You find the Hornbeam Ellipse toward the lower fringes of the garden at Dumbarton Oaks after a descent along steep paths and stairs.
The landscape's various structures and gardens are steeped in classical and Renaissance iconography, and the ellipse is a key part of this narrative and drama. For all of Dumbarton Oaks' antiquarian Mediterranean references, the 16-acre garden is a singularly American expression of fine landscape design.
More from Adrian Higgins on the ellipse at Dumbarton Oaks
Alexandre Tokovinine-Dumbarton Oaks
The Newseum's 38,800 historic newspapers, images and cartoons, liberally interspersed with 8,149 artifacts ranging from the sublime to the silly -- from a 1416 letter relaying news of the Battle of Agincourt to the slippers worn by Wonkette's Ana Marie Cox -- are an absorbing and sobering tour de force encompassing five centuries of news.
It might then seem ironic that what brings it all home to me circa 2010 is the one exhibit that will always be firmly rooted in the past: the Journalists Memorial.
More from Raju Narisetti on the Journalists Memorial
James P. Blair-Newseum
Let's say you need to kill a vampire -- and heaven knows, they're everywhere these days. The National Firearms Museum has just the thing: the Vampire Hunter's Colt Detective Special. The revolver has a cross engraved on the muzzle, presumably to keep vampires at bay while the vampire hunter takes aim. It spits silver .38-caliber bullets, each of which is sculpted in the form of a vampire's head.
More from Fredrick Kunkle on the vampire gun
Michael Ives-National Firearms Museum
Today an erstwhile motel, refurbished as the National Cryptologic Museum, is chocked with the gewgaws and gadgets of electronic eavesdropping and code-breaking. My favorite remains the Nazis' famous Enigma machine, which looks like a very strange old typewriter, but in its day enabled German military units to send and receive completely secure coded messages.
More from Jeff Stein on the Enigma
Courtesy National Cryptologic Museum
Howard University and the Bank of America have assembled almost 100 works of African American art in an exhibition with the hefty title of "Mixing Metaphors: The Aesthetic, the Social and the Political in African American Art."
Capturing the spirit of special moments in African American life is prize-winning photographer Carrie Mae Weems. "May Flowers" depicts three girls at a dress-up occasion, perhaps a church celebration in spring, perhaps a Mother's Day picnic.
More from Jacqueline Trescott on "May Flowers"
Carrie Mae Weems-Jack Shainman Gallery, NY
Lawrence Weiner, born in New York in 1940, is almost the epitome of the radical conceptual artist. His most famous works are just words that describe art that might or might not get made.
A Weiner that just went up near the elevators on the third floor of the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum establishes that institution as Washington's main home for cutting-edge art -- even if in this case, that edge is more than four decades old.
More from Blake Gopnik on Lawrence Weiner's work
Lee Stalsworth-Hirshhorn Museum
Your mother warned you long ago: Never get into a car with a stranger. At the National Museum of Crime & Punishment, which describes its mission as not only preserving the history of law-and-disorder but promoting public safety, the curators want you to remember:
Never -- ever -- get into a car with . . . well, you know.
Not even a handsome, pleasant stranger with a winning smile.
More from Paul Duggan on the car of horror
National Museum of Crime & Punishment
Of all the evergreens that grow in Washington, none is more beautiful, or less well known, than the lacebark pine.
You will find a 60-year-old specimen at the entrance to the walled Morrison Azalea Garden at the National Arboretum.
More from Adrian Higgins on the tree that goes gray
U.S. National Arboretum
We think of the Smithsonian's great National Museum of Natural History as being full of facts and objects rather than artworks. But many of the most famous and impressive of the museum's exhibits are really works of art in disguise. Every single "animal" we see in the museum, from the famous bull elephant at its entrance to the right whale that fills its middle, is in fact a lifelike sculpture, made by some of the last sculptors working in the grand realist tradition.
More from Blake Gopnik on sculpted animals
Donald Hurlbert-Copyright 2003 Smithsonian Institution
Given that we've all got more or less the same brains, it's a miracle that human cultures can turn out such an absurd range of art. Could the same species really have made the Rothko canvases at the National Gallery, the bronze Buddhas at the Sackler and the Kongo nail-studded statues at African Art?
Or how about, for sheer peculiarity, the Mayan carved-flint figures at the Dumbarton Oaks Museum in Georgetown?
More from Blake Gopnik on Mayan figures
Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington DC-Dumbarton Oaks
You catch a glimpse of the German freight car before you confront it directly, just after you descend from the third floor of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, where you have learned about the rise of Nazism and European Jewry's desperate, unsuccessful search for refuge.
More from Debbi Wilgoren on the Nazi freight car
Edward Owen-Courtesy USHMM Photo Archives
How does a man represent himself when he cannot be present? Soviet dissident artist Vladimir Kandelaki's "A Chest" (1985; on display at the Fondo del Sol Visual Arts Center) is a knee-high traveling trunk containing a three-dimensional collage of images and objects that glitter like pirates' booty. Instead of jewels, however, the trunk contains minutiae from the artist's life, with a new item glued in each time he was invited to a show.
More from Tara Bahrampour on the man in the trunk
Tara Bahrampour-The Washington Post
In an overlooked gallery in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art sits the oldest object on display in the museum, and one of its finest. The golden chalice of the great Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis, crafted near Paris about 1140, is one of the greatest treasures of the Middle Ages. It's also a time machine: It takes us straight back to those years in the 12th century when Suger was flexing his clerical muscles as regent of France while his king was leading a crusade.
More from Blake Gopnik on the golden chalice
Widener Collection-National Gallery of Art
If the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is "the nation's attic," then its tucked-away Hall of Musical Instruments is a lost corner of the attic.
Some might head to the Stradivarius strings, probably worth more than almost anything in the museum. But I prefer one of their more freakish relations, called a baryton (Hear the sound of a baryton): a cello's second cousin twice removed, you might say, with a weight problem and a strange fashion sense.
More from Blake Gopnik on the baryton
Hugh Talman-Smithsonian National Museum of American History
The Drug Enforcement Administration Museum, nearly hidden in the agency's headquarters across from Pentagon City Mall, is a 5,000-square-foot cautionary tale. Perhaps most powerful is a small binder just inside the door of the special exhibit "Good Medicine, Bad Behavior: Drug Diversion in America." There are pages and pages of victims of prescription drug abuse, something the DEA considers the country's fastest-growing drug problem.
More from Josh White on the book of death
Dennis Young-DEA Museum
Over 40 years, Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, a Los Angeles couple, have acquired every kind of artifact related to the African American experience.
One letter, written by slaveholder A.M.F. Crawford in 1854, introduces his slave Frances. The letter is stained, but the messages are clear.
More from Jacqueline Trescott on a slave's letter
Courtesy The Kinsey Collection-National Museum of American History
Lois Mailou Jones, the artist and professor, tended to bark at her friends and students in a sharp voice that was heavily tinged with a French accent, acquired during her years of inspiration in Haiti, West Africa and France. But as soon as she had made her point, and the visitor turned to the walls in her Northwest home and atelier, the sting was gone.
Her decades of work have been gathered in an exhibit that opens Oct. 9 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. "Lois Mailou Jones: A Life in Vibrant Color" includes 70 paintings and other works, representing an output of 75 years.
More from Jacqueline Trescott on Lois Mailou Jones
Courtesy Of Lois Mailou Jones Pierre-noel Trust-National Museum of Women in the Arts
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