big boys of the U.S. museum world — the Metropolitan, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Frick, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, to name only a few — those places you go when you’re in need of a serious dose of heavy culture, or a nice cafe to relax in on a hot day in the city or a browse in a great store full of art books and prints.  My favorite of these — the place where I head when I’m not in the mood for one of our quirkier little cultural hors d’oeuvres — is Washington, D.C.’s National Gallery of Art.  It’s a fabulous museum to visit especially when, as now, there’s a major exhibition or two going on.

A reasonably good street view of the West (old) building of the National Gallery of Art.  Notice the dome, over the columns?  Just scroll down, to see it from the inside!
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A street view of the NGA’s East Building, designed by I.M. Pei. The two buildings are connected by an underground complex, containing a cafeteria, bookstore and people mover; the triangular glass thingeys you see in the photo provide natural light to the underground museum space.

Although I love the East Building, which houses a wonderful collection of 20th century art, my focus today is on the older part of the Museum.  So — back to the dome!  We all have our little rituals and one of mine is to always stop here for a moment or two to admire and to contemplate.

A partial view of the dome, which was modeled on that of the Pantheon in ancient Rome.
More dome, from a slightly different angle. Those indented square things above the columns producing a honey-comb effect  are called “coffers.”
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Looking straight up, here’s my last dome picture (I promise!).  The opening at the top is an oculus, or “eye.” In ancient times, it would be open to the sky (and rain).  Modern museum folks, however, take a dim view of the elements, so the NGA has sealed its dome with glass.

The NGA usually has some sort of special show or exhibition going on.  The current attraction is a fabulous show on 16th century Venetian art, featuring the paintings of Tintoretto, a contemporary and rival of the great Titian (the two artists, by the way, loathed each other).  Since many of Tintoretto’s paintings are really, really large and seldom travel, this is a great opportunity to see something of his best work without a trip to Italy!

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Anyone out there like 16th century Italian art?  If so, the NGA’s current “big” exhibition should be right up your alley!
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The first room of the Tintoretto exhibition.  See the serious looking young guy in the small center portrait?  It’s the artist’s self portrait, done when he was in his 20s.  The last thing you see upon leaving the exhibition is another self-portrait, which he painted shortly before his death over fifty years later.  It’s surprisingly moving & a wonderful touch to a wonderful exhibition.
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One of my favorite Tintoretto’s. I love the fact that the princess is running away like hell, leaving her rescuer and the dragon to battle it out.  Sensible girl!

Besides the special Tintoretto exhibition (around for the next month or so), there’s always something to see or enjoy at the NGA.  If you’re not in the mood for paintings, or food, or books — well, the building itself is worth a visit!

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The photo is deceptive: this is a moving wall of water, visible from the underground cafeteria between the old (West) and new (East) buildings.  It provides natural light and visual interest while one is munching one’s potato chips and slurping one’s diet coke.
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The people mover in the underground passage connecting the West and East Buildings.  The light display, “Multiverse,” was created by the American artist Leo Villarreal.  The constant shifting and changing lights make little kids (and me) cry out in awe and wonder!  I NEVER get tired of this part of the museum!
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A sideways view of the NGA’s sizable main bookstore, also located in the underground concourse.  It’s much larger than it appears in this photo and has a fantastic selection of art books.  If it’s tchotchkes you’re after, there’s another large shop in the West Building dedicated to prints, cards, toys & museum related items.

And when the weary museum visitor needs a physical and mental time-out, he or she can always head for one of the garden courts in the old West Building, which are thoughtfully provided with very comfortable seating around the edges ……

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You can’t see ’em, but the chairs are there (and usually fully occupied!) in the space behind the columns  ….