Friday, May 28, 2010

Dancing in the streets

A lot of life was just added to New York Avenue here in DC recently thanks to the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
A series of sculpture exhibits is planned in the upcoming 5 years for a rather soul-less section of New York Avenue right downtown near the White House (between 12 and 13th streets). The first artist selected for the series is Niki de Saint Phalle, best known for her Stravinsky Fountain in front of the Pompidou Center in Paris.
Her large and colorful sculptures bring a smile to the face of everyone who sees them. The expressions they evoke are of pure joy and exuberance, just what dreary downtown needs sometimes! Even while taking these pictures, I got a lot of comments on how great they were.
The sculptures are in stark contrast to much of the art that is featured throughout the city: overwhelmingly traditional and much of it very staid and seriously themed.
The purpose of the exhibit is to bring the museum into the streets and the community. I think it will also bring some attention to NMWA which I have to admit I've never visited, despite living a mere 3 blocks away!
Saint Phalle liked to challenge the notion of what fine art is, and these pieces are no exception. Whimsical yet still monumental, I would imagine a lot of people enjoy these pieces a lot more than they would a trip to their local museum (or so they would think). Art is to be enjoyed, and these are undoubtably joyful!
They celebrate women, children, cultural diversity and love. I think we can all get behind those subjects.
Every 1 to 3 years, the installation will be changed out, but I hope this one remains longer rather than not. Even the signage for Saint Phalle is fun!Do you have a favorite local statue or exhibit to bring a smile to your face everyday? I would love to hear about it!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

National Cathedral

One of the grandest monuments in DC which dominates the skyline is the National Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral Church of St Peter and St Paul (Episcopalian). As the 2nd largest church in the United States and 6th in the world, that comes as no surprise. It also holds the record as the highest point in DC, a fact that's easy to believe when you stand on the 7th floor observation deck surveying the entire city!The idea was rooted in Pierre L'Enfant's 1791 plan of DC for the need of a church of national significance. It wasn't until 1907 that construction began (with President Theodore Roosevelt presiding the foundation laying ceremony) and the Cathedral was officially 'finished' in 1990 with President George H W Bush in attendance. It has indeed been of national importance as it has been host to numerous state funerals and memorial services.The original architect was Frederick Bodley, a well-known English architect, who was replaced upon his death after WWI with Philip Hubert Frohman - who developed and expanded upon the original plans. Much like it's predecessors, the great European middle age cathedrals, the style is primarily gothic. However, the difference lies in the fact that while the churches in Europe were built over centuries (explaining their varied styles throughout the buildings), the national cathedral was purposefully built as a 'hodgepodge' to appear like the precedents: So a 'fake' evolved style if you will. It makes it all the more interesting!What I love most about the building though is that while it is rooted in the gothic cathedral tradition, there is a lot of our modern world at play. Many of the stained glass windows and sculptures depict our modern age: robots, space travel and even Darth Vader!The National Cathedral is, to me, an Opera of a building. By that I mean it combines all the arts into one package: secular and religious, modern and antique, embroidery, stained glass, architecture, sculpture, gardens, painting. You name it, they have it. Not to mention the views of the city!
Now for some of the delicious details. The one side transept (I forget which and both are different) has this beautiful blue ceiling. I love the juxtoposition of patterns! In the pictures above, you almost sense the scale of the space, ENORMOUS. I love the groin vaulting in the ceiling and the way the stained glass adds so much color to the Indiana Limestone interior.Like all good gothic cathedrals, here are the flying buttresses behind the rear chapel.I loved the adjoining buildings of the cathedral school - like an old English country manor!
The basement level is of course a bit gloomy, but full of as many details and workmanship as the rest of the cathedral. I loved this view looking up the stairs into the main church.
In this capital on the outside, you see a bit of the modern 'edge' - a robot amongst the figures!As our national cathedral, much of our countries history is depicted. This statue of Abraham Lincoln rests in the front of the nave.Above one of the interior front doors is Eleanor Roosevelt among some others who are celebrated for their good work.I loved this modern iron gate down in the basement. The handle is a large iron hummingbird.The craftsmanship of everything in the building is breathtaking. Even this simple handrail is so elegant. Thousands of hand embroidered cushions fill the space -each one amazing in its' own right. This one fits with the space travel themed stained glass windows.
Now you can't say "They don't build them like they used to"; 'They' still do - occasionally!
All photos taken during my visit last weekend, May 15th, 2010.

Make no little plans

Daniel Burnham, architect and city planner, said about his master plans for Chicago and also the World's Columbian exhibition:
Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will themselves not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die
Burnham could just have as easily been talking about his plans for Washington DC and the National Mall, known as the McMillan Plan. Burnham was also the architect for one of my favorite buildings in DC, right off the National Mall pictured here: Union Station.On June 9th at 8:30pm, the film Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City will be shown on the National Mall at 4th street NW. Joan Allen, the film's narrator, will be attending. You may be familiar with the screen on the green series, which I love; just call this a precursor to the upcoming season!
The McMillan plan was designed by Burnham (along with a host of others including Frederick Law Olmsted, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Charles F McKim) in 1901 , expanding upon L’Enfant’s original 1791 plans for the National Mall by designing the Lincoln Memorial, the adjacent reflecting pool and the Jefferson Memorial, seen on this plan below.
These ingenius plans turned DC into the beautiful city we enjoy today. The City Beautiful movement from that time period touched nearly every major US city, thanks the Columbian Exhibition, and remain today among the most visited sections of any city.
I hope you can visit the National Mall on June 9th to watch the film!