|Entrance to the delectations of the Smithsonian Castle off the Mall|
|Buffalo exhibited at the Castle in the 1800s|
At least the fiscal hits won’t put much of dent in the Smithsonian’s excellent storage facilities and satellite warehouses—the spaces where, for example, all the mementos left at places like the Vietnam Memorial are stored in perpetuity.
|The Smithsonian's garage, from the air...|
|Hats left at the Vietnam Memorial, in storage|
As an example, think about the difference between Jefferson’s parlor of disconnected artifacts (many collected by Lewis and Clark) at Monticello, and anniversary documentaries in the past decade that attempt to reconstruct the daily experiences of the Lewis and Clark expedition from Clark’s rather stiff journal entries.
In fact, the Smithsonian's publishing enterprise basically exists to reveal its riches to the public. Volumes like Contemporary Folk Art (Patterson), Arte Latino (Yorba), Young America (Pastan), The Land Through A Lens (Grundberg), Modern Masters (Mecklenberg and Farrell), Masters of Their Craft (Trapp), and Graphic Masters (Moser) each isolate the discrete ‘stories’ of various objects within a massive collection, selecting images and pithy curatorial factoids that illustrate why the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Each subtitle features the qualifiers ‘highlights’ or ‘treasures,’ which exposes the Smithsonian’s self-promoting formula, dedicated to the valuable task of getting the public into the museum spaces. No mere physical interaction with all Smithsonian’s holdings could inform you as richly as these carefully constructed publications. Taking a look at one before an expedition to DC seems like an invaluable antidote to prevent information overload.
Hey, and don’t laugh about information overload: an accomplished curator friend told me there is actually a recognized disability, something that sounds like ‘Stendahl’s Syndrome,’ that gives the museum-goer migraine-quality headaches and shaky knees. He was diagnosed with the malady, and given a remedy that involved stopping for an espresso and a snack at two-hour intervals so he could unhitch his mind for a few minutes. No kidding!
Anyway, don't be stingy with the Smithsonian, they need your visits, and you need to celebrate the lavish economy of thinginess!
Architectural and art historian Karen L. Mulder has never forgotten the experience of walking across Harvard Yard in 1981 with a weighty 16th-century volume of pressed botanical samples from the Fogg Museum, and no armored guards. She was photographing some of the pages for a publication about Harvard’s collections, and remains deeply attracted to this very day by stories of things.