National Museum of the American Indian

 

 

NMAI exterior

The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC is housed in a large, impressive building on the National Mall.

 

NMAI exterior detail

The “sweeping curvilinear architecture,” according to the NMAI website, is meant to help give visitors “the sense and spirit of Native America.”

 

NMAI atrium dome

The interior is dominated by a soaring atrium that, whatever its Native associations, puts me in mind of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum.

 

NMAI atrium floor

As in the Guggenheim, the atrium floor has lots of space for sitting down, stretching out, and/or attending a lecture or performance.

 

NMAI cafe

Unlike at the Guggenheim, with its gently sloping spiral ramp, visitors at NMAI have to change floors using either the stairs or the elevator. The first floor is dominated by the restaurant/cafe.

 

NMAI gift shop

On the second floor, the first thing you see is the large museum store.

 

NMAI gallery 1

Thanks to the dominance of the atrium, the galleries are relegated to the back half of the museum. In terms of visitor experience, they are nothing to write home about.

 

NMAI gallery 2

The permanent exhibitions include a standard mix of images, (lots of) text, electronic media, and life-size or semi-immersive exhibit components.

 

NMAI gallery 3

Traveling and temporary exhibitions tend to rely on traditional vitrines and wall displays.

 

NMAI wall text

Generally speaking, text is reasonably accessible — large enough and high contrast.

 

NMAI text 2

 

One very enjoyable feature of NMAI is that there are lots of places to simply sit, relax, and reflect…

NMAI sit space 1

 

NMAI sit space 2

… Many of them looking out a window, offering valuable relief to the eye and the spirit.

 

NMAI window

On the plus side, there is lots of natural light. On the minus side, there is lots of wasted space — empty areas that add nothing to the visitor experience.

 

Since the museum opened in 2004, much has been written about how successful NMAI is or is not in presenting the “American Indian experience” (if such a thing can be presented in a museum) — not to mention the Smithsonian’s vast holdings of Native objects. Speaking personally, I leave disappointed every time I visit. Too much space, too many bells and whistles, not enough objects, not enough tribes represented. For all the good will that went into its creation, there should be more.

Advertisements

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: