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Seeing Fresh Three little boys in an art museum

Have you ever returned to a place you knew well as a child and found it looked entirely different? The homes schools and rooms of our childhood seemed so large and full of possibilities at the time, but as an adult they often feel impossibly cramped and dull.

I recently had the pleasure of showing off some favorite spaces from my youth to my three lively grandsons, ages 4,6 and 9. Their parents were concerned that a tour art galleries would tax their attention and seem boring after the days spent with dinosaurs at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the pandas at the National Zoo.

We began at the East Wing of the National Gallery of art. This IM Pei building is a delight of triangular forms shaping massive open spaces that somehow feel intimate The drama of the light and dark passages draws one equally and effortlessly through rooms filled with just the right quantity of modern art favorites. Well, that was my opinion, but what would three little boys think?

Kids have a built in bullshit detector and these guys will tell you flat out if something is not fun. Then they will make your life a living hell till you move on to a more suitable activity. No amount of urging or politeness training could make them fake it. They are the acid test for authenticity.

I’m pleased to report that they were delighted. We spent a few hours exploring, appreciating and NOT touching the art. They talked to the guards, gave their opinions, and approached some pretty sophisticated visual statements with reverence and open minds. Favorites included the Brancuzi collection of birds and the Calder mobiles. They treated the building as a giant work of art all it’s own and noted the shapes revealed as we tromped up the stairs to the towers.

I am happy to find that some spaces retain all their magic experienced when seen as a child, revealing their secrets as we grow visit them again and again. Kudos to IM Pei for channeling the inspiration of the East Wing, a work of art built to house other works of art.

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