Luce Foundation Center for American Art

The Luce Foundation Center for American Art: A storage facility like no other

Friday, August 6, 2010

This weekend, explore a quintessential Washington attic with a visit to the Luce Foundation Center at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It's not dark and dusty, rather it's full of mostly unlabeled objects, including a pair of porcelain cowboy boots depicting an evening sky, a skull ring with arms for a band and a ceramic Lady Liberty wearing pearls, a gold dress and red lipstick. The Luce is the first art storage facility accessible to the public in Washington, opening in 2006 as part of the museum's renovation. The objects are all sort of random, but all sort of fun, too.

Have a complimentary cup of coffee in the marbled former library next to the room where an inaugural ball for Abraham Lincoln was once held. Then grab a free audio tour and wander among the 3,300 objects in 64 glass cases.

The Luce Center houses objects that are not currently part of an exhibit. But what it holds is far from rejects: American paintings from the 18th to 20th centuries, including Georgia O'Keeffe's "Yellow Calla."

Make sure you open the climate-controlled drawers full of broaches, miniature paintings and colorful, unique jewelry. (Would you wear a gold jellyfish on a chain around your neck?) Wonder about a painting called "Look Down That Road," by Charles Pollock (yes, Jackson's older brother), or ponder the meaning of Nicholas Herrera's artwork, "Protect and Serve," made of wood, metal, hair and plastic depicting Jesus in the back seat of a police car.

There's a lot to see here, and the audio tour explains only about 100 objects. That could leave you curious, or it could leave you open to interpretation and imagination.

You and your family might also enjoy a scavenger hunt called "Flower Power." At the information desk on the second-floor balcony, pick up a sheet picturing seven flowers to hunt for in the paintings.

Make sure you walk around the glass-windowed conservation lab, near the Luce Center, where you can learn about the tools conservators use to restore art.

As a bonus, this is a road less traveled. So if you like exploring different pieces of art without exploring the crowds, this is ideal.

-- Moira E. McLaughlin

Where is it? Smithsonian American Art Museum, third floor, Eighth and F streets NW.

When is it? Open daily 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Coffee is served Wednesday-Sunday 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Guided tours are offered Wednesday-Sunday at 1:30 p.m. if enough people show interest.

If you have more than three hours: All that interpretation and imagination may leave you hungry and a little parched. Check out the cool new lounge/bar/restaurant, the Buddha Bar, 455 Massachusetts Ave. NW, for sushi and sake.

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