Monday, April 13, 2009

SAA Report

I saw a couple really smart, interesting papers, from just the folks you'd expect. I saw a couple disappointing papers, too, alas.

I saw and visited with friends, and got good news and bad news from and about them. Still, it was great to see the folks I saw.

I visited shortly with my mentor, who is as wonderful, which is a lot.

I met a couple bloggers, which was fun.

I enjoyed my workshop session and got some really good ideas!

And mostly, I went to a few museums and ate really good food.

First off, the reception was at the National Building Museum, and it was beautiful, but I didn't go back because I didn't have time. The food at the reception was yummy, as is always the case with SAA. Let's face it, we eat well.

My first purely fun visit was to the National Gallery of Art. There's something really fun when you walk into a gallery and think, hey, I recognize that face. And then you wonder where you recognize the face from. So, you look, and sure enough it's Cardinal Bembo, whose portrait by Titian is part of lots of editions of Castiglione.

I walked a bit further and found this familiar face, but again, wasn't sure who it was without looking. It's Devereux!

Even I managed to recognize David's Napoleon as Napoleon.

I really like going to a museum for a short visit, choosing a couple paintings to sit with and look at, and then being done. I don't have the mental stamina to look at painting after painting for hours. But, I really enjoy the shorter visit I did, and I did go make a point to see Raphael's and Van Gogh's works. Van Gogh especially, I love the three-dimensionality when I see one of his works in person, but I just don't much get the effect in prints.

So, thanks to Fretful Porpentine (who doesn't seem especially fretful in person, nor does she have nasty quills so far as I could tell), Susan, and Horace for the suggestion!

My next purely fun visit was to the National Museum of American History, which I must admit was a disappointment. First, it was crowded, and I was too impatient (and time-limited) to stand in line for a couple of the exhibits, primarily the Lincoln exhibit. But I liked the "this old house" exhibit, though these seem pretty common these days. And, like almost everything, the focus seemed to be on east coast history, and most especially, east coast history of white northern European folks, with a couple of token Jews in the mix. American Indians have been disappeared, as have almost all African Americans. The history of the west coast doesn't much seem to exist; there are no Russian fur traders or Spanish conquistadors, no French loggers.

I get that it's lots of fun to see Hollywood artifacts, but I really didn't feel like my desire to understand things better was met much at all. One little bit was interesting, an exhibit on the Scurlock photography studio, a studio which focused on photographing African Americans in and around DC. I got to think about the specialty of photographing folks with darker skin, which was something the exhibit talked about in explaining the success of the studio relative to others, and to think about the long history of African Americans in the DC area, especially earlier in the 20th century. So that was well worth seeing.

Horace had also recommended the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, and so after my frustrations with the supposed American History museum, that's where I headed. I gather that it's a contested museum, but I'm not well-enough up on things to understand the contestation. I did enjoy it, especially that it took "American" broadly enough to include peoples of the Americas rather than peoples who happen to live where the United States now controls territory. I really liked seeing the story of contact told more broadly. And I like that they had curators from different indigenous groups telling the story of their own group, and that the museum recognized these curators and showed who they were. That seems important, and would be interesting for all museums, wouldn't it? I mean, wouldn't it be interesting to learn something about the curator of the National Gallery French collection?

That said, I also found some of the exhibits overwhelming; like just a bunch of pieces of gold work on the wall without contextualization that I needed to really undestand it. For example, I saw a piece that looked a lot like an Aztec alligator a friend of mine has done work on, and knowing how much she's worked on the context for that piece, I really wanted to get that from the museum. But instead, it was just a "hey, lots o' gold" sort of display. The same thing goes for the display of human figures.

I also found a small piece of art there, which I could both afford and liked. I'll try to add a picture soon!

So there you are. I went, I stimulated the economy, I saw a few left-over cherry blossoms. I enjoyed walking in the city. I usually really enjoy walking in cities, way more than I tend to enjoy walking in fields or trails. I'm partly ashamed to admit that, but there I am. I like the energy of city walking, I guess.


  1. sounds wonderful! jealous.

  2. It was great to meet you, B!

  3. Oh, I remember those SAA receptions. . . you really don't need to have dinner!
    And oh, I too love the vibe of walking in cities -- I always feel so energized and alive! It sounds like you did well.