Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Every year I try to visit the Smithsonian Folklife Festival; this year was no different. As we always do, Adrianna and I arrived hungry and enjoyed several of the different cultural food vendors. With this year's festival, however, that was about all we did, as we found the entire festival quite small underwhelming, particularly in comparison to previous years; it seems as though the festival has been shrinking over the last few years, much to our disappointment, as we both look forward to attending each year. The nearby waste bins reminded me of some fine art photography series I've seen done on trash.
We perused the entire grounds of the festival, and barely anything was going on - we saw two discussion panels, which the speakers seemed to be attempting humor that was falling flat on the gathered audiences, and there were no demonstrations taking place even at the scheduled times posted. Disappointed, we decided to hit a few of the less trafficked museums.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
At the Hirshorn we saw parts of Yoko Ono's exhibits which were nearing their close, and Ai Weiwei's "Trace" exhibit of large LEGO portraits of political dissidents. This of course was alongside some of Hirshorn's collection of rotating artifacts on display.
One piece that initially confused us was Reynier Leyva Novo's "5 Nights," which appear as different sized rectangles of black ink on the walls, each equal to the amount of ink used in writing five totalitarian leaders' manifestos; at the museum, we did not see a plaque explaining this, but we did notice the plaque underneath the largest rectangle labeled "Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf" and we incorrectly surmised that these were placeholders for an upcoming exhibit, one of which would be a painting by Adolf Hitler sharing the title of his infamous autobiography. It wasn't until later that evening on the Hirshorn website that all was made clear; the conclusion we'd drawn earlier just didn't feel as though it added up, and had been bugging me for clarification and correction all day.
The detail and depth in Weiwei's repeating patterns is breathtaking, and a designer's delight. Overtones of surveillance, oppression, suppression. The rise of Twitter, resistance, transparency through opposition. It's bleak and hopeful and applicable to the political state in many governments the whole-World over. It is a modern illustration of a timeless struggle.
Weiwei's LEGO art was expansive and reminiscent of 8-bit art, eliciting thoughts of the digital age in which many of his subjects relied upon in their tasks.
National Museum of the American Indian
Next we decided to visit the nearby National Museum of the American Indian. Adrianna is part Native American, so she's visited many times and is well versed in the exhibits and history. I, on the other hand, had never been before, and my entire knowledge of Native American history is limited one learns in 4th grade; that is, to say, I admittedly have no significant knowledge of Native American history. Our visit was rushed because they would be closing in less than two hours, and frankly this is a museum to fully absorb a whole day would be required; I will need to return to devote an entire day to give it the attention this museum requires and deserves.
At closing time we split a pastry in the cafeteria head off back to Virginia for dinner.