Welcome to the Fun House! • National Portrait Gallery & American Art Museum • RIP John McCain

Updated: Jul 21, 2019


Detail from inside the Fun House at the National Building Museum in DC.

Fun House

This week was the quintessential Washington, DC experience. I started out by getting tickets to the National Building Museum's blockbuster interactive exhibition "Fun House" by the New York based firm Snarkitecture. The full sized "house" based on an iconic suburban home's floor plan is an immersive experience totally devoid of color (part of Snarkitecture's "signature style").


View of the Fun House from above, which was located inside the museum's historic "Great Hall."

Visitors were invited to "wander the space, experiencing environments and objects that inspire wonder" with each new room "creating new meanings through word-play, surprise and disbelief." And it was, of course, supremely Instagram friendly.

Detail from the ball pit "swimming pool" at the Fun House.

The exhibit culminated in a kidney shaped "swimming pool" filled with hundreds of thousands of recyclable plastic balls that you could wade in. It was definitely a unique experience and one that was especially fun for children. I think that the National Building Museum has really figured out the formula for getting the crowds through their doors. I'm just not sure how many of those people are actually taking the time to take a look at their other more educational exhibits that are located on other levels of the museum's architecturally stunning space.


Presidential portrait of Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley at the National Portrait Gallery.

Obama Presidential Portraits

I ended the week by finally getting to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Obama portraits. When the paintings were first unveiled earlier this year, there were long lines to see them, so I have been waiting for the crowds to die down before going. Luckily, since it was a weekday there weren't any lines when I went.

Portrait of Michelle Obama by Amy Sherald.

I think that both works were really amazing likenesses and striking compositionally. The artists managed to get the nuances of each person's core personality, and of course, I loved the bright color palettes. I especially like the graphic, bold nature of the shapes and the feeling of calmness that is projected through Michelle's portrait.


Image from "Diane Arbus: A box of ten photographs" exhibit at SAAM.

Diane Arbus: A box of ten photographs

I have also been meaning to get to the Diane Arbus exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM), which shares a building with the National Portrait Gallery.


This was a small exhibit that featured a portfolio of 10 photographs that Arbus planned to sell 50 editions of, but only managed to sell 4 prior to her death. She commissioned a clever lucite box (that could also double as a frame) to house the photos in, and included a vellum sheet between each image that was annotated with bits of information about each photo. The first edition in the series was sold to the famous photographer Richard Avedon, and she gave each person an extra photograph with each set, hence the crossed out "ten" in the title that was changed to "eleven."


The exhibition not only traces the box's history, but also the historical importance of its posthumous acceptance into the 1972 Venice Biennale, making Arbus the first photographer who's work was shown there. This along with her work being featured in Artforum magazine, helped to usher in photography's acceptance as a "serious" art form.


Detail of "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly."

Other great art to consume while there. . .

I'm embarrassed to admit that I haven't been to the National Portrait Gallery and SAAM in quite some time, and I was blown away with the number and quality of the exhibits that were there. Almost too many to take in at once!


A few that caught my eye though were "Folk and Self-Taught Art" at SAAM, featuring the huge installation (in the picture above) by James Hamptom.


Hampton was a self taught artist who worked in a converted carriage house in Washington, DC from 1942 to 1964. He was inspired by the Book of Revelations to create his "Throne" as a monument to Christ's return to earth.


Detail of paper cutouts by Kara Walker.

Other exhibits included paper cutout works by artists Kara Walker and Kristi Malakoff.


Detail of a paper cutout work by Kristi Malakoff.

As well as, an exhibit that included artwork inspired by the year 1968, and another one called "Pushing the Envelope: Mail Art from the Archives of American Art." There was so much to see, I couldn't take it all in on one day. I guess I will have to go back. I also need to take advantage of some of the museum's programming which includes artist's talks, movies and even free yoga!


People walking into the US Capitol to pay respect to John McCain.

RIP John McCain

Finally, I ended the day yesterday by going down to the United States Capitol where John McCain was lying in state. I have lived in Washington, DC for a very long time and on Capitol Hill for almost 20 years, and I have never taken part in this unique tradition. I'm glad that I took the time to do this. Especially in today's chaotic political climate, I thought that it was important (regardless of my own personal political leanings) to pay respect to a man who was a true American patriot and politician. He dedicated his life to our country, so he deserves our respect. Rest in peace John McCain.



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