Now this is my kind of Mall

Day 3 of Washington DC began with a metro ride to the National Mall. I was ready for the Smithsonian Museum tour….not an actual tour, just me wandering about on my own 🙂 I started in the south-east corner of the Mall. Here is the American Indian Museum. I didn’t have time to explore the exhibits, but the building itself is an architectural wonder. Some aboriginal cultures believe that evil hides in corners so the structure was designed with no right angles. As you can see the exterior is all soft curves, and the interior is much the same.
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If you travel around the Mall clockwise, which I did, next comes the National Air & Space Museum. I’m sure you don’t want to hear any more about that place after the last post. If I’m being honest I actually swung back inside as I went by. I pretended that I finished my day while finishing at the Air & Space Museum but in reality the 5 hours I got in yesterday (due to the museum’s late summer hours) was not enough. I started my day with another 2 hours of space exploration. But you’ve already heard about that so let’s move on to the rest of my day and more Smithsonian fun!

Next comes the Hirshhorn Gallery. This museum houses post-war era contemporary & modern art. Joseph H Hirshhorn originally donated the base collection in the 60’s, but obviously art is continuously being added or it could hardly be considered modern!
The building itself is a giant circle, like a donut! I love donuts. It’s architecturally interesting and very convenient for viewing the work. I like that you don’t have to weave through rooms and try to plot out the best path to make sure you see everything…or is that just me that always wants to draw out a plan on my museum map? I much prefer the logical arrangement of things in one big circle; one lap for the inside, one lap for the outside, and on to the next floor.
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Before going in I admired the exterior works of art. First there is the Sculpture Garden. I know what you’re thinking, “But Kristin, didn’t you go to the Sculpture Garden yesterday?” Yes, and no…that was for the National Gallery, which you might recall is not part of the Smithsonian museum group. This garden is full of modern pieces, such as a glass & mirror room that is very disorienting to stand inside. My favourite was Alexander Calder’s Sky Hooks. I think it’s the perfect name, both to befit the piece and inspire the imagination. There was also this great never-ending spiral staircase.
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The first thing I saw when getting off the escalator within the building was Peter Coffin’s Designs for Colby Poster Company. This consists of 80 3-color lithographs that are so simple, yet kind of overwhelming when all place together in one long line. The photo below isn’t even half of the collection.
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I was excited to see an original Andy Warhol (called Flowers) as my limited knowledge of artists actually encompasses him. My favourite were the installation pieces though. You can’t get photos that do them justice, but they are very effective in person. Ann Hamilton’s Palimpsest provides an interesting commentary on memory loss. A room is plaster with handwritten notes on yellowing paper. They each say something different, personal memories of over a hundred people. A fan makes the flutter and wave as if the memories are fleeting. In the center of the room is a glass terrarium with snails munching on heads of cabbage, symbolizing the brain’s deterioration.

The Smithsonian has a number of other smaller galleries. Being as art-inept as I am I dedicated my limited time to other institutions, but will definitely check out the African Art, Ripley (International Art) and Freer/Sackler (Asian Art) Galleries next time.

At the center of the mall is the Smithsonian Castle. What a breathtaking building!
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Aside from my desire to sit and stare, the Castle is a quick visit. Inside is simply a visitor center and cafeteria. I picked up a sandwich here and enjoyed the AC along with a mix of tourists & Smithsonian employees. I had the urge to steal someone’s ID badge and go on an adventure but behaved myself and headed back out to the Mall instead. On the way out I was able to pay my respects to Mr. James Smithsonian, who has his final resting place in an alcove by the main entrance.

Directly across from the Castle is the Natural History Museum. My biggest regret of this trip is that I did not have time to visit it. It’s supposed to be spectacular and I am prepares to make another trip to DC just to get to visit it & the Smithsonian Zoo.
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Running through the center of the Mall are long stretches of grass. During the day I watched Day Camp groups frolic and snack and walk in orderly hand-holding lines in these areas. Then in the evening I was surprised to emerge from a museum and find groups of adults spaced out along the grass playing different sports. Coming from a city with a smaller population and an abundance of sport complexes I had never really thought through how a big city would make room for rec sport leagues. This is how DC dealt with the space issue. I’m not a big softball fan, but I think I would enjoy it more if running to first base provided a view of the Capitol Building and running home had you heading for the Washington Monument.
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My last stop on the Mall was the American History Museum, but lets give that one it’s own post!

Love & Luck,
Kris

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