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Rediscovering The National Gallery

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Rediscovering the National Gallery

By: Sarah Ahn


I’m going to be honest. I’ve lived in the Washington DC area since I was three, but let’s face it, I’ve never made an effort to get into the city and see what it has to offer. It’s slightly unfathomable that people would choose to go on vacation to the District—but then I realize how highly revered the nation’s capital is placed in the average tourists mind. My memories as a child revolve around Saturday trips in which my Aunt would drag my cousins and I, begrudgingly, to every important museum and monument in DC. One would think that this early experience in the arts and history would have inspired me to appreciate the arts. But proximity is not always enough to motivate. There has to be something more to prompt me to make the trek out to Vienna and catch the hour-long metro ride to DC.

So, on my first day on the job at DCpages, we were each told to pick a place in DC to cover and write about for the photo gallery, to get a sense of what it would be like to cover an event. I choked. The National Gallery of Art? But the little voice inside my head told me that it would probably be good for me, since I’ve recently embarked on a quest to better myself intellectually. A memory surfaced of a conversation I had with my roommate about modern American art in which I had no idea what she was talking about. She laughed.

As you walk up the steps of the gallery and open the doors, one finds themselves in the front hall and your experience begins. It reminded me of the dome room at the Rotunda at school (University of Virginia), light streaming from the skylight above. But then reality hits. Children were running around splashing in the bronze fountain of Mercury as they giggled with joy. I would learn that various groups make trip to the national gallery on field trips, many in matching shirts or other identifiable articles of clothing.

On special exhibit until July 25 is the Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya collection. We watched the introductory film, which provided the context for most of the art in the collection. The history buff in me was thoroughly intrigued. For such a sophisticated society, with complex religious practices, they spent 95% of their time belligerently in conflict with their neighbors. Yet it’s amazing to me that they were still able to flourish and achieve such profound artistic and architectural achievements.

Next I went to the Small French Painting exhibit. I personally thought that the display was very dark, perhaps it was the intention of the museum or just the nature of the artwork, but it was slightly depressing. But that’s just how some art can be.

Next, we walked around the permanent collection. The museum is organized chronologically. I went from the gothic Italian paintings and sculptures to the renaissance work to American impressionism. Throughout the museum there are painting easels in which artists spend their time in the gallery painting other’s works. I never knew that was an option for artists as a way to find inspiration. And since we went during lunchtime, there were some Washingtonians among the tourists, taking their lunch break to appreciate the many exhibits, perhaps eating lunch in the café between the East and West wing of the museum. I would recommend going to the National Gallery, for the day, or even just for a lunch break if you happen to be in the neighborhood.

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