Mall rat report–trip to Washington D.C.

Sunny and in the 70s, it felt like summer in Washington, D.C. when Steve and I were there Oct 10-12 strolling the Mall, checking out the museums, seeing a play, eating at the eateries and packing into the Metro to get around. I’ve got many many photos at flickr and will here just mention a few high points of the trip.

Steve at Informs
Steve’s slide, Everyone is descended from a loser,….showing feasible individuals with infeasible ancestors.

Steve was giving a talk at Informs‘ annual meeting and amid the slides with their talk of genetic algorithms (GA’s) and infeasible and feasible offspring of pairs of data points he had a slide that said “Everyone is descended from losers” which is pretty funny but got fewer laughs at 8:30 in the morning than it deserved.

We met up with Chuck and Iris who are now in Baltimore poised to buy a house, and joined them for a play at the Studio Theatre recommended by my friend Ann — an amazing production of Athol Fugard‘s The Road to Mecca, basically a 2-person piece based on the life of a self-taught South African artist Helen Martin. It’s a gripping tale of two strong-willed women, both dreamers: One, the elderly Helen who seems to be failing and trying to hide the fact and one, Elsa, young and wild.  After a night of fireworks the two, both basically outsiders, ultimately help take care of each other and move forward. We were lucky to get seats since the run’s had terrific accolades in the local press. It lived up to the reviews.

National Building Museum
Frieze of Civil War soldiers on the outside of the National Building Museum, once the home of the US Pension fund.

On Saturday while Steve was conference-going, Chuck, Iris and I went down to the National Building Museum where we found a Childrens’ Museum-like atmosphere as the building trades had a kind of open house with opportunities for children and their parents to learn about green roofs and other kind of roofs, and all manner of tools and machinery used to make things like skyscrapers.

National Building Museum
Merch at the children’s workshop–hardhats and the book, “Up Goes the Skyscraper”

The museum is in the old US Pensions Building, a post-Civil War era brick edifice used once to house the bureaucracy that gave pension money to soldiers.

National Building Museum
Chuck and Iris in the vast atrium space inside the National Buildings Museum. Chuck said he thought presidential innaugural balls were often held here.

Recently the building has been rehabbed and turned into a forum for architecture and things related to the built environment. When we were there they had an Eero Saarinen exhibit up, but due to the kids workshop the galleries were closed. Iris and I scored a couple plastic hardhats and wore them for a few hours afterwards causing guards in the other museums to ask us if we were researching a problem in the museum.

Enclosed atrium space covering the courtyard between the Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum.
Enclosed atrium space covering the courtyard between the Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum.

After lunch at Jaleo, some terrific tapas followed by a rather disappointing paella, we went to the American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, two buildings joined together by virtue of their now covered courtyard between them. The courtyard — which pictures showed to have been a nice pocket park — is now under glass all year and suitable for your event…there was a meeting going on that day proving the power of a beautiful space to seduce a company into having a meeting there.

Richard Diebenkorn
Richard Diebenkorn at the American Art Museum

The American Art Museum had a small but great landscape exhibit with works by David Hockney, Wayne Thibaud, Richard Diebenkorn, Milton Avery and a few more whose names escape me (I was not taking notes). The Diebenkorn was the eye-opener: A grisaille work more representational than his later works but still recognizeable for its looking down the road (or up the road) point of view.

James Hampton
The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly by James Hampton

The Folk Art collection, which had a bunch of great Howard Finsters and some whirlygigs, quilts and carvings, was completely in the shadow of James Hampton’s tin foil altarpiece which made everyone drop in their tracks and stare.

Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley in the National Portrait Gallery

Around the bend from Folk Art is the National Portrait Gallery with lots of great old American master portraits and a wonderful contemporary exhibit of works by Kehinde Wiley and others in a show called Recognize, celebrating hip hop and contemporary portraiture. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to take snaps before I had taken some so here they are. Also included in this section, although not a portrait is a wall piece by Shinique Smith that reminds me of a more decorated and less wall-chopping Sarah Sze.

Shinique Smith
Shinique Smith at the Portrait Gallery.

Running down both sides of the hallway outside the Wiley and Smith works were grafitti-esque wild style murals on canvas that made you feel somehow like you were in the subway.

Steve and Chuck talking politics no doubt.

Steve at dinner
Steve at Bistrot Du Coin in Dupont Circle.

Steve’s going to Paris in November and when we found a French bistro in Dupont Circle near the hotel we immediately went in and had a fabulous, tres Francais time. We puzzled over why Bistrot Du Coin was in the middle of the block and not on the corner but nevermind it was great!

We went to the Hirshhorn Sunday morning and while a big part of the museum was closed for installation (the Panza Collection was coming) we had a good time checking out the recent acquisitions, the techno-scientifico video Semi Conductor show and the collection.

A recent acquisition at the Hirshhorn.  I’m sorry I don’t know the name of the artist–the work is great. this is a detail of a much larger piece.

The recent acquisition (detail above) at the Hirshhorn.

The recent acquisitions were a mixed bag of paintings, sculpture and installation by Andrea Bowers, Mona Hatoum, Ernesto Neto, Paul Pfeiffer, Robin Rhode, and Allen Ruppersberg and others. What I loved best was an ornate piece with surprise embroidery touches (a skeleton, blood, etc). It had medieval leanings with all the robed and hooded figures and skeletons and a 1920s overwrought wallpaper design. Good purchase!

Virgil Marti
Virgil Marti at the Hirshhorn

On our way out I looked back for some reason and spied something I had overlooked on the way in — Virgil Marti‘s Antlers Chandelier, right there in all its glory looking wild and wonderful. Not to be too provincial or anything but it was a great way to end my Washington museum-going seeing a piece by a Philadelphia artist!