The Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building has been prominent on the Mall since its opening as America’s first national museum in 1881, but it has been closed for the last seventeen years. This past weekend, it opened with a fantastic exhibit called The FUTURES, which will be on display until next July.
The opening weekend kicked off with lots of celebration, including an outdoor go-go concert in the adjacent gardens.
There are 150 objects in the exhibit, but the one that grabs everyone’s attention first is the giant me + you in the rotunda. Visitors speak a word about their future, and then artificial intelligence translates it into ever-changing light and color patterns representing both their individuality and the collective responses of others.
Me + you was created by Suchi Reddy, seen here next to the work.
All of the exhibits have been selected to illustrate something about possibilities for the future, concentrating on how everyday activities – from transportation to doing laundry – may change.
Outside, the building combines its classic facade with a new future orientation.
Expanded Present, a work by Soo Sunny Park, has been installed on the Mall-side facade of the building. It changes appearance depending on the light and the weather, and is made of both metal and dichroic glass (which is appropriate for a futures exhibit since it came out of research by NASA).
The building was closed in 2004, in a state of structural instability with an uncertain future. Two years after that, the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed it on its Most Endangered Places list. In 2009, there was sufficient funding to start on major repairs and stabilization of the building. By 2015, the main rotunda area was in good enough shape to open the building a few times for special events, and we were lucky to go to several of them. With a rotunda that is more than 100 feet high, and more than 900 windows in the building, the interior is spectacular.
The Arts & Industries Building has long been a symbol of American ingenuity and progress – dating from when it first displayed Edison’s lightbulb to the public – and we hope its wonderful spires continue to reach up high for many years to come.