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Ice Cream and American Art

Nam June Paik, Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, Smithsonian American Art MuseumAfter being closed for six years, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery have finally reopened in their renovated digs, the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, formerly known as the U.S. Patent Office. Yesterday morning, Mrs. Ionarts and I took the kids to the Grand Opening Family Festival. Kriston Capps and the gang at Eye Level, the SAAM's professional blog, had several great posts (starting here), and my colleague at DCist were their guests in the war room. Tyler Green will have some thoughts on the reopening next week at Modern Art Notes.

Mini-Critic listens to jazz, Reynolds Center, July 1, 2006We went first to the G Street entrance, where there was free ice cream to be had, being distributed in a calm and well-organized way, thanks to a corporate donor. Volunteers were on the street and roaming through the museum, in various colonial period costumes -- street cryers, Uncle Sam, George and Martha Washington. This goes along with one of the major parts of the museums' collections: portraits of American presidents, first ladies, and founding fathers, as well as important visual documents of the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, like George Catlin's Indian Gallery. Among the vast range of entertainment on hand, we heard a drum and bugle corps and a jazz trio, too, celebrating the history of the United States.

The renovated galleries look absolutely gorgeous, everything shiny and new and clean. I was most impressed by the space for Modern and Contemporary Art on the third-floor Lincoln Gallery. This section of the museum has the best light, the grandest space, and the most exciting art, like the Nam June Paik piece (Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995) shown above. I did not have the chance to linger in any part of the museum, but this is where I wanted the most to stop for a couple hours. Sadly, now that the hullaballoo of the reopening is done, the number of visitors to these museums will probably return to disappointingly low levels. Disappointing for the museum staff, yes, but good for Washingtonians, especially in a place like this. True, things are not quite completely finished -- there is scaffolding in the courtyard, ladders in the stairwells, elevators not quite functioning correctly, not much visual help to guide you around -- but at least the future should be bright. Anything is better than being closed for renovation.

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