National Gallery Of Art: Meh, Sharks, And Amy Pond.

A little while ago, the children and I headed south to spend a winter break weekend in Washington, DC. Middle child (Seconda), was meeting her Girl Scout troop at the Newseum  -- a truly incredible museum, I can't recommend it enough -- but we also trekked around the American Museum of Natural History, a great temple of a building filled with enormous dinosaurs and taxidermy animals and mummies and precious gems and a gigantic squid that seriously made everyone who saw it rethink ever stepping foot in the water again. Even the bathtub.

After the museum, the kids ran up and down the Mall, ran up and down monument steps, just ran, ran, ran, ran. That's the great thing about Washington, DC. After spending a morning in a museum behaving yourself (mostly), there's plenty of room in the middle of our Nation's Capital for all-out sprinting and completely ridiculous behavior (insert joke about ridiculous kids barely being noticed in a town full of ridiculous politicians.) A museum in the morning, cartwheels in front of the White House, and a museum in the afternoon -- maybe this time the Air and Space Museum, maybe the Museum of American History, maybe a wander through one of the many sculpture parks trying to figure out just what the artist was up to in crafting a large, thin rabbit banging a drum.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. 

However, at one point during our morning, Seconda trooped off with her troop for a Girl Scout Only activity, and eldest daughter (Prima) and 5yo son (Terzo) and I searched out the National Archives so that Prima could net 25 extra credit points for Social Studies class.

The National Archives, I can tell you, is filled with old and curious documents (the Magna Carta, for one - remember learning about that once?), and a well-delivered interactive presentation on the importance of preserving our country's important bits of paper and sound and film. Now, mind you, Prima and I could have spent the day at the National Archives reading about old bits of paper with rapt attention. We are word nerds, and handsome ones at that. But a museum geared toward a strong grasp of deciphering letters strung together begins to lose its glamour after about ten minutes when you are five years old and think reading English is a tricky business. Good museum behavior was quickly descending into "on the Mall" behavior, and so we had to leave the lovely bits of paper behind for more cartwheels outdoors.

And yet the Girl Scouts weren't done doing their badge work or good deeds or whatever it was they were about. Not wanting to stray too far, but still wanting to get out of the February winds, we loped hopefully up the massive stairs of the National Gallery of Art. 

Immediately upon opening the massive doors, a low sigh escaped from the building, the sound one might expect upon opening a 4,000 year old tomb. One step inside and the somber atmosphere was palpable. Even the guards looked a bit comatose and barely searched for pointy bombs in my purse. The dark columns and grandiose flower arrangements were reminiscent of photos I'd seen of dictators lying in state. This did not bode well.

"You wanna go in here?" I offered, hoping the answer would be no.

They did. Oddly. We'd been to art museums before - the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Met in NYC, MoMa. But those museums all seemed to have a friendly bustling about them, encouraging, "C'mon! Bring the kids in! There's enough quirky here for everyone. We even have an entire Japanese tea house installation. And a helicopter!" But I just wasn't getting that good vibe this time.

We found the coat check and information desk. Up until this point, I was trying to remain hopeful. After all, kids can be enthralled by just those events and occasions you most suspect will bore them to tears, right? They might be drawn into the exotic landscapes. Or animatedly discuss the "weird clothes" people used to wear back then. I was probably worrying about nothing.

And then I picked up the museum map.

You understand my concern.

Now, the National Gallery could have chosen a different painting to grace their map as an appetizer for the artistic wonders in store.

This is a shark attacking a naked person and a guy with a big pointy stick. What's not to love?
But they didn't.

Which leads me conclude that the intention of the National Gallery of Art was, in fact, the following:

Or perhaps a bit more poignantly....

Although, pity poor Ginevra de Benci. She might actually enjoy a few kids cartwheeling through her gallery.

 An attempt to rally the teen demographic couldn't hurt.

Or perhaps a gentle prompt to choose your own adventure.

However, it did occur to me that the National Gallery of Art may have been discouraging on purpose. As if giving a covert signal to tourists-sans-young-kids who wanted one museum all to themselves for a few hours, no babies crying, no one changing diapers on the hallway floors, no kids running around indiscriminately smacking buttons or whining for the snack bar. A little peace and quiet, a grown-up atmosphere, and cool, cool air conditioning during the humid summers. 


We wandered around for twenty minutes or so. The shark painting was, indeed, a great hoot. And the teen and the Kindergartner did offer an endless ramble of color commentary on all sorts of fantastic costumes and wonderment that so many People Back Then chose to go abut their business in the altogether, boobs and butts on full display for angels and clerics and wandering milk men. 

And just when big feet started dragging and little feet started tap-dancing to the tune of "enough is enough is enough", the 5yo gasped, then pointed, then made a beeline through a solemn gallery toward a painting I couldn't quite make out from the small crowd of people surrounding it. 

It was this:


And it was.


kellyg said...

That probably would have been my reaction to the Van Gogh painting, too. Well, without the "mommy! mommy!" part. I know I will always think "He painted those for Amy" when I see the Sunflower painting, even though that is not true at all.

Lisse said...

Oddly, my kids were drawn right to the National Gallery when we were there this past Spring.

I don't remember them finding the Van Gogh - but my older son would know it from Dr. Who as well.

I never watched Dr. Who until Matt Smith started playing the role, and really, my son got me into it. But now running across someone who shares an enjoyment of it always makes me smile. said...

I do feel kinda bad for my lukewarm attitude...I probably colored their opinion of it from the get go. And they still did want to go in - I was being a pooper.

Anne Payne said...

We would love to take a trip to DC! Of course, my teens would probably be thinking National Treasure :)

Thanks for coming by my blog and commenting.

the wicked noodle said...

Those posters are hilarious! What a fun post, I really enjoyed it!

Ruth said...

I came over from PW. I enjoyed watching the Dr. Who clip - hadn't heard of that show before.
Sometime go see the Impressionists paintings in the Corcoran Collection. You have never seen blue until you've seen the original Impressionists paintings, particularly the one of the pine tree and the ocean. Starry, Starry Night was part of the group when I took my kids to see it in Texas.

Ruth said...

Well, that two word id just got rid of my comment. I enjoyed Dr. Who! said...

Anne - I don't think my kids have seen that movie yet. Although, I did read that Dan Brown (Da Vinci Code author) book that takes place in DC. I've yet to go look for all the hidden codes.

wicked noodle - thanks! They were fun to make. :-)

Ruth, after all those years growing up and NOT watching Dr. Who, I'm a fanatic now.

And yes, I think my kids are always surprised when they see the originals. I think we saw Starry Night in NYC at one point. It was funny - again, my kids knew the painting from Baby Einstein videos and they reacted like seeing a rock star. It was kinds cool!

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