The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘museums’

The Attic of Empire

February 4, 2014 | by

Remembering the National Air and Space Museum and the nation’s guilty conscience.

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Photo: Sailko, via Wikimedia Commons

People think of Washington, D.C., as a transitory place—a city of four-year leases, tourists, and revolving doors—an impression that dates back to the earliest days of the federal capital. The city fathers, desperate to counter the District’s reputation as a provincial backwater, fought back by building monuments. Think of it as overcompensation, the attempt to create an illusion of age-old power. Why else plant a fifty-story Egyptian obelisk in the center of town?

For those of us who were born and raised in Washington, there was both a pride in living near the nation’s symbolic center and a nagging feeling that the city didn’t really belong to us. A drive down Massachusetts Avenue, past the mansions of Embassy Row, was a reminder of how much of the town was actually built on foreign soil. Even the parts that were supposed to be ours were somewhat foreign, in the sense that they belonged to the whole country. Our Fourth of July fairground was the National Mall; the church in which I sang was the National Cathedral; and our local museums were the Smithsonian Institution—the “Nation’s Attic.”

The museums were the best part of living in Washington. My friends and I took a proprietary interest in them. This might not be our town, exactly, but these were our museums, none more so than the National Air and Space Museum, which opened when I was nine years old and obsessed with outer space. Read More »

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Museum Hours

August 2, 2013 | by

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The city is our best shot at escaping the city. Within the big, frantic city, we find places to breathe. Twice in the last month, dozens of times in the past year, I have taken refuge in the National Gallery of Art. Washington has beer joints. Washington has baseball. But when money is tight and the stress intolerable, there are few luxuries like strolling along a wall of Modiglianis for free.

Often the museum has been a family retreat. My wife goes for Whistler’s Symphony in White, a rather suggestive portrait of the artist’s redheaded mistress perched at the end of a corridor that has the feel of a wedding aisle. Beckett, our three-year-old, digs the dragon figurines in the gift shop. Of the galleries, the eighteenth century British, flush with gundogs and lapdogs, are the ones he hates least. Beckett wants a dog, preferably a beagle, for Christmas. A dog or a razor scooter, of which there are no paintings on view.

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Mixed-Up Tweeters, and Other News

April 22, 2013 | by

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  • E. L. Konigsburg, author of beloved children’s titles The View from Saturday, A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, and, most famously, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, has died, at eighty-three.
  • Speaking of people in museums past closing hours, Whitey Bulger is the subject of another book. (Considering he is “known to be a book reader,” maybe he won’t mind too much.)
  • In other Boston news, The New Yorker talks literature, violence, and the Caucasus in light of last week’s tragic events.
  • And in case you missed this informative memo to tweeters: Chechens are not from the Czech Republic.
  • The 2012 LA Times Book Prize winners have been announced.

 

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New Art Museum in Hamburg Blown Up

September 14, 2011 | by

In 1962, Olympia Press editor Maurice Girodias published Terry Southern’s story “New Art Museum in Hamburg Blown Up” in the first issue of the short-lived literary magazine, Olympia (it ran for only four issues). Southern’s trenchant and funny piece was in excellent company: the issue also featured ten episodes from William S. Burroughs’s The Soft Machine, poems by Lawrence Durrell, a selection from Southern’s pornographic novel, Candy, and a suppressed chapter from J. P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man. This was not a publication to be taken lightly.

Southern’s story was relegated to “long-lost” status before his son, Nile, proposed it for inclusion in Gabriel Levinson’s forthcoming anthology, A Brief History of Authoterrorism. Were pleased to welcome it back after nearly fifty years.

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Lena Herzog and the Lost Souls

June 8, 2010 | by

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“We do not allow anyone to see it, let alone photograph it,” the director of Vienna’s Federal Museum of Pathology at the Narrenturm told Lena Herzog when she first attempted to visit. Herzog was drawn to the collection of what eighteenth-century monks in her native Russia called “lost souls,” and what nineteenth-century doctors described as “incompatible with life”—unborn fetuses and newborn infants who, by virtue of nature’s mutations, were unable to survive but who were preserved by early modern collectors as objects of scientific inquiry and private wonder. These human and animal specimens were often displayed next to maps of the earth and of the stars—evidence of a desire to define boundaries and map the unknown.

Herzog first encountered a similar collection as a student in St. Petersburg in 1988, and her reaction was swift and clear: “What I saw was extraordinary and subversive. It defied belief … The Russian Orthodox church declared the souls of these babies ‘lost’—they had no place in hell, or heaven, or even limbo. They were dead on arrival and had no place to go. Yet what was in the jars shimmered with a strange beauty.” For Herzog, that strange beauty is “something that shocks with a promise of some answer but gives none.”

After the jump, a selection of photos that were first published in this magazine. Tonight, Lena Herzog will appear in conversation with Lawrence Weschler at The New York Public Library.

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