On Sunday I decided to swing by the National Museum of African Art in DC. My memories of this place was of it being a tiny little hole-in-the-wall compared to the larger art museums surrounding it (like the Freer/Sackler art galleries and the Hirshorn, both of which I stopped by on Sunday as well). Now, I’d say it definitely isn’t inferior in size, so much as attendance. Despite the museum being connected to the Asian Art museum on sub-level 3 (which has a delightful display currently, which I will discuss in a moment), there were about 150% fewer people in the African Art museum compared to Freer/Sackler. I can’t say why, perhaps just less interest in Africa as a region — the far east has always held large appeal with westerners — or that it was the final day at Freer/Sackler of an exhibition of works by Kiyochika (a super-interesting exhibition, I must say).
Kiyochika, Master of the Night. Ghostly paintings with intricate detail.
Regardless, the African Art museum was blissfully quiet, peaceful and gorgeous. The gardens surrounding it on the ground level, and the atrium providing sunlight all the way down to the third sub-level is well thought-out and calming. Currently on that third sub-level is an exhibit called Visions from the Forests, with art and artifacts from Liberia and Sierra Leone, and the gallery space has peaceful forest sounds playing throughout. The exhibit is set up magnificently, and the artifacts are so varied. Some remind me very much of Polynesian art and sculpture, some even remind me of Norse artifacts. The exhibit made me wonder how similar ideas could float among many historic peoples who never came into direct contact with one another; I’ve never been much into history, but I’m sure an art historian would have a field day connecting those dots for me.
Coming into the exhibition hall for Visions from the Forests.
With such a well-curated and thoughtful exhibit, I really wonder why more people aren’t visiting this hidden gem, so I’m taking the opportunity to tell you all, the National Museum of African Art is dope, and it’s right down the street from the Hirshorn. Just get on the garden path or Independence Ave., walk past a big, castle-looking Smithsonian building, and you’re there. Stop by only to visit on your way to the Freer/Sackler building, if you want (they have the exact same layout, so think of it as practice). Check out the Visions from the Forests exhibit now until August 17th.
The National Museum of African Art is what’s up.