Viewing through, NMAI, Washington, DC

Last week while in Washington, DC, I visited the National Museum of the American Indian, a Smithsonian museum that had not yet opened the last time I was in DC. The NMAI was the first museum I visited upon my arrival–not because I’d planned it that way, but because its unique exhibit space literally drew me inside.

The architecture of the NMAI is visually striking, both outside and in. Although the building itself is not round…

Flared facade, NMAI, Washington, DC

its entrance atrium is, impressively.

Atrium, NMAI, Washington, DC

Light and shadow, NMAI, Washington, DC

Inside the NMAI, my favorite exhibition was “Native Modernism,” featuring the art of George Morrison and Allan Houser. Not only was the art here impressive, the actual exhibit space was intriguing, with wall cut-outs that encouraged “window peeking” from one room to another. In such a space, you could view art while watching other museum visitors moving through neighboring rooms…

Art and life, NMAI, Washington, DC

Viewing through, NMAI, Washington, DC

or view works in one room from the perspective of another.

Outside looking in, NMAI, Washington, DC

Since perspective is a vital element when viewing sculpture–a medium intended for three-dimensional viewing–it was wonderful to be able to view a single work first from one side…

Sky with stars, NMAI, Washington, DC

and then from the other.

Art imitates life, NMAI, Washington, DC

Since I typically go to museums to watch people as much as observe art, an exhibit space which invited both pedestrian movement and voyeuristic peepery was a delight. To my eye, there’s no thrill to art in an empty gallery; only a gathering of Admiring Eyes can bring life to dead paint and stone.

Ultimately, I think, it is this Gathering of Eyes that embodies what American Indian art is all about.

Many faces, one people, NMAI, Washington, DC