Six Museums, Five Art Galleries, One Zoo

 

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An unrelated picture to this blog post. Me and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (Founder and First President of the Republic of Turkey) outside the Turkish Embassy. I think.

In the past 48 hours, between Dupont-Kalorama Walk Weekend and First Friday Dupont, I’ve been to six museums, five art galleries, and one zoo. (Yes, I am very tired and kinda need a break from museums…until next weekend.) Some disconnected thoughts:

 

  • Growing up in a suburban area, I never really thought about museums as community spaces. Going to a museum was an adventure in itself – we would drive somewhere, usually far away (or what seemed far away to a kid). Museums weren’t places that felt embedded in my understanding of the world – they were destinations of culture rather than places to build a relationship. Obviously, I’m of a totally different mindset now, but the Walk Weekend made me think of how lucky urban neighborhoods are to be able to build local cultural experiences, and how important it is for consortiums like DKMC to engage with the neighborhoods in which they operate.
  • I’ve wanted to go the Dupont Underground for awhile now after MJ Rymsza-Palowska mentioned it in conversation once upon a time. And I’ve been walking it by it frequently since arriving in DC, so I was super excited to see it open for First Friday. The graffiti culture collection currently on display felt like a great fit for this location. The “No Sides in Science” theme they had going Friday night certainly attracted a lot of attention following the president’s announcement re: the Paris Climate Agreement. I’m looking forward to attend another event there, and maybe do the historic tour at some point? (Side note: does Providence have a space like this? Am I missing out in my city?)
  • Art is super cool. (I apologize for not citing my sources here – I usually try to be really good about including labels alongside images.)
  • The Phillips Collection, in addition to being B-E-A-utiful, was filled with activity on Saturday morning. Good on that programming staff for getting performers, discovery packs, scavenger hunts, and an instrument petting zoo together.
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    7. The migrant, whose life had been rural and nurtured by earth, was now moving to urban life dependent on industrial machines.

    I’ve never heard of Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series before, but was captivated by the images and captions in the work. The Phillips Collection only has the odd-numbered paintings, but the story is still easy to follow: the mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North between World War I and World War II. This particular image stuck out to me, especially in wake of the president’s comment re: Pittsburgh and the Paris Agreement. I can’t find the exact Twitter thread that was discussing this point about the way in which industry of the Rust Belt is tied directly to conversations around environmental history as well as African American history. But it was super relevant to the way I was interpreting the work, and the caption for this piece felt particularly revealing of the story being told in Migration Series.

  • Dumbarton House is also the headquarters of The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America. Their second floor Thinking of this in context with #berks2017 and #WomenAlsoKnowHistory, the exhibit reminded me of not only the idea of women historians being under-represented, but women’s role in preserving and maintaining history is often hidden from larger narratives. How can women’s history engage these ideas more frequently (Or maybe it already does? Please share! And share book suggestions related to this.)
  • Dumbarton House also had an activity tied to their exhibit on the Articles of Confederation and the Federalist Papers to get visitors writing to Congress! I know not every museum in the position to do this, but I appreciated that a) they gave an example of how IMLS funding directly affects the museum and b) provided scripts, addresses, postcards, AND postage for anyone who wanted to participate. I know there are other places doing these kinds of participatory civic action projects, but this was the first organization that I’ve visited doing so. There were a good number of postcards when I added mine this morning!
  • I was explaining to someone here how I feel going to museums. I noted that I feel less critical or in “public human” mode in an art museum. In history museums and historic houses especially, I feel myself being hypercritical with interpretation, layout, and watching other visitors interact in the space. It’s not that don’t enjoy myself in these spaces interpreting history – I do! – it’s just that I’m always inside my head and trying to be a museum-goer as well as public historian. (Guides notice this, too – I had a few ask me about my background as I accidentally started bombarding them with questions.) Art museums have less of that baggage for me – I’m able to separate myself from the the “critical” public humanities mindset quite easily. Instead, it’s a place where I’m having fun, interacting with the art and the space much more freely. tldr; invite me to your art museum/gallery visits for fun times, invite me to the historic places if you want to see me at work.
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    Washington, DC, Foreclosure Quilt 2015 linen, cotton, and recycled thread Kathryn Clark born Knoxville, TN 1971

    As I’m spending more time in art galleries recently, I’m fascinated by the use of data for art. I spent the past semester exploring how to build visualizations that are fair to the data and visually appealing. Michael Joo’s Migrated at the Sackler Gallery, Reynier Levya Novo’s 5 Nights at the Hirshhorn, and Kathryn Clark’s Foreclosure Quilt at the Renwick Gallery are all pieces struggling with these same questions that I have. But they do so in a way that decenters the data as fact and emphasizes the aesthetic of data, which is cool and a fascinating line of thought. Art, especially contemporary art, constantly seeks to reflect on society and the issues surrounding us. Bringing data into that environment – in a different way than journalism infographics or typical data visualization projects, but in a similar vein as Dear Data – makes me think about the relationship between all of these ideas.

  • Going to the National Zoo made me realize two things: 1) I have not been to a zoo in years! 2) I have not spent a lot of time around young children in years! Zoos don’t come up much in public human conversations, but they should. Zoos are public spaces in urban (semi-urban) areas where educational programming is taking place, and interpretation is key to getting the right of ideas across. Zoos struggle with questions of accessibility to the objects (or animals) and comfort the visitor. Their methods of interpretation draw on questions and active learning as well as passive experiences. Totally different spaces, I know – but I wonder what we could learn from each other. It was fascinating to hear conversations from parents to their kids. At one point, I watched the zookeeper feed carrots and apples to the elephants. The parent next to me turned their child and said, “Look! The elephant eats their fruit and vegetables! Be like an elephant!”
  • Final thought: Still in awe of this at the Renwick Gallery.

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