There is a fine selection of inexpensive and free museums available to me in the Washington, DC area including the renowned collections of the Smithsonian Institution. The only drawback is that everyone else has the same easy access too. Crowd avoidance and timing become important consideration. I find that January weekends work particularly well. One’s relatives that arrived during holidays no longer need to be entertained, the hordes descending from school buses won’t arrive until March or April, and the family vacations don’t start until the summer months.
I’d been eying a temporary exhibit at the Hirshorn Museum by Guillermo Kuitca. Maps are a common and recurring theme in his artwork, some literally, some abstract, often painted on interesting media such as beds and mattresses. My challenge was to thread the needle between the holiday crush of visitors and the closure of the exhibit so I managed to do that with about a week to spare.
I intended to introduce you to samples of his map-themed artwork here on the Twelve Mile Circle. Alas the guards were quite insistent on prohibiting all photography, either with or without a flash. I’m not able to share anything with you other than to simply note that you would probably enjoy these works should they travel through your town. Much of it’s amazingly detailed and endlessly fascinating, such as a pencil drawing of a sports stadium with every seat labeled. The exhibit has already passed through Miami, Buffalo, New York City, Minneapolis, and now Washington. Maybe it will wander your way eventually too.
Luckily I’d bribed my children with a visit to the National Air and Space Museum should they behave themselves at the Hirshorn. They upheld their part of the bargain under the icy glare of guards in each gallery, so I upheld mine. I’m not sure who replaced my kids with the angelic figures that toured the space that morning but it’s best to not ask questions when forces of nature are being agreeable.
I was glad to be gone from the Hirshorn, quite frankly. I enjoyed the exhibit but I found it difficult to appreciate the setting with guards tallying our every move in notebooks as we moved from room to room. Overbearing surveillance made me feel a bit paranoid and detracted from my ability to contemplate each work.
We walked a block further east and there I allowed the boys to roam the more kid-friendly corridors of airplanes and rocketry. I have the Air and Space museum practically memorized so we allowed them to do their thing under light supervision while I kept an eye open specifically for maps.
I liked this video image of satellites in orbit. It started with a ground-level view outside of the museum and slowly pulled skyward, presenting successive satellite layers by elevation, describing their specific purpose and function. This image happened to capture the Iridium constellation of low-earth orbit satellites that provide service to hand-held satellite phones. I remember hearing a lot about these back in the Y2K days when everyone was afraid of the immanent collapse of the public telephone and cellular networks. Ah, memories…
I turned the corner into another gallery and this giant satellite image of the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region practically jumped from the wall. Notice the satellite mock-up on the right. We’ve become a bit spoiled in recent years with the wide availability of satellite imagery available on the Intertubes. Nonetheless it’s still a joy to stare transfixed at a wall-sized image in such highly detailed resolution. I could spot my own neighborhood without difficulty, which for some reason is what I always try to do whenever I see a new map.
They still have some Old School paper maps on display for specific historical purposes. I stumbled across this specimen in an area that’s made to look as if it’s part of an aircraft carrier at sea. Notice the creases and folds. I also took a photograph of the descriptive plaque so I’ll use their words instead of mine: "This chart shows the Order of Battle that existed at the time two VF-41 aircraft from the U.S.S. Nimitz destroyed two Libyan SU-22 fighters over the Gulf of Sidra, Aug. 19, 1981."
Variations on this image of commercial aircraft in flight at any given moment are available all over the place now, but there’s still something special about watching the video montage on a wide screen in high definition. I loved following the time-lapse patterns as they developed over the day, for example, the diagonal line that ran from the Northeast U.S. down to Southern California. Note the caption, "during peak travel times there can be more than 5,000 aircraft over America at once." That would help explain some of the delays. This video also presented a number of scenarios including a nationwide mess that resulted when a summertime thunderstorm rolled though New York.
The day turned out a little differently than I’d originally planned but we still had an entertaining time, and it was nice to avoid the crowds.