Tag Archives: Smithsonian Museums

New on View at the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden this Summer

Make a wish at Yoko Ono’s “Wish Tree for Washington”

You can’t really go wrong with an outing to the National Mall. There are always museums to visit, exhibits and memorials to check out, and just so much to see as you wander. Here are a couple of new exhibitions running at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden this summer to keep in mind next time you’re on the Mall. It’s easy to stop by to see them — no tickets required, and admission to both are free!

Ai Weiwei makes a political statement in LEGOS

Opening today, “Ai Weiwei: Trace at Hirshhorn” is a massive installation spanning 700 feet all the way around the museum’s second floor, featuring portraits of 176 indivisuals from around the world who the artist believes to have been detained, exiled, or have sought political asylum as a result of their actions, beliefs, or affiliations.

Like many of his works, it makes a political statement and is pretty heavy for kids. But also like many of his works, there’s an aesthetic element that will appeal to all ages: It’s made entirely of LEGOS! While you might not make a special trip to see it with children, I recommend stopping by if you’re at the museum or nearby. It could be a conversation starter if you want to discuss those topics with your kids. It’s also a chance for them to see how they can create art with their everyday toys. Apparently, Ai Weiwei chose LEGOS as his medium because his son was playing with them a lot. The exhibit runs through January 1, 2018.

In the Sculpture Garden, be sure to stop by Yoko Ono’s “Wish Tree for Washington,” where visitors are encouraged to write their wishes on tags and tie them to a Japanese dogwood tree. It’s quite a sight to see them all lining the branches — and interesting, moving, even amusing to read some of them. Throughout the summer, Hirshhorn staff collect the wishes and send them to Ono’s “Imagine Peace Tower” in Reykjavik, Iceland. You can add your tags with written wishes through Labor Day, and the rest of the year you can whisper them to the tree.

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Filed under 2017, All ages, Art, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Museums, Outdoor, Summer, Weekdays, Weekend

Review: Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors at the Hirshhorn


There is so much hype surrounding Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors at the Hirshhorn. And the big question: “Does the exhibit live up to it?” The answer — my answer, anyway — is that depends on how you look at it. I know… not so helpful, but read on for some insight.

You know how sometimes you want to love something, and you think that under the right circumstances you would be utterly dazzled and blown away, but those circumstances are just completely unattainable? That’s pretty much how I feel about this exhibit.


The art itself is absolutely stellar. The whole experience of going to see it, not quite so much. That’s because it was difficult to really experience and enjoy the art, at least in those “right circumstances” I would have preferred. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to feel that way, because this art is so enchanting. You want to immerse in it and hang out for awhile, but there isn’t opportunity to do that.


* * * * *

So, let me back up and offer a bit more information about Infinity Mirrors. The main features of the exhibition are five installations — small rooms transformed into boundless wonderlands with Kusama’s brilliant, imaginative sculptures and mirror-lined walls that make the spaces feel like they go on for, well, infinity.


It’s so incredible to see you want to stand (and sit and even lie down) there forever and relish in it from every angle. But that feeling ends abruptly when your 30 seconds to see it — which go by so fast — are up, the door opens, and you have to exit.


Part of what makes that short span of time fly by so fast is the comparison to the wait in line to go in, which was up to about 25 minutes when I visited. Also, you might share some of the spaces with others, making it a little awkward to move around and stand in different spots to absorb it all. I was able to go in two installations on my own, but I’ve heard they are not allowing individual sessions anymore to help the lines move faster.


There is art on display besides the Infinity Mirror Rooms. Colorful paintings and sculptures, plus small infinity rooms that you peer into through little windows are beautiful and fun to view. At the end is the Obliteration Room, a completely white space — the walls, floor, furniture, decor, everything — where you can stick colorful dots wherever you want. The people watching is an interesting part of the experience, too. Quite a few visitors dress for the exhibits in dots (a common pattern in Kusama’s work), bold colors, and outfits that will convey well on Instagram.


And that brings up a whole other aspect of this show. Its Instagram-iness seems to be a big part of its appeal, and it looked like many people were there more for a perfect selfie than to enjoy the art itself. On one hand, I think it’s fantastic that people are engaging with the art, and it’s being celebrated and shared. On the other hand, when there are long lines and limited time to enjoy it, I kind of wish that wasn’t adding to the crowds.


Is it worth it to take the kids?
This is what you’re probably now wondering, and here are my thoughts: This is art that definitely will delight kids, even young children. However, there is a good chance lines and wait times will be long. (See this Washington Post article about wait times this past weekend.) You know best what your kids can handle, how patiently they can wait, and how much you think they’ll get out of being there. A couple of things about viewing the art to keep in mind, too: 1) Space is limited in the rooms, and it could be hard keeping little hands off the art 2) Young kiddos might not be happy about having to exit the rooms before they are ready. (I’m an old kiddo and I wasn’t happy!)


If you do bring the kids…
– Let children know beforehand that there will be waiting and limited time inside the rooms to manage expectations.
– Bring along something to keep them occupied while you wait in lines.
– Try to go with another adult and take turns waiting in line and walking around with your children (this means lucking out and getting multiple tickets, or you can buy the membership – see below).
– Strollers are not permitted in the exhibit, though there is stroller parking outside.
– Have a back-up plan in case you get to the museum and determine the lines are too long for your kids (and you) to wait — you have your pick of other museums on the Mall.

Other general tips & info
Free Timed Passes are available every Monday at 12pm for the following week. They sell out quickly, so be ready to reserve yours online as soon as it turns noon.
– If you have timed passes, all guests with you need them, even infants.
– A limited number of free same-day Walk-Up Timed Passes will be available at the Museum, with a line starting at 9:30am, and the passes distributed first-come, first-served at 10am. You can get real-time updates on availability on Twitter.
– You can purchase a special Kusama Circle Membership for $50, which lets you and a guest bypass the general admission line one time. Children under 18 are not considered guests and get in free with you.
Other membership options are available at higher rates.
– Get tickets for a weekday if you can.
– Try to put your camera away as much as possible. You may spend so much time trying to get the perfect shot that you miss out on enjoying the art. Really, that 30 seconds flies!


Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors will be on view at the Hirshhorn through May 14. Museum hours are 10am – 5:30pm, and word has it they are staying open until 7:30pm to accommodate guests with later passes.


Filed under All ages, Art, DC, Exhibit, Free, Museums, Spring, Weekdays, Weekend, Winter

The National Postal Museum Always Delivers a Great Outing

Exciting displays in every direction in the lofty atrium

Exciting displays in every direction in the lofty atrium

I like to think of the National Postal Museum as a locals’ secret, overlooked by tourists and overshadowed by its counterparts on the Mall. Whether it really is or not, I’m not sure, but I do know that it wasn’t even on my museum radar until I took Owen to an event there when he was about two years old. I remember feeling surprised that I wasn’t aware of it before then. Part of the Smithsonian, it’s quite an interesting attraction and aesthetically pleasing space, plus it’s located in the beautiful historic City Post Office building next to Union Station where I’d been plenty of times to both send mail and eat at the Capitol City Brewery that used to be housed there.


Mailboxes from around the world

Mailboxes from around the world

Anyway, since I became aware of the Postal Museum’s existence, it’s been a staple in our local museum rotation, as you’ve likely gathered by now from my many recommendations to visit. (A recent rainy day outing there prompted me to finally blog about it.) Like many local galleries in DC, admission is free and conveniently located — we can walk or bike there, and for folks farther out, it’s Metro accessible; and we can lunch at Union Station pre- or post-outing.


The cab of a semi is a huge hit with kids

The cab of a semi is a huge hit with kids


But the best features of the museum are the collections, which appeal to a wide range of ages, and are particularly compelling for kids. Presenting the history of mail and the postal process, there are big installations like old mail trucks, a train car, an airplane, and other modes of mail transport. And most exhibits contain interactive elements that keep young visitors engaged — they can explore the Pony Express, stamp letters, sort packages, create postcards, and much more.




I also appreciate their family workshops, which are always fun and well-organized. We’ve created Valentines and holiday cards at some and attended events that celebrate milestones in mail. Most of these programs take place on weekends, but every now and then there’s something special during the week, too. Of course, I always try to keep you posted on all of them. But event or not, the Postal Museum is worth a visit anytime.

Creating Valentines at a card making workshop

Creating Valentines at a card making workshop


The National Postal Museum is located at 2 Massachusetts Avenue NE. It’s open 10am – 5:30pm daily, except December 25. Admission is free. It’s right next to Union Station, which is on Metro’s Red Line. If you drive, you can park in Union Station’s garage for about $10, though you might get lucky and find metered parking near the SEC on the east side of Union Station or even an unmetered space in the residential area just beyond.


Filed under All ages, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Indoor Play, Museums, Ongoing, Weekdays, Weekend

Math Has Never Been So Suh-weet!

Bridge to the Future, an apropos first stop at MathAlive!


It’s rare that I get to spend a weekday with just Owen. But the occasion arose this past Monday when he was off from school for Emancipation Day, while Sasha, who attends preschool part-time, was not.  To make it special I suggested we do a couple of things: 1) sushi lunch (he loooves it) and 2) an activity that doesn’t cater to Sasha’s age group.

For the latter, I offered a few ideas, including the new MathAlive! exhibit at Smithsonian’s Ripley Center.  When I told Owen what it all about and showed him photos online, he didn’t hesitate with a response: “Let’s do that!  I want to do math!” And with that, my little nerd and I had our day planned.

I use “nerd” loosely, as the promos for MathAlive! make it look more like an X Games event than a museum exhibit, featuring images of snowboarders, skaters, and BMXers and claiming that “Math has never been so sweet!”  The descriptions make it sound even more rad, promising nearly 40 unique, interactive experiences, including video games, robotics, movie making, and many more hands-on installments. Both Owen and I had very high expectations.

And I am happy to report that MathAlive! does not disappoint.  It really is sweet (make that suh-weet!) and rad. It’s fun, engaging, and challenging. It’s cool to look at, both as a whole and by individual display.  In a nutshell, it is one impressive exhibit.

View from the entrance

The whole thing is housed in the Ripley Center’s International Gallery, just past the Discovery Theater. Walking in, it almost felt like I was entering an 80’s arcade — the lights are dim, lots of video screens are on display, electronic sounds reverberating.

The exhibit is divided into seven thematic categories that show how math is used in a real world context:  “Outdoor Action” features adventure sports, “Build Your World” focuses on  the environment, “Future Style” is about style and design, “Kickin’ It”  spotlights entertainment, “Game Plan” presents video and other games, “Robotics and Space” is exactly that, and there’s the “Resource Center” with general background info on everything.

Every area contains displays, both physical and digital, that explain how math figures into the concepts. While 6-year-old Owen could read most of them and figure out how to work the electronics, I definitely had to explain the math part (they’ve barely covered basic addition in his Kindergarten class). Even then, a lot of it was over his head, but he could still do every interactive there — and he, make that we, had fun with just about all of them. There are so many, I’ll just mention some of the highlights, but I can assure you there are much, much more.

Those photos of skaters and snowboarders on the promo materials aren’t just for show.  There are actually a couple of games that use them. One demonstrates how angles work with a snowboarding jump 3D video game, another shows how to modify variables for optimal effect, by adjusting board length, wheel size and placement in designing a digital skateboard.

Can this board do an ollie?


A rock climbing wall where guests can do a horizontal climb across explains a mathematical scatter plot.

Who knew math could be so fun?


On the Curiosity Rover (one of Owen’s favorites), you need to program coordinates to move a digital rover around to pick up virtual rocks to be analyzed for water.

Operating the rover


Another space-related station is On Target, which features a 3-D version of the International Space Station and a Robotic Arm that you move to different locations.

Astronaut prep


At the Mix it Up station, we got to explore the mathematics of rhythm as we played with different musical instrument sounds and the patterns of the music.

DJ O-man mixes it up


Style Revolution lets you do a 360-degree photo shoot using freeze-motion techniques. This one was really fun, not only because you could play it back immediately, but you got to watch people do funny poses and action shots.

Strike a 360 pose


You really have to go check out the rest for yourself — this exhibit is all about the interactive experience.  And something I consider a big bonus is its location. The Ripley Center is one of those museums that tends to elude the tourist radar, so it’s never very crowded.  Granted we were there on a weekday, but there was hardly a wait for any of the activities, and if something was already in use, there was plenty more to explore until it was free.

As for ages, older children would definitely get the most out of it, but I think even younger children (Owen is only 6) could enjoy it, too.  Hey, with lots of buttons to push, a dancing and music games, and that photo shoot, I may even take Sasha, after all.

MathAlive! will be on exhibit at the S. Dillon Ripley Center (the small domed building next to the Smithsonian Castle) through June 3.  Hours are 10am – 5:30pm daily, admission is free.

And P.S., for an excellent sushi/Japanese food meal, I highly recommend Kushi located at 465 K Street NW.



Filed under DC, Educational, Free, Gradeschoolers, Museums, Preteens, Spring, Teens, Tweens, Weekdays, Weekend