We sort of stumbled on it by accident - we started our adventures at "the Castle" - one of the original Smithsonian buildings which is now the Information Center and visitor's guide - after having our bags searched (physically) for the first time. I picked up one of their guidebooks, which actually turned out to be astonishingly helpful. Then we decided to wander down the row of museums a-ways.
I wanted to see the Arts and Industries building, for the architecture. There are conflicting reports as to which is the original Smithsonian building, this or the Castle. Apparently the Castle was built first, but the A&I building was the site of the first exhibitions open to the public. Or something - in any case, like most historical "first"s, it's complicated.
As we left the A&I building, we caught sight of the outdoor sculpture gardens around and across the street from the Hirshhorn building, which itself is an interesting oval structure with a fountain in the center. One of the pieces reminded me of For Handel at WWU - so we wandered over toward it and got completely sucked in.
[Mark di Suvero did indeed author both For Handel and Are Years What? (for Marianne Moore). I should learn to trust my eye.]
Oddly enough, I don't usually think of myself as a fan of modern art. What I found, that afternoon at least, was that seeing the originals was often more moving than I expected. I've never liked Mondrian or Rothko, for example - but I found myself drawn into the pieces of theirs on display. Something about the framing, perhaps, that doesn't come across in reproduction? From a purely logical standpoint, they are big flat squares of color on canvas - what's not to reproduce? But emotionally, the impact was entirely different. I'm still thinking about this one.
There was also a lot of fascinating sculpture in the indoor gallery - smaller works, of course. Gaston Lachaise was a particular discovery (Head of a Woman). Most of the folks whose work in the collection spaned the war years seemed to react by attenuating their human figures - Lachaise on the other hand sculpted these magnificent, robustly powerful women that I completely fell in love with. I also discovered that cubist sculpture is more to my taste than I expected. Cubism seems simply to work better for me in three dimensions.
We spent the rest of the day here, and for a good chunk of that Mom and Ted were hanging out on one of the couches while I was wandering the galleries. They claimed not to mind, but were probably just as happy that the entire second floor was closed off for an installation - otherwise we'd have been there even longer. I almost bought the collection catalog in the gift shop, and I may yet order it online...