BUILT AND OPEN WALLS
BUILT AND OPEN WALLS
PUBLIC ART TO SEE IN WASHINGTON D.C.
By Marisa Lerer
Washington D.C. is known for its major national monuments along the Mall, from Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial to Robert Mills’s and Thomas Casey’s 555-foot marble Washington Monument (1888). Visitors from around the world descend upon the Mall to experience expressions of the official visual culture of U.S. national identity.
D.C. also offers a rich public art experience beyond the Mall’s historical monuments that ranges from kinetic sculpture, to murals, to creative infrastructure. There are many public art works to explore in D.C. For example, staying close to the Mall, Venezuelan artist Alejandro Otero’s 1977 Delta Solar on the west end of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum celebrates technology and the Incan sun god, Inti. A gift from the people of Venezuela for the United States bicentenary, its stainless steel sails rotate in response to wind.
Much of D.C.’s public art legacy is found in the form of community-based mural projects, and several iconic works are a brief 10-minute walk from the Washington Project for the Arts. For example, murals in the Shaw neighborhood (home to D.C. native son Duke Ellington) along the historic U-Street corridor celebrate the neighborhood’s cultural legacy and include a mural tribute to Ellington. To consider the future of public artworks paying homage to figures whom we may no longer desire to celebrate, view the mural of Bill Cosby adjacent to a portrait of President Barack Obama. Other painted cultural celebrations include Cecilia Lueza’s mural at the Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School, which was a collaboration between the Smithsonian Latino Center and the D.C. Department of Public Works. The mural honors the spirit and memory of Maria Rodriguez (neé Jean Butler), a legendary educator and Latin jazz/salsa musician. In addition, Open Walls D.C. creates spaces throughout the city for graffiti artists to create sanctioned works. Murals such as Others can be found here.
Other forms of public works that celebrate D.C.’s quintessential musical greats include the recently opened Chuck Brown Memorial Park, in Northeast D.C.'s Langdon Park, which commemorates “the father of go-go.” In addition to memorial parks, D.C. offers inventive ways of reimaging city infrastructure. Check out the playful bike racks in Dupont Circle and around the city as well the Capitol Hill Alphabet Animal Art Project, which features animal sculptures on street signs.
*Thank you to Ranald Woodaman, Exhibitions and Public Programs Director at the Smithsonian Latino Center and Joanne Flores, Head of Special Projects, Smithsonian Institution Office of the Provost/Under Secretary for Museums and Research for their insights into public art in D.C.