If there is one thing I love as much as a huge building full of books it would be a huge building full of art. Back when I was about 13 and my mom brought me and my best friend to DC I don't think I would have given a rat's fanny for a morning in the National Gallery, but after the work of a theatre degree and art history courses and enough adulthood (wait -- when did that happen?) I have developed a better sense of appreciation for the great masters. So a trip to at least one of the Smithsonian art museums was high on my list of Washington DC priorities.
This was one of those days when we could fully appreciate one of the advantages to traveling with another family and having no children under the age of 8 along. The boys were given a pass to go back to the Air and Space Museum to finish up what they missed from the day before. Between the rest of us we managed the two youngest. Kristin stuck with me most of the time. She is the introspective type and has the patience and desire to stand in front of a painting or sculpture and think on it for a bit. She enjoyed the huge collection of Degas and also the one and only work by da Vinci housed in the US, but where she surprised me was in her attention span for a collection of odd works that challenged even my ability to appreciate. It is a series of prints -- well, in truth I don't know what you would call them. The artist demonstrates (on video) how he guided his assistants to set paper ablaze then lay it on a table and run a huge printing press drum over the top to extinguish the fire. The charred patterns are the art. Occasionally for added interest they also set a very hot ceramic tea pot on top to make some dark circles. I know one man's trash is another man's Tintoretto (not that I favor his work either) but I am hard pressed to see how much of what was contained in this particular exhibition qualifies as art. There was even a piece of mostly blank paper framed and hanging up with a description wherein, unless I am severely misinterpreting, the artist himself admits this was something he found in the trash and just ran a test impression upon to see what that sort of paper would produce.
Thankfully, that exhibit was only a very small portion of the gallery. The rest is filled with treasures of Byzantium, Renaissance art, and the works of Van Gogh, Manet, Monet, Titian, Goya, and Renoir. I ran out of time right about the point when I got to the British works and a favorite by Gainsborough. I completely missed the Greek stuff and most everything from the last century. We could have blazed through those wings but if you have to rush, it ruins the experience. We have several more days here. I might just have to go back.