Art Trip: Washington D.C. | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

Art Trip: Washington D.C. | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

(VOICEOVER): Episode of “The Art Assignment” is
arrived to a grey, rainy Washington, DC, and
crawled our way through terrible morning traffic. It could’ve been bad, but
our cabbie had on NPR, and we could relax and enjoy
the fact that we were not the ones driving. We arrived at our hotel starving
and quickly scarfed breakfast in the lobby and pulled
out our various devices to get ready for the day. See this? See me double screening? This is not what I
should have been doing. At this very moment,
there was a press preview for the reopening of
the Renwick Gallery, where we really
should have been. The kind PR folks provided
us with this footage. And watching it is kind of
like turning a knife for me. The Renwick houses the
Smithsonian’s collection of contemporary craft
and decorative art and was about to open after
a two-year renovation. They take a progressive approach
to this kind of collection ghettoization, presenting work
by a wide range of artists and makers, showing, quote,
how extraordinary handmade objects have shaped
the American experience and continue to
impact our lives. So these are the installations,
created specifically for the building
opening, that we should have seen instead of
writing emails and researching ramen places for lunch. This was a pretty major snafu. But we did a little
better after that. [MUSIC PLAYING] After taking our sweet
time deciding on lunch, we headed out and
took the Metro, descending into the
DuPont Circle Station at the weirdly slow pace
determined by the escalators. The DC Metro first
opened in 1976 and is a magnificent
artwork, in itself, designed by architect Harry Weese. Throughout the trip, I basked
in the strange, brutalist glory of this Metro system. The coffered concrete
vaulted ceilings lend a feeling of
spaciousness and highlight the remarkable geometries of
this complex transit system. The lighting is low,
indirect, and otherworldly. If you see no other public
art than this in DC, you’re still doing OK. We arrived to at Daikaya
and waited patiently before devouring our
steaming bowls of ramen. I got the shoyu and
Mark the vegetable. Moving a little more slowly,
we got back on the Metro, picked up our gear, and headed
down Massachusetts Avenue, aka Embassy Row. We took in the parade
of passing buildings, each with its own distinct
architecture and design, on our way to
American University to meet up with artist
Molly Springfield. We stopped in to the
university’s museum and their Katzen Art Center
and saw some really delicate, captivating works on
paper by Beverly Ress. Then we met up with Molly
and did some filming there before heading to her
studio an shooting the rest. When we were done, it was dark. And guess what? We were hungry. So on a tip from a friend, we
decided to walk to a place, called Compass Rose,
that specializes in international street
food but served inside instead of on the street. It was super dark,
so you’ll have to trust me that I had a
bourbon drink that was great, despite its name,
hashtag lol, and then noshed on dishes that were
delicious, despite being culturally confusing. We had takoyaki, or Japanese
octopus fritters, bhel puri chaat, an Indian puffed
rice snack, and tostones, or fried plantains. It was Embassy Row all in
one, dark, little place. It was much nicer the next day. And we started out at
the Phillips Collection. They were playing
host to an exhibition, “Gauguin to Picasso,” drawn
from private Swiss collections. But that’s not why I was there. I was there to think
about the singular vision of the eponymous
Duncan Phillips, who gathered this astounding
collection by not only being the grandson of a steel
magnate but also by nurturing close relationships
with artists. Masterpieces of the 20th century
appear throughout this warren of buildings, which
started in 1921, with the Phillips’ family home,
and extended into a music room, a modernist wing in the
’60s, and another addition in the ’00s. The Phillips Collection
fuses architecture from different times as well
art from different times, providing room after room
of intimate art viewing moments, interspersing works
by Paul Klee and van Gogh and Mondrian and Jacob
Lawrence and Edward Hopper, with contemporary works like
Nikki S. Lee’s photography and “Question Bridge, Black
Males” a video installation that looks to
represent and redefine black male identity in America. Then there’s a Rothko room. And this is exactly how Rothko
wanted his work to be seen. You’re alone in a room,
with four of his paintings, in close proximity, with
the lighting just so. And one floor up, you
encounter a recent work, by Wolfgang Laib, that
you smell before you see. It’s a small chamber,
lined with beeswax and lit by a single
bulb, providing another immersive experience. Duncan Phillips
called this place, an intimate museum combined
with an experiment station. And that’s just
how it feels, not like a history that is
organized and settled, but one that is still
being worked out, reexamined, and remixed. Then we returned
to my beloved Metro and headed to the National Mall. The mall is under construction
and not looking its best. But who cares? It’s a symbol of progress, and
we’re there for the art anyway. We stopping in the Freer
and Sackler galleries, which present the Smithsonian’s
Asian art holdings, to see the Freer’s Peacock Room. This is what it looks like
well-lit in the photos Wikipedia provides. But this is more what it’s
like to experience it. But anyway, it’s the former
dining room of rich guy Frederick Leyland that features
a painting by James McNeill Whistler as well as
elaborate wall decorations done by Whistler, without
Leyland’s permission or payment. This resulted in one
of the most epic art battles of all time, which you
should really go read about. But what’s
interesting is that we were lucky to visit
while Darren Waterston’s contemporary
reimagination of the room was on view in the
adjacent Sackler Gallery. Waterston reconstructs the
room as a decadent ruin, making visible the
room’s nasty history and commenting on the
excesses of both that Gilded Age and our own. Then we made a quick detour
through the National Gallery of Art Sculpture
Garden to say, hello, to these works by Sol Lewitt,
Tony Smith, Roxy Paine, Roy Lichtenstein, and Claes
Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. I disregarded the
secret of enjoying art, and that’s making sure your
blood sugar isn’t too low. So we just kind of quickly
saluted these totems and hurried to Buredo, a
totem of trendy eating. They make burrito-sized
sushi rolls. Wait, do I need
to say that again? Burrito-sized sushi rolls. Sure, it’s just a differently
shaped hand roll, which has existed for some time. But these weren’t just novel and
well-marketed, they were good. And just the fuel we needed to
continue on our art marathon to the National Museum
of Women in the Arts. There we saw an excellent
exhibition of photographs by Esther Bubley, who was
hired by the Office of War Information and documented
life in the United States throughout the ’40s,
’50s, and ’60s. The museum also had on a great
show called “Pathmakers.” It featured a really
interesting mix of work from the often separate spheres
of art and craft and design. And I especially enjoyed
this installation, by Polly Apfelbaum, a display
of the work of designer Hella Jongerius, and, of course, the
work of art assignment alumna Michelle Grabner. Next step, quick stops
at Hemphill Gallery, to see a show of
work by Renee Stout, and Adamson Gallery,
which had to show of magnificent photographs
by Gordon Parks. I had just written about
Parks for our animation in the Alex Soth episode about
the FSA’s photography project. So it was a treat
to see the works in person and in large-scale. Then we made a way to
Transformer, a nonprofit art organization, to have
coffee with Victoria Reis, its executive
and artistic director. Transformer does important work
on behalf of emerging artists, locally, in DC, as well as
nationally and internationally. They do this not only
through exhibitions but also through educational
programs, partnerships with other institutions,
and an annual silent auction and benefit party, that they
had closed their gallery space to get ready for. They had a lovely installation,
in their storefront, by Paris-based artist
Helene Garcia, called “Let’s Drink a Dozen Roses,”
providing us further proof that bigger isn’t always
better, and art and new ideas can thrive in unexpected places. We ended the day back
on the National Mall. I forgot to mention it
was Veteran’s Day, which, I’m ashamed to
admit, usually comes and goes for me with
little activity in honor of the important day. We walked along the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as the last of the chairs
were being broken down from the earlier
ceremonies, and scanned, with many others, the names
of the over 58,000 servicemen and women who died
during the war. The Wall, as it’s called,
is a stunning work of art– the best in the
city in my view– designed by artist and
architect Maya Lin when she was only a senior in college. It was a moving
experience, and one that stayed with me
even as we continued on to the much less
moving Lincoln Memorial to fight for photo space. And it definitely
stayed with me as we witnessed a beautiful sunset
over the reflecting pool. The next day, we got up
early to try out GBD Donuts but were devastated to find that
they don’t open until 11:00 on most weekdays. Not that early GBD. And we didn’t have
much time, so we were kind of forced to go
upstairs to Jrink for a juice instead. It was actually really good
juice, which I do recommend. But when you’re expecting
donuts, well, it’s not donuts. Then off we went to DC’s
foremost contemporary art institutions, the Hirshhorn,
which, come to think of it, is kind of shaped like a donut. It was designed by architect
Gordon Bunshaft, as a, quote, large piece of
functional sculpture, and opened to the
public in 1974. Its curved galleries define
and expand your experience of the work it contains. And its windows provide views
out to the National Mall, with an exhibition
of works drawn from their permanent collection. Ditching the tired tactic
of organizing by chronology or geography, the curators
have opted instead to create thematic groupings. You get to see the treasures
of their collection, like early sculptures by Claes
Oldenburg and Robert Gober’s window to another time and
place, along with newer editions by Cai Guo-Qiang,
Yinka Shonibare, and Nick Cave. There’s a wonderful
piece by Rachel Harrison on view, which may,
at first glance, look like another
modernist-informed sculpture until you register it’s roughly
hewn structure and bright pink plaster that undercut any
read of it as traditional. Oh, and the toy
wrestler climbing it, which, for me, is a brilliantly
cheeky nod at the idea of heroic artistic ambition. The galleries combine
works, from different times and sensibilities and
parts of the world, that talk to each other and
have uniting principles. Like this gallery
that brings together paintings from the 1960s,
by Warhol and Ed Ruscha, with sculptures from the ’80s,
by Sol Lewitt and Katharina Fritsch, and a more recent
painting by Ellsworth Kelly. You’re encouraged to think
about the foundations of pop art and how the strategy
of repetition connects it to
minimalism and beyond as well as how artists
investigate color and form. We also made sure to see the
Barbara Kruger installation that fills the museum’s
lower-level lobby and surrounds you with
open-ended questions. And the enormous 1974
Dan Flavin installation that immerses you
in color and begs to be viewed from many angles. Before we left, we peeked in
at a truly enjoyable video work by Spanish artist Sergio
Caballero in their Black Box gallery. You can watch the
whole thing on Vimeo. Then we headed over the Potomac
to the headquarters of PBS to say, hi, to Lauren
Saks and Kelsey Savage. We got a good look
around the place and ran into a few
startling posters before heading out for a
late lunch of South Korean fried chicken wings at Bonchon. Remember, we were only
running on juice here, so it was no time for restraint
I felt a little guilty ending our trip with a
chain, but at least it was an international chain. And, you know, every meal
can’t be sushi burritos. So Mark and I really thought
our parting shot of this video should be a sunset at
the reflecting pool. And it really should be. But I’m not clever
enough to rework the chronology of this video. So we’re just bring it back now
to erase the visual of chicken wings and draw some conclusions
about our time in this city. DC is a remarkable,
whole-body experience, a place not just for singular
views or paintings on a wall, but whose landmarks demand
that you move through them, immerse yourself in them, and
see them from many angles. It’s an international
city and a smart city, one where far flung ideas
and flavors and values are allowed to
intermix and be tested. It’s a city that honors
the past and thinks critically about the future. And almost all of it, you
can experience for free. This episode of
“The Art Assignment” is brought to you
by Squarespace. Squarespace is an easy way
to create a website, blog, or online store for
you and your ideas. Squarespace features a
user-friendly interface, custom templates, and
24/7 customer support. Try Squarespace, at, for a special offer. Squarespace,
build it beautiful. [MUSIC PLAYING]

Dereck Turner

60 thoughts on “Art Trip: Washington D.C. | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

  1. Leandra Luna says:

    I am really starting to appreciate Mark Rothko. The way he wants his work situated encloses you in on your own thoughts. It's really fascinating!

  2. nutkja says:

    The Metro is so ugly though, the architecture is so dark and dank. Then again I have to commute on metro all the time so it isn't new and exciting to me. I love the Phillips though! If you go back you have to eat at Bub and Pops sandwich place (just south of dupont circle) they have the best subs and freshly made potato chips! The Freer and Sackler galleries are also nice and relaxing since they're usually not very crowded.

  3. Grace Teraberry says:

    I think the sushi burritos might be the most breathtaking piece of art in this video. just beautiful.

  4. lamnemonista says:

    It's so nice and refreshing to see my city through an outsider's eyes. I am so glad you enjoyed your time here! You ate at several of my favorite spots, so I think you did okay on the food side. GBD is a little overrated though, if that makes you feel any better.

  5. Emma Rawrshaw says:

    Oh wow! Perfect timing for this video! I'm from England and have just been hired at a summer camp in Washington D.C. for this summer as a graphic design counselor. These places look amazing! I get weekends off and can't wait to explore it all! Also those sushi burritos <3

  6. Bethany says:

    Thank you for the reminder we need to go back to DC so soon!! We only live about 2 hours away. 🙂 You guys really stomped all over that town.

  7. Meredith Whitfield says:

    If form follows function, is Metro a failure of art? (I live in DC. 😉 )

  8. ArtichokeHunter says:

    So sorry you missed the Renwick exhibit! I loved it. (Free is questionable descriptor with the prices of housing/lodging and parking and/or the Metro; I'd rather give that money to art institutions, but alas.)

  9. idiotsloveboxes says:

    10:39 "It's a smart city." Okay, so what is a dumb city then?

    10:52 "Almost all of it you can experience for free." It isn't free. Taxpayers have payed for the government institutions, and will continue to. The non-government institutions were payed for by rich people and rich groups.

  10. Finn Hafnmr says:

    Love this series

  11. 99thTuesday says:

    You've gone and made me miss D.C. (and become hungry)

  12. Will Conover says:

    PLEASE DO CHICAGO IF YOU CAN!!!! Love the work, thanks

  13. Arts Huntsville says:

    Stunning exhibits at the Renwick Gallery! We love the experience of art you can walk in and under and about.

  14. Eliza Valley says:

    WOW the Dan Flavin installation looks like something I would love! I wish I had made it to all of these places when I went to DC last year. Great video!

  15. Rebecca Worrell says:

    This is maybe the nicest review of DC I've ever heard…and I've been living there for 3 years…

  16. Oliver Bollmann says:

    WOW, those pieces at the Renwick look stunning — anyone know how long they'll be displayed? Also, thank you +The Art Assignment for highlighting all the architecture in the video as well! 😀

  17. Unicornsanddonuts says:

    Yay! Another Art Trip!

  18. Hussiens says:

    Sarah, You're making me miss DC, even the Metro which although I was initially amazed by structurally came to dislike with its lack of proper management for maintenance. You didn't go to the portrait gallery in China town, which is one of my favorites of the smithsonian's when it comes to modern exhibitions, but there are a number of those museums I have yet to see though, so I'll make sure to swing by them when I go and see friends. And I'm so sorry you missed GBD! I still dream of their Dough-Reo, which I've had too many times on my way to internships.

    Just sitting here being all nostalgic now, although I should be trying to see more galleries while I'm here in Chicago.

  19. radagastwiz says:

    I'd love the channel to go to Montreal, for another Metro system that is a work of art; and/or to Amsterdam, for the amazing concentration of museums.

  20. Jacob Bradley says:

    there are two people at an art gallery. one person is sitting on a bench in the middle of a room but rather than admiring the painting, they are facing in the opposite direction, looking at their phone. the other person sees this and realizing its a great comment on art vs society, snaps a picture of the person sitting down. however earlier that day the person sitting on the bench decided to place themselves in that specific position anticipating someone recognizing exactly what their situation looked like and take a picture. who is the artist?

  21. fortheloveofLDS says:

    Sarah! Hold a meetup next time you're here. :'(

  22. Fulano de Tal says:

    where next?

  23. Хрупа Хрупов says:

    I'm a simple man – I see Rothko, I start screaming like a Japanese school girl at a kpop concert. And also, I press like.

  24. Neeti Kanodra says:

    Having lived in DC myself, I love, love, love this video. I wish I had been to more of the featured places during my time there but now I have a list in hand next time I visit.

  25. Kristin Witcher says:

    I took some notes because this was such a wonderful video! Thank you for taking the time to make this! I'm sure it took a lot of time to edit it so precisely, however, it is lovely! I took some notes and will definitely be checking out many of these museums/restaurants!!

  26. Kowzorz says:

    The video presentation has a Giada De Laurentiis vibe.

  27. emctvedt says:

    I love DC. When I lived there, we lived close enough to walk to the sculpture garden and visit Typewriter Eraser a lot!

  28. Edward Long says:

    Golden rule of the metro: Walk left, stand right! Welcome to DC!

  29. Jane Campbell says:

    It's really bugging me that I missed you! I live in DC and the whole video I was thinking I've been there, I know that! (Though currently we're in three feet of snow!) I love each of the places you visited, and the house that changes perspectives as you move is one of my favorite installations. Next time you come back I recommend the portrait gallery and the Newseum, both are great and the Newseum while more of a history museum includes a lot of art, and showcases part of the Berlin Wall, which has some amazing graffiti that has great historical significance. Thanks for the video!

  30. Elliott Collins says:

    I've always worried that I might need to move to DC someday, and this makes me worry less.

  31. Paola says:

    This is the kind of video that really reminds me just of how much The Art Assignment has changed my perception of art. I used to be rather uninterested in it, I even remember arguing with my mother about why she shouldn't bother showing me boring, old paintings, especially because I just felt like I needed to have way more knowledge about the art to be able to enjoy it (and wasn't motivated enough to learn about it on my own). Now, for example when I was in Rome a few weeks ago, it was me who begged my family to visit the Museum of Modern Art, or when I was in Paris last year the Centre Pompidu, or in Venice the Guggenheim Museum, and I have absolutely loved all of these places. I still feel like I should /know/ more about the art that I see, but now for the first time I'm actually motivated and interested to inform myself about the artists and learn stuff because I find it genuinely interesting, and I'm also much more able to just enjoy a piece of art and think about it without having any background information. That wouldn't have happened without The Art Assignment, so thank you.

  32. Stephen Persing says:

    "Masterpieces of the 20th Century appear throughout this warren of buildings." Illustrated with a 19th Century Renoir. Oops.

  33. phildude33 says:

    MOST OF THESE ARE FREE! I was sad to see this fact as a mere footnote. Such amazing art is right at our fingertips and no cost!!

  34. melinathin says:

    what up with the super green jacket

  35. 11jeje91 says:

    So weird to hear about Metro as art when I spend so much time/money avoiding it!!

  36. posthumorously says:

    I live in the DC area and have been to many of those places! But I still need to go to several of those art museums. I worked in the Renwick before its refurbishment. 🙂

  37. MadamSteamfunk says:

    I absolutely loved this.

  38. ARTiculations says:

    I love that you talked about all the places you visited in addition to museums – such as the metro, public monuments, restaurants, juice bars, etc. Every time I've gone on an art trip I've always viewed it it as a whole experience. Like the last time I went to Chicago and how vividly I remember the El train, the little studio apartment I stayed in, and the delicious gelato I had by the lake – in addition to all the inspiring works I saw in museums, public spaces and small galleries. Love these trip vlogs – please share more in the future =)

  39. Luiza Jimenez says:

    I love this series!

  40. Fruity and Reetz says:

    Love that you mention the food you ate too. These art trip videos just add more places to my list of things to see in USA.

  41. Justin Soong says:

    I liked the exposition on the different art pieces! Great vid guys.

  42. scarabbi says:

    This comment comes to you in 3 parts.

    I live in the suburbs of DC, and so I expected to hear about museums I have been to, and by and large these were at least museums I have heard of but not neccesarily been to recently enough to remember them. So perhaps I should plan a few more trips into downtown to see stuff. You did leave out my favorite, the Portrait Gallery.

    Thank you for giving me a new perspective on the Metro, which I don't ride nearly as often as I used to. I never thought of it as art. I'll have to consider it from that perspective when next I ride.

    Your inclusion of the foods you ate has inspired the most thought of any part of the video. I am inferring by your inclusion of it here that you see it not as just food, fueling your journey as gas fuels your car, but as something to be viewed through the lens of art. Is restaurant food art? Is it instead a craft? Can it be both? Is there a difference between an artist, an artisan, and a craftsperson? Since, as food shows like to say, "we eat with our eyes first", is the plate as presented a work of art, which is then promptly destroyed and consumed? If in fact something that is more traditionally considered art were deconstructed, would it cease to be art? If the two clocks of Felix Gonzalez-Torres' "Untitled (Perfect Lovers)" were separated and placed in different rooms, would they become "just clocks" functioning in the way clocks usually function, to tell us the time, and cease to be art? In the performing arts, at some point the performer stops performing and the art is over presumably. So are art objects performing while they are up and if one ever takes down said object its performance is temporarily or permanently over? Is that what happens when my plate of food goes from being viewed to consumed? I also noticed an Asian focus in your meals and wonder if that was intentional.

  43. Laura Bradshaw says:

    Thanks for reminding me about the cool place where I live. Just made a date to meet friends to view some of the work you showed!

  44. hurrahfortaadaa says:

    One of my Art History professors started off this year by recommending your channel, and I'm glad she did! Your videos are very refreshing 🙂 looking forward to the next one!

  45. Ali Grotkowski says:

    Now I want to return to DC. This video was wonderful! Please do more of these sorts of videos that mix tourism and food art with the art of the city life and museums and shows and artists!

  46. NZT says:

    I love your videos. But it's so damn fast!

  47. Giorey Michelle says:

    Would love if you discussed your visit to Art Basel in Miami and heard your thoughts on the clash (or collaboration) between art, artists, the market, and regular people. Also where did you eat or go if you got out of the Fair?

  48. Kat Head says:

    I must have a sushi burrito now.

  49. Morgan Fudgsiclemonster says:

    Bonchon is my life <33333333

  50. gcsilmoldor says:

    Thanks for the great look at DC! I'm glad you had a great experience visiting and the metro cooperated for you (seemed to anyway) (I live in DC and went to American for my undergrad).

  51. Madalyn M says:

    Love the Hishorn Museum! The Cai Guo-Quang "painting" with gunpower and Yinka Shonibare's piece are some of my favorites. I remember stopping to read about them on two different visiting occasions thus making my less art appreciative mom and friends get mad at me. When one visits a museum, they should go through it slowly. At least, that's what I think. Everyone who goes with me like to look at it for a few seconds and move on. NO! They did like Dan Flavin's blue room for selfies though. I also loved how you pointed out architecture and the metro as art. I do still life drawings, and my favorite thing to do is to draw out art from everyday objects.

  52. Kait Klooze says:

    Travel goals! Thank you guys, love these. Art + travel = yes

  53. Rora deP says:

    DC! American University! Maya Lin! Hirshhorn! WMATA(?)! My heart can't handle this homage to my university city <3

  54. Baby Irene says:

    Lucky Mark. It sounds like the cultural spots of Washington are wasted on you. Maybe next time get your heardout of your apps.

    Because it's really boring to watch.

  55. Anton Carty says:

    5:29 the menu is also kill bill themed.

  56. Morgan Frazier says:

    Distracted by all the overrated food in DC

  57. za says:

    I loved visiting the museums in Washington, D.C.
    I wish we had something like it in Toronto, Canada.
    Dream on….

  58. the walkman says:

    Why did you not find the Lincoln memorial compelling? Very curious

  59. Lou Hawk says:

    Octopus friters mmmmmmm.

  60. Jimmy Blair says:

    Seeing Plexus by Gabriel Dawe is my favorite experience I had in DC.

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