This is what I saw today at the Renwick Gallery. The show, Something of Splendor: Decorative Arts From The White House runs until May 6, 2012.
If you are in D.C. you should really consider ducking into the gallery and taking a look. Not just because this turkey plate shows us how far aesthetic tastes have migrated in a hundred and thirty years (Rutherford B. Hayes commissioned the delight above). Not just because looking at the stuff from the White House makes us feel proud to be an American (conspicuous consumption in government is so last administration). Far be it from me to dictate what you take away from this exhibit, but I like to play a little game I call: When Was THIS Made?
You can infer how to play by the title, right? Guess when the object was created without looking at the label. Once you’ve made a decision, based on gut feeling, or design knowledge or historical data, read the tag. Were you right? Then, I like to pick out the various qualities that made me think one way, and the qualities that demonstrate the era the object really came from. Then, I try to figure out why anyone would want a turkey on a plate that looked like it spent way too much time in the oven.
I will always bemoan not being able to take my own photos, but the slideshow has 29 images from the exhibit, including images from the innovative purple Lincoln Service. Innovative in color choice, not design. Well, maybe design, but that didn’t come across on the label.
I skipped the video (because I am running on a friend’s schedule), but noticed that many people sat through the whole thing. I suppose they could have been resting, but it is a gorgeous day in D.C., no reason to hide from this weather.
Kids were tasked with finding and counting eagles, an intriguing way to get them to look more closely at each object. I didn’t hear them making too many comments other than, “there’s an eagle!” but they did seem to be having fun.
Next to the Turkey Plate was a black and white photo of the Red Room. My friend remarked to a young kid, “That room isn’t very red.” He didn’t even look at us, but said, “Sure it is.” Faith in labels already!
The exhibit website claims to give visitors an inside peek at the White House… “to help the visitor envision life in the President’s official residence.” I’m not sure that isolating objects helped me envision life. I did envision Presidential shopping trips. Presidential credit card bills. The closest I got was imagining having to dust all that stuff… to get in all the nooks and crannies of the Victorian stuff.
Essentially, I envisioned life as a consumer, a bill-payer, and a housekeeper, not a President. I doubt the point of the exhibit was to demonstrate how the President’s household is just like mine.