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In which we explore Washington, DC's vast and diverse collection of landmarks, museums, and galleries - ranging from institutions like the Hirshhorn to the art-worthy metro system. Let's take a trip through Washington, DC.

Featuring the Renwick Gallery, American University Museum, Phillips Collection, Freer & Sackler Galleries, National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Hemphill Fine Arts, Adamson Gallery, Transformer, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Hirshhorn Museum.

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Mark and I arrived to a gray, rainy Washington D.C. and crawled our way through terrible morning traffic. It could have 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 for 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 Smithonian'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.

(Day 1: Rain, Ramen, & Metro)

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 D.C. 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 other-worldly. If you see no other public art than this in D.C., you're still doing okay.

We arrived 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 into the University's museum in their Katzen Arts 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 and 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 #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 re-imagination 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 service men 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.

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