Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
This post is sort of a follow-on to the one below because it’s about another thing I often ponder while going walkies in Your Nation’s Capital.
Despite the fact that I studied him in school back in the day, I can only quote one small snippet of Alexander Pope off the top of my head:
Vice is a monster of such frightful mien, that to be hated needs but to be seen. But seen too oft, familiar with her face, first we endure, then pity, then embrace.
As it happens, this is apropos to any number of topics these days, but I find myself remembering it mostly when my walk takes me by the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
I’ve said here somewhere before that I thought the thing was hideous and I still do. Further, I think its placement right next door to and in plain sight of the Washington Monument is an exercise in aesthetic bird-flipping akin to the decision of that rat-bastard Francois Mitterrand (another raging narcissist, btw) to let I.M. Pei drop his beastly pyramid right on the doorstep of the Louvre.
However, more and more lately I’ve found myself thinking that if one scores the thing not in absolute terms but on the scale of Smithsonian architecture, it’s not quite as bad as all that. Still bad, as I say, but not as bad.
I mean, consider some of the other offerings. Air & Space and American History are both blocks and slabs of 60’s Soviet Modernski. American Indian looks like Jabba the Hutt’s lair on Tatooine. The Hirshhorn is a giant hat box. And the Castle itself is that kind of twee red-brick Neo-Gothic that gets mocked by writers like Waugh and Wodehouse and for some reason makes me think of Queen Victoria pretending to be a Highland shepherdess.
Indeed, the only two museums on the Mall I actually like are the West Building of the National Gallery and Natural History, both of which feature clean, elegant, Neo-Classical designs. If I wielded the great Pen and Phone of Executive Overreach, I’d raze all the others and rebuild them along these lines.
Of course, that’s not going to happen. (Well, the razing part might, given the current world situation, but that’s not exactly the same thing.)
As for the new AA Museum, they’ve planted a bunch of young trees around it. All I can hope is that as the shrubbery grows and fills in, it’ll mellow the thing’s starkness somewhat.