Stand down, bagel haters. If it weren’t for wheat, Western civilization might never have happened. That’s the message of a new indoor-outdoor exhibit at the U.S. Botanic Garden, “Amber Waves of Grain.” Planted beds of 40 types of grain, from ancient to modern varieties, pay tribute to the gluten that glues us all together.
U.S. Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Ave. SW; through Oct. 13; 202-225-8333. (Federal Center)
Decades before YouTube, artists like Dara Birnbaum were turning pop culture pabulum into thought-provoking video collages. Her 1979 “Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman,” a sequence of looped moments with lots of explosions, is one of the groundbreaking pieces by women in “Total Art: Contemporary Video.” The exhibit begins with video art’s early days and ends with works by some of today’s most compelling artists.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW; June 6-Oct. 12, $10; 202-783-5000. (Metro Center)
For the first time, the original manuscript for the “The Star-Spangled Banner” will be on display alongside the flag that inspired it, as part of “Raise It Up! Anthem for America” at the National Museum of American History. As you may recall, Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics in 1814, as he watched the British attack Baltimore’s Fort McHenry. Your history teacher likely failed to mention that Key borrowed the tune from a popular English ditty about drinking and sex. Celebrate the bicentennial of banner and song on Flag Day (June 14) by joining a cross-country singalong of the famously difficult tune, which spans nearly two octaves. And you thought Roseanne Barr’s version was rough on the ears.
National Museum of American History, 1400 Constitution Ave. NW; June 14-July 6, free; 202-633-1000, anthemforamerica.smithsonian.com. (Smithsonian)
Even if taxidermy isn’t your thing, you should visit the seven now-extinct North American birds on view in “Once There Were Billions: Vanished Birds of North America.” The stuffed star of the show: Martha, the last known passenger pigeon, left, who died in 1914 after Americans ate all her peers.
National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW; June 24-October 2015; 202-633-1000. (Smithsonian)
Whether it’s the 85-foot-tall explosion of jagged color at National Harbor or the delicate, 9-foot-tall gate inside the National Cathedral, Albert Paley’s expressive works enliven D.C.’s staid landscape. At “American Metal: The Art of Albert Paley,” you can appreciate the sculptor’s career to date. The exhibit will showcase 75 objects, starting with Paley’s early jewelry and ending with a few of his recent steel monoliths.
Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW; June 28-Sept. 28; $10; 202-639-1700. (Farragut West)
As it turned out, William Shakespeare didn’t have to worry about people forgetting his name. But he didn’t know that. So after the death of his only son, Will applied for a coat of arms to ensure his family’s place in history. You can see the first draft of the crest — and learn why the family’s application was initially rejected — at the Folger Shakespeare Library exhibit “Symbols of Honor: Heraldry and Family History in Shakespeare’s England.”
Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 E. Capitol St. SE; July 1- Oct. 26, free; 202-544-4600. (Capitol South)
See the world through the eyes of a drone at “Mark Tribe: Plein Air.” These eight oversized aerial “photographs” are actually computer renderings of real places, using geospacial data and other math-y stuff. The resulting landscapes are surprisingly alive, with pointy peaks and verdant valleys where androids’ electric sheep can graze.
Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW; July 19-Sept. 28; $10; 202-639-1700. (Farragut West)
For her upcoming installation in the Sackler Gallery pavilion, Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota asked people to send her their shoes and stories to go along with them. Over the course of four days, museumgoers can watch as she uses those items and four miles of red yarn to weave a web of memories, some mundane, others extraordinary. Example: One note in a past installation was from a wheelchair-bound man who sent his shoes to Shiota when he realized he would never walk again.
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave. SW; Aug. 18-21, free; 202-633-4880. (Smithsonian)