When Stephanie Stebich walks around the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery—the two downtown institutions she oversees—she seems to spend as much time looking at the ground as at art on the walls. Over the course of an hourlong tour, Stebich swoops down repeatedly to grab trash from the floor—a receipt, a toothpick, and other inconsiderately discarded bits. At the end of each day, her pockets are full. “Nobody wants to go to a dirty museum,” she says.
Cleanliness is nice, but it probably isn’t why so many people have been showing up at these two museums’ exhibits. From the Renwick’s blockbuster immersive experience “Wonder” to its current oddball hit show, “Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death,” featuring crime-scene dioramas, the Renwick and SAAM are offering some of Washington’s most exciting and unexpected fare. This spring will bring two more unusual exhibits—one, at the Renwick, devoted to the long-running desert festival Burning Man; the other, at SAAM, to sculptor Do Ho Suh, known for his eye-popping architectural installations. Read more of Andrew Beaujon’s interview with Stephanie Stebich for Washingtonian magazine.
The Washington Post, January 6
Scared of snakes?
The thought of Titanoboa might make you shiver even if you’re not.
Imagine a snake 48 feet long. Now imagine it slithering through the jungle and eating entire crocodiles.
Don’t worry — Titanoboa cerrejonensis isn’t on the loose today. But 60 million years ago, the snake reigned supreme. Read more from Erin Blakemore for The Washington Post.
The Baltimore Sun, January 10
Baltimore artist Amy Sherald’s portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama will have its official unveiling Feb. 12 at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.
Sherald, 44, a graduate and faculty member of the Maryland Institute College of Art, was chosen by the Obamas to paint the official portrait. It will be unveiled alongside the official portrait of former President Barack Obama, which will be the work of artist Kehinde Wiley. Read more from Chris Kaltenbach for The Baltimore Sun.
NBC Washington, January 9
Over 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. started organizing what would become his final major campaign for political equality, which would bring over 3,000 people to live in a tent city built on the National Mall.
King was assassinated days before The Poor People’s Campaign undertook its massive, weeks-long protest against poverty in America. But organizers still brought his vision to life: A multicultural, anti-poverty movement that pressured Congress to raise wages, expand health care access and create jobs. Read more from Kristin Wright and Sophia Barnes for NBC-Washington.
Archinect, January 9
It’s been just over three years since the Smithsonian Institute announced their massive, 2-billion-dollar redevelopment plans. Designed by BIG, the intended overhaul includes a renovation of the Smithsonian castle, expanded visitor services, a new courtyard and mall-facing entrances and walkways to improve visibility and accessibility. In addition, the plans also call for a bold change to the Enid A. Haupt Garden, a 4.2 acre public garden which would be demolished in Ingels’ vision in order to raise its edges 30 feet in the air.
Civic organizations, garden enthusiasts and historic preservation groups have spent two years fighting these plans. Upset by the overhaul, back in April, the D.C. Historic Preservation Board got the Smithsonian Quadrangle to be listed as a historic district in the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites, though that designation does not actually grant any legal protections to the Smithsonian’s four buildings or the Enid A. Haupt Garden. Read more from Mackenzi Goldberg for Archinect.
The Washington Post, January 10
Hey, isn’t that . . . rapper-designer-reality TV star Kanye West, touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture on Monday?
Yeezy (dressed in stylish-tourist mode in a dark hoodie) took in the exhibits alongside his dad, Ray West, and daughter, North. Museum director Lonnie Bunch greeted the party before they went on a tour, a spokeswoman for the museum tells us. Read more from Emily Heil for The Washington Post’s “Reliable Source.”
Resurrection City, planned by King and carried out after his death, filled the National Mall with a tent city built to bring attention to systemic poverty.
Washingtonian, January 11
On May 12, 1968, five weeks after the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 3,000 activists from all over the country poured onto a swath of the National Mall just below the Reflecting Pool to carry out one of King’s final plans. The demonstrators erected a temporary tent city on the Mall, complete with functioning electrical and sewer lines, a town hall, dining establishments, and a day-care center. They called it Resurrection City, and for nearly six weeks, inhabitants used their stay to draw the nation’s attention on poverty.
This week, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opened “City of Hope,” an exhibit full of photographs, oral histories, and physical artifacts from the encampment, timed to the 50th anniversary of King’s death and the Poor People’s Campaign. Visitors can check out panels of large-scale murals, placards issued by labor unions and social-organizing groups wooden panels that propped up the tents, and selections from a trove of nearly 1,600 newly rediscovered photographs, many of which had been sitting in the Smithsonian Institution’s archives since the 1970s. (While a project of the African-American history museum, which still requires a timed pass for entry, this exhibit is located inside the more easily accessible National Museum of American History.) Read more from Benjamin Freed for Washingtonian Magazine.
Forbes, January 11
Walk with dinosaurs. Fly to Mars. Discover ancient cultures. A visit to the museum brings nearly endless opportunities to experience our universe. Worlds from the past, present and future are brought to life with the help of time-perfected practices and groundbreaking technology.
So, how do they make an already awe-inspiring experience even more awesome? With some help from hi-technology, this multi-billion dollar industry is taking us places we’ve never been to before in ways we never thought possible. And it’s really, really cool. Read more from Forbes.
Gizmodo, January 11
Quick: what has eight legs and a face like a pair of hairy salad tongs? If you’re a spider, you know exactly what I’m describing—a beast, which, at least to smaller spiders, is an otherworldly, eldritch terror: the pelican spider. Now, new research published today in the journal ZooKeys details the discovery of a whopping 18 new species of pelican spider from Madagascar. Read more from Jake Buehler for Gizmodo.
The secretive family whose pharmaceutical company hid the addictive effects of OxyContin also funds dozens of museums and universities.
Hyperallergic, January 11
As the opioid epidemic continues — according to a Quartz headline published earlier this month “US millennials were almost 20% more likely to die in 2016 than 2014” — everyone from politicians to everyday citizens is trying to not only help those already addicted, but to also hold accountable the pharmaceutical companies that precipitated the rise of dangerously addictive opioid prescriptions.
In this month’s Artforum (which is still co-owned by Knight Landesman), photographer Nan Goldin wrote a heartbreaking account of how she got hooked on OxyContin herself and barely survived. As many others have already done, Goldin noted that the Sackler family, whose name we see on so many museum, library, and hospital walls, is the one responsible. “They have washed their blood money through the halls of museums and universities around the world,” she wrote. “We demand that the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma use their fortune to fund addiction treatment and education. There is no time to waste.” Read more from Elena Goukassian for Hyperallergic.
Observer, January 12
It seems like every week a new report comes out about how, as a society, we are too consumed with our newfangled technologies for our own good. Watch an episode or two of the latest season of Black Mirror, and you’ll find yourself tiptoeing around your toaster, fearing that even the most basic tech will turn on you in an instant. But before falling into despair about our impending dystopia, pause to consider the kind of privilege it takes to be paranoid.
The latest exhibition to open at New York’s Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum asks visitors to do exactly that. “Access + Ability,” on view through September 3, showcases some of the latest design developments for people with physical, cognitive, and sensory disabilities. Through 70 objects—most of which have been created within just the last five years—the exhibition explores how simple design tweaks and considerations can make a huge impact on how we engage with the world around us. Read more from Margaret Carrigan for the Observer.
An exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt explores the evolution and explosive creativity of an often-overlooked field.
Surface, January 11
Before founding her eponymous New York communications firm more than two decades ago, Susan Grant Lewin worked as a design journalist, making regular pilgrimages to trade shows such as Copenhagen’s erstwhile Scandinavian Furniture Fair. One year during her visit, she came across Vivianna Torun Bülow-Hübe, a Swedish silversmith who created jewelry for Georg Jensen, and fell madly in love with her personal ornaments of the hand-crafted variety. “Vivianna’s work is so beautiful, it makes you weep. You look at it and you just have to have it,” Lewin says, with a hearty laugh. Read more from Tiffany Jow for Surface.