|Model of the Smithsonian "castle" (one of N.'s faves) at the Botanic Garden|
After lunch Friday at the excellent cafe at the nearby National Museum of the American Indian and a brief examination of several canoes in the lobby, we went the the Hirshhorn Museum to see an exhibit of work by Ai Weiwei. The pieces in this show ranged from whimsical to distressing. N. really got a lot out of the show even though some of it disturbed him. He loved a sculpture made from bicycle frames and another made from old temple stools joined together in a kind of sphere. He was saddened by an undulating arrangement of rebar from school buildings that collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake of 2008 but also saw its beauty as sculptural form. The piece N. really hated, however, was a series of three large photographs of Ai Weiwei in which he drops an ancient Han Dynasty urn. In the final photo the urn lies shattered at the artist's feet. N., despite his dread fascination with certain catastrophes that are at a safe historical remove such as the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1916 or the sinking of the Titanic, has a serious veneration for old things, and he just couldn't understand why Ai would break an ancient urn on purpose. I liked seeing N. wrestle with this work. He tried to deal with the challenge it posed by saying, "I hate Ai Weiwei but I like some of his art," but this clearly didn't satisfy him. And none of us could resolve it for him. I don't know exactly why he made photographs of himself intentionally dropping an urn, but we talked a lot about why he might have, what it might mean about art and value, old and new.
Saturday we went to the National Gallery of Art to see a new exhibit of 18th- and early 19th-century furniture. N.'s love of architecture makes the period rooms in museums appeal to him. He was really absorbed in this exhibit, looking carefully at all the chairs and tables, identifying the features of Queen Anne, Chippendale, and Empire styles that the wall plaques described. He and Tim have been gotten up to Andrew Jackson in American History so N. had a good sense of the context for the ubiquitous eagle adorning the furniture and his eyes lit up at the unfinished portrait of Jackson himself, or "King Andrew," as N. informed me his critics called him. I was happy because the exhibit included a large selection of card tables from the period, which I am obsessed with thanks to my book on 18th-century gambling. My parents went to "The Serial Portrait" photography exhibit while N. and I wandered through some galleries of Italian late-Renaissance sculpture, furniture, armor, etc. and briefly in a period room from an 18th-century French chateau. Then Tim took N. to see the Degas "Little Dancer, 14 years old" and we looked at some of Degas' smaller sculptures, which N. really liked. That was more than enough art-viewing for one day for one eight-year-old!
While we've been to D.C. many times and we've gone to many interesting sites, we've seen relatively little art there with N. because he (understandably) seems to find art museums overwhelming. As I found when we went to London in 2011, the key with him is to have a short, focused visit to an art museum, to choose one exhibit or room ahead of time, and to look for objects, which he is generally more intrigued by than paintings. While I still want to try to see everything in the whole museum myself, I try to remember that a more focused visit may actually be more memorable, both for N. and for the adults, as was the case during these two rich days.