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Fabulous Fashion at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Part II

You might have guessed that the next theme addressed by Fabulous Fashion is color. First up is this 2013 dress which is a reinterpretation of a 1952 dress made from fabric designed by artist Ellsworth Kelly. This dress was made by Calvin Klein Collection.

If it is difficult to imagine that dress as originating in 1952, the museum has kindly provided visitors with a photo of the original dress, along with Kelly’s study for it.  Anne Weber, the woman in the photo, actually sewed the dress using the Kelly-created fabric.

I am sorry about the fuzziness of this photo. I am working on this; I promise.

Left to right:

Charles James, 1955 Pagoda Suit. There are solid color versions of this suit, which better show James’s trademark structure. I actually did not recognize this as a Charles James until the docent pointed it out.

Issey Miyake, 1994 Flying Saucer Dress. This style of Miyake’s folds flat like a paper lantern.

Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo, 1971 bodysuit and skirt. Haute Hippie.

This 1962 palazzo pants ensemble was designed by Italian Irene Galitzine. The difference in color of the skirt and the jumpsuit is due to the jumpsuit being beaded. This piece was getting a lot of attention from the crowd, and it deserved it.

This cheerful top and skirt was one of my favorites. It’s by Stephen Burrows, made in 1971 for his boutique within the Henri Bendel store in New York. Burrows is one of those designers that I remember fondly from my teen years, and I still have a very soft spot for his designs.

Here we have moved from color to metallics.  It’s always fun to see a Paco Rabanne creation (left, 1966), though I’m also reminded of what Audrey Hepburn said about the Rabanne dress she wore in Two for the Road. She referred to is as the most uncomfortable thing she’d ever worn, and that it was impossible to sit in it.

On the right is a late 1960s dress by Norman Norell. Even though this dress was ready-to-wear, the beads and sequins were each sewn on by hand, taking about 250 hours to bead one dress.

I felt like this Geoffrey Beene dress from 1994 was the star of the metallics section. It’s hard to compete with a dress named “Mercury” that truly lives up to its name. I hope future generations remember the Beene name.

I say that because so many in the tour I was in had never heard of the designer of this gown, Anne Fogarty. Now I don’t really put Fogarty in the same category as Beene, but she did play a big role in keeping the big skirt with crinoline look alive throughout the 1950s.

I wanted you to see just how lovely that metallic lace is.

At this point I felt like the whole structure of the exhibition of design elements, sort of fell apart. This was a mini-section of black and white, and while I was puzzled at its inclusion, I was also delighted by it. How can one not love a classic Chanel suit sandwiched between a skeleton ensemble of 2011 by Bernhard Willhelm and a 2018 coat (yes, this is one piece) by Rei Kawakubo. The unexpectedness of this display made it all the more relevant.

And then there were hats! This Bes-Ben hat, circa 1965, was the subject of much subject speculation. I’m pretty sure it is a rooster, but others saw more exotic birds.

By Stephen Jones, this hat was based on the London Tube (subway) map. 2008

Here we were treated to the mistress of draping, Madame Gres. This dress, circa 1981, is truly about the back, but I would have really loved a peek at the front as well.

 

And like any good fashion show, this one ended with wedding dresses. This circa 1959 gown was designed by Pierre Balmain.

Every fashionable bride in 1968 should have worn a dress like this one from American designer Gustave Tassell. Unfortuanately that was not, if my own recollections of late 60s wedding can be trusted, the case.

And finally, because this is Philadelphia, we have some of the wedding ensemble of Grace Kelly, who married in 1956. On the left is her copy of – not the Bible, as I expected – but of  Bride’s Manuel: A Manuel of Catholic Devotion with Mass for the Marriage Ceremony and the Nuptial Blessing. 

The cap which anchored her veil was designed by Helen Rose and was made by the costume department at MGM. The shoes were from David Evins. Princess Grace donated these items to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, along with her dress, which is, according to the docent, too fragile to mount and display. That’s a pity because many of the visitors were looking for the dress.

And there you have it. If you are going to be in the Philadelphia area anytime this fall or winter, treat yourself to an afternoon of Fabulous Fashion.

 

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Fabulous Fashion at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Over the past twenty years I’ve seen dozens of fashion exhibitions. Each one is different, and with each one I always learn something. I was really happy when I learned that Fabulous Fashion:  From Dior’s New Look to Now was opening on our last day in Philadelphia, and that I’d get to finally get to see some of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s fabulous fashion collection.

Fashion exhibitions have changed quite a bit over the past twenty years. It’s just not reasonable for a museum to throw together a bunch of pretty dresses and call it a show. There has to be a theme. In Fabulous Fashion, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has tried to do both, and has succeeded somewhat in this mission.

Simply stated, this is a show showing the highlights of the museum’s holdings from 1947 through the present day. It’s not based on chronology, but on design themes like shape and color. Thrown into the mix were cases of accessories, which may or may not have added to the themes. The exhibition ended with a bit of bridal fashion.

The most  interesting part of the show – to me at least – was how so many of the objects were connected to the city of Philadelphia, with either the designer or the original wearer being from the city. In this day of super-block-busting Met extravaganzas, I appreciate it when a museum can rely on its own collection to mount an exhibition of this size. I felt like this was both a fashion experience and a Philadelphia experience.

When did museums start thinking that putting fashion on huge spaces and above eye level was a good idea? As a person who is always concerned with the details, I hate this method of display. Yes, I know a big wall of stunning clothes makes a big impact, but to me having the objects so inaccessible makes it hard to appreciate the fabrics and the techniques the makers used.

Please, museum display people, let this trend die.

Even though he got billing in the exhibition title, there is only one (that I noticed, anyway) Dior garment in the show. It’s a real beauty, though, and so typical of what Dior was doing in 1948. What looks like stripes in the skirt is actually little rows of top-stitching. This is why I love being able to get close to the clothes. That detail would have been lost if it were mounted on that big wall.

Who else but Balenciaga? This 1951 dress perfectly embodies the theme of shape and volume. This was a gift from John Wanamaker, the best known Philadelphia department store. It had been purchased for a special fashion show at the store.

Ralph Rucci, 2001. I didn’t realize that Rucci is from Philadelphia. This is an astounding dress, with its stingray-like structure.

Here’s a lovely creation by Jean Dessès from 1958 or 59. This one has an interesting donor, Mrs. Claus Von Bulow.

After seeing the Pierre Cardin exhibition at SCADFASH, I always give his work a second look. I loved this dress with those trademark circular ruffles. 1983

That dress with the puffed sleeves on the left is an Adrian. There was no way to photograph this one so you could see the lushness of the fabric.

There’s that Adrian again, in the background where it does not belong.

The dress in front is Smoke, by Roberto Capucci. He did a matching dress in red that he named Fire. 1985

One of my favorites, and a true treasure is this hand-painted gown by Philadelphia native Tina Leser. Leser began her career making hand-painted textiles, and her blouses come up for sale fairly often. I’d never before seen a dress in this technique though.

And what could be better than having Leser’s original sketch? She donated both the dress and the sketch to the museum.

Sea Fan Fantasy, 1947

Next up was a case of footwear. This pair was made by Philadelphia shoe company Newton Elkin, in 1947. After wartime dye restrictions, women must have gone crazy over such colorful shoes!

Vivienne Westwood, circa 1993. The docent leading the tour said that the original owner never wore these, as she bought them as a work of art and displayed them as such.

So simple, but SO influential, these 1966 boots by Andre Courrèges were copied far and wide.

The next theme is embellishment. Those of you who know me and how I dress know that I’m not big on highly-embellished clothes, but I can appreciate an embroidered frock with the best of you. Like the one above.

This circa 1961 dress was designed by Italian designer Emilio Schuberth, of whom I’d never heard. But what a dress!

So much embellishment! Left to right: Giambattista Valli for Ungaro, 2004; Geoffrey Beene, 1968; Emanuel Ungaro, 1989. Yes, the Beene is a dress. He had recently declared that ballgowns were passé, and so this little thing is an evening dress.

On the left, Oscar de la Renta, 1999. On the right, James Galanos, 1957.

I was surprised to learn that Galanos was born in Philly, as he is so associated with California. For those of you who will be in the Philadelphia area, don’t miss the Galanos show at Drexel University, which holds his archive. I missed this one by only a few days.

There is no way for me to show with my simple camera and middling photography skills just how wonderful this textile is. It’s completely hand sequined and beaded on a layer of sheer silk.  And this was ready-to-wear!

I’ll continue my tour later this week.

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The Fashions of Fiction at Shippensburg University

One of the highlights of my recent trip was The Fashions of Fiction from Pamela to Gatsby at the Fashion Archives and Museum at Shippensburg University. I’d never been to Shippensburg, but I know of their collection due to an exhibition I attended at the DAR Museum in Washington, DC, a few years. In that show, some of my favorite garments had been loaned from Shippensburg, and I’ve been wanting to visit ever since.

I got my chance when the Costume Society of America Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions planned a symposium at Shippensburg. I’ll be posting more about the symposium, but today is all about FA&M.  As you can see above, the curator, Karin Bohleke, chose seven works of fiction, and then illustrated the characters through the use of the types of clothing they would have worn. This is not a new concept, as it especially pertains to Jane Austin, but the choice and range of the novels was interesting in that it also presented a sort of fashion timeline, with a few gaps.

It was also interesting because not all the characters were rich, and not all were white. I liked that there was a mix of female and male authors. There was not only women’s clothing, but also that of men  and children. It really helped that I had read five of the seven works, and I’ll go ahead and suggest that any of you who might be visiting Shippensburg before this exhibition closes in April, should have read all seven novels.

I had not read Pamela, but there was a short synopsis of each novel, and notes concerning how garments were important to the story.  Pamela had been a lady’s maid, but she inherited finer things when her mistress died. The blue silk gown dates to circa 1750, but was later refashioned. The petticoat was made by Mary Marsh Leggett, and dates a bit later.

Detail of gown and petticoat

Accessories play a big role in Pamela, with pockets standing as a symbol for  concealment. This lovely pocket is wool on linen, circa 1750. The shoes were worn by Hannah Breck for her 1737 wedding in Massachusetts.

This is a housewife from the early nineteenth century. Every lady’s maid would have carried one in her pocket.

Men’s clothes were also important to the story. Pamela finally shows her love for her mistress’s son by sewing a waistcoat for him, this after he tried to impress her with a fancy gold lace waistcoat. This silk with gold embroidery coat was stunning.

Ourika was a young Senegalese woman who had been taken to France and who was educated by a rich family. All’s well until she realizes that as a black woman she has few prospects in the marriage market, regardless of her accomplishments.

The brown gown dates a bit later than the white, circa 1795. It shows the coming fashion associated with the last years of the eighteenth century, and the first ones of the nineteenth.

You can barely see the shoes associated with both dresses, but they too are antique. I hate exhibitions where the accessories are so in one’s face that they overshadow the clothes, but this was an instance where I wished for a little more shoe.

Ourika’s gown is made from silk woven in the famous Spitalfields of London, circa 1770. Can cloth this fine even be woven these days?

I’m guessing there are few among us who have not read Jane Eyre. My big confession is that I really did not care much for the book; even after three readings I’ve not been able to warm to Jane and her Mr. Rochester. But no matter, as the clothes make up for the story.

Left to right:

The white wonderfully embroidered dress (circa 1815) represents the haughty Blanche.  I really wish you could see the purple checked shoes she is wearing.

Mrs. Dent is wearing a black cotton and net gown, in keeping with her more conservative character. Circa 1818. Her embroidered shawl is circa 1805.

Mr. Rochester makes his appearance in his paisley banyan, or dressing gown.

And then there is Jane:

My best dress (the silver-gray one) was soon put on: my sole ornament, the pearl brooch soon assumed. I perceived my sandal was loose; I stopped to tie it, kneeling down for that purpose. I heard the dining-room door unclose; rising hastily I stood face to face with him: it was Mr. Rochester.

Having these snippets of text from the works represented added so much meaning to this exhibition. Note how Jane’s shoe ties are loose.

One of my favorite dresses in the exhibition was this one – a circa 1800 embroidered silk evening gown. How about that purple!  The turban and sleeves are reproduction, but add much to the way the dress is presented.

I’ll finish this tour in my next post, but I have a few words to say about cooperation. Even though the Fashion Archive and Museum has a very large collection, sometimes one needs a bit of help to fill in the gaps. I mentioned earlier that I first saw some of the Shippensburg collection at the DAR Museum. They in turn, have some objects represented in this show, as does the Chester County Historical Society, collector Mary Doering, and the Maryland Historical Society. I think it is great the smaller collections can work together like this so visitors can have such a delightful experience.

Next time, more stories.

 

 

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Exhibition Journal: Pucci in America

Click to enlarge.

Last October I traveled to Athens, Georgia to the Georgia Museum of Art.  They were having a special exhibition on Emilio Pucci and the business relationships he had with firms in the United States.  Pucci had spent some time as a student at the University of Georgia, also located in Athens, and so an exhibition about his US relationships seemed appropriate.

While the museum did not allow photos for this show, they did provide a nice place to sit and sketch.  I’ve talked about sketching in museums before, and unfortunately,  it is not always possible to sit with a pencil and paper and draw.  Some museums don’t have benches, and others are so crowded that trying to sketch is impossible.

If I’m visiting a new-to-me museum, I will usually take my sketchbook and pencils, but I never know until I get inside if the place is drawer friendly.  I also take a small notebook, because sketchy notes are sometimes all that is possible.  From my notes and from photos (hopefully ones I was able to take) I then do my journal entry at home.  In this case I was able to do the main sketching onsite and then I finished it when I returned home.

There is an excellent article in the latest Dress journal from the Costume Society of America about fashion displays in museums and the problems associated with displaying on a static form clothing that was meant to be seen on a moving human body.  Author Ingrid Mida brings up some very interesting points about how different it is to see a garment on a mannequin than it is to see it on a human body.

In the not too distant past it was considered to be okay for museum garments to be worn by models, but today it is against museum and preservation standards.  Museums attempt to make the clothes more dynamic by showing video of the clothing in action, and even, as in the case of the recent John Paul Gautier exhibition, by using animated mannequins.  I can see why this would add to the understanding of a garment by people who are viewing it in a museum.

At this point I’ve been to dozens of fashion exhibitions, and to be honest, I just expect to see static forms displaying the clothing.  But then, I’m all about taking a close look at the garment and noting the details.  We all take something different from an exhibition, whether it be clothing or painting or furniture.  At this point I’m just glad that fashion is being seen as worthy of exhibition.  I can remember a time when clothing exhibitions were very rare indeed.

Click.

 

 

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Looking Forward to Seeing Mr. James

Charles James, that is, and seeing his work, not the man himself.   You probably have heard by now that this year’s exhibition at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan in New York is on the clothing of James.  I can’t think of a more appropriate designer to have his work on display in an art museum than James.  His work really did transcend fashion and entered into the realm of something higher.

I’ll be writing more about James when the exhibition opens, and hopefully I’ll be visiting New York this summer so I can see this show.  But today I want to talk about the Costume Institute.

I’ve written about how after Diana Vreeland was fired from Vogue, she was asked to be the director of the Costume Institute.   Under her direction, the Costume Institute blossomed, with the exhibitions being theatrical and extravagant productions.  You can say that her work there has set the tone for what the Costume Institute does today.  It helps when going to their shows to remember that it is after all, an art museum.  We history people tend to want a strict historical accuracy, but the shows, both under Vreeland and today, are about visual impact.

Vreeland’s vision for the Costume Institute continues today.  She’s probably the most important person in the history of the institute.  What a shame that the newly remodeled galleries have been named for Vogue editor Anna Wintour.  I realize that Wintour, as the chairperson of the fund-raising gala has raised millions of dollars for the Met.  It’s just one more example of the person who gives the money, or in this case, coerces it from others, gets the building named for her, instead of the woman who made the institution what it is today.

I feel that the Metropolitan is a bit too cozy with Vogue and its editor.  One of the biggest criticisms of the most recent shows has been that they are too commercial. The idea that a magazine whose mission it is to promote the fashion industry, and to help sell clothes should have such influence over the one show a year that the Costume Institute produces seems to me to be a big part of the problem.  I’m just hoping that with the Charles James exhibition, this will not be an issue, as there nothing to be sold.

The photo of Diana Vreeland was taken at the Costume Institute and was published in Cheap Chic by Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy, 1978.

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Dior, Balmain, Saint Laurent:

Yesterday I went to Charlotte for a new vintage market (more about that later) and took the opportunity to see the latest fashion exhibition at the Mint Museum of Art. The Mint is one of my favorite museums.  They started collecting fashion the early 1970s, and today the collection numbers over 10,o0o objects.  I love that they have three galleries devoted to fashion and so you can visit anytime to see part of the collection.

The latest exhibition is devoted to three French masters – Dior, Balmain and Saint Laurent, with all the garments coming from the Mint’s permanent collection. It highlights the strengths of each with examples from not only the founders of each house, but also their successors.

This dress was designed by Christian Dior, labeled circa 1948.  It is actually a blouse and skirt, and is simply stunning.  I loved the glint of gold embroidered over the lace.

When Christian Dior died in 1958, a young Yves Saint Laurent was given the job of designer at Dior.   He was replaced by Marc Bohan in 1960, who designed this early 1960s suit.

Bohan was the designer of this plaid coat in the late 1960s.

The dress on the left is by Bohan for Dior, circa 1969.  The suit on the right is by Bohan’s successor, Gianfranco Ferre.

On the left is a cocktail dress by Bohan for Dior.  In the background is an evening ensemble by John Galliano for Dior.  Galliano was made the designer at Dior in 1997, and was fired in disgrace in 2011.  I was glad to see this example by Galliano.  There are many examples of designers who have exhibited despicable behavior (Chanel, anyone) but the importance of some, like Galliano, cannot be ignored.

Pierre Balmain opened his house in 1945.  His clothing often had a sculptural quality.  The suit above is from the mid 1950s.

When I came to this dress, I’ll admit, my first thought was a bit of a whine, “But I can’t see the bodice!”  But then, it morphed into, “Why the heck did they cover the bodice?”  That thought was even louder at the next dress:

I’m not a curator, and I have no museum or exhibition training, but I do know what I want to see in an exhibition.  Here we have two Balmain dresses, neither of which shows the bodice.   It’s like seeing only the bottom half of a painting!

Then it began to dawn on me that some of the garments in the exhibition were over accessorized.  These are the two biggest examples, but many of the garments were overshadowed by the styling.  I’m a person who actually likes seeing appropriate accessories with garments.  It adds to one’s understanding of how a garment was actually worn.  But when you can’t see the dress for the accouterments, then it’s time to follow the advice of Coco Chanel and remove the last accessory you put on.

So sorry about the fuzzy photo, but I just loved this great mid 1960s suit by Balmain.  Again, I have to say I found the strong accessories to be a bit distracting.

On the other hand, visitors are treated to what is often a hidden delight of couture – the interior of a garment.  In this case, we get a glimpse of the lining and trim of a coat by Oscar de la Renta, who designed couture for the House of Balmain from 1993 to 2002.

This stunning coat was designed by Christophe Decarnin, the designer at Balmain from 2002 to 2011.  Because of all the fur pieces used throughout the exhibition, I really could not tell if the fur around the neck is a part of the coat, or just an accessory.  It does seem to match the cuffs.

And finally, we get to Yves Saint Laurent.  Saint Laurent opened in 1962.  The jacket and skirt above are a great example of the beautiful ethnic-inspired clothing he designed throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Saint Laurent retired in 2002 and his couture atelier was closed.   His ready-to-wear line,  Rive Gauche, continued to be produced under the direction of Tom Ford, who designed the suits on the left and in the center.  The suit on the left (ignore distracting scarf)  is an homage to Saint Laurent’s Safari suits of the late 1960s.  The suit on the right was designed by Stefano Pilati, designer from 2004 through 2012.  Thankfully, there were no examples from the rebranded Saint Laurent Paris designer, Hedi Slimane.

I like that most of the garments are placed so that you can see them from both front and back.  I also love that you can get up-close to examine the details.  If you are ever in Charlotte, NC, the Mint is well worth the $10 admission price, especially while their excellent Fashionable Silhouettes in on view.

 

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The First Ladies at the National Museum of American History

Probably the first fashion exhibition I ever saw was the old First Ladies Hall in the National Museum of American History.   It was 1973, I was eighteen and I’ve been in love with historical fashion ever since.  Several years ago I was pretty dismayed to learn that the old hall was being updated, and that there would no longer be a dress from every First Lady on display.  But considering that some of the dresses had been on view since 1914, I’m sure it was past time for some of them to be taken down for conservation’s sake.

It is part of a general update the entire museum is undergoing.  Built in 1964, the National Museum of American History is part of the Smithsonian.  When I last visited the museum in the mid 1990s, I couldn’t tell that much had changed in the museum from my previous visits, with the exception of a few new artifacts like Archie Bunker’s chair and Mr. Rogers’s sweater.  But now all the exhibits are being revamped to make it more interactive and visitor friendly.  For the most part, it is a huge improvement.

The First Ladies exhibition is now more compact, but it is a huge draw within the museum.  I had to stand in line with lots of schoolgirls who were just as enthralled as I had been on my first visit years ago.  And that’s pretty amazing considering that elsewhere in the Smithsonian, it was evidently Teenagers Runamuck Day.

My photos are quite poor, due to the glass cases and the very dim lighting, but the exhibition itself is quite beautiful, even with the hoards of people and the noise.  It is still worth taking the time to see, though it does not, of course, have anywhere near the impact of all those lovely ladies lined up from Martha Washington to Hillary Clinton.

The top photo shows a dress from Mamie Eisenhower.  The dress looks red, but is actually a nice dark pink.  It was made by designer Nettie Rosenstein, and the matching handbag is beaded.

These two dresses belonged to Grace Coolidge, who gave them to her maid, Maggie Rogers.

This gown was worn by Caroline Scott Harrison circa 1890.  It was later altered.

The Chanel-style suit is actually one of Nancy Reagan’s many Adolfos.  The dress behind Mrs. Harrison’s was Eleanor Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural ball, and was designed by Sally Milgrim.

Both of these dresses were worn by Lou Hoover, who was considered to be a very fashionable woman.  The evening dress is silk with metallic threads interwoven.  Mrs. Hoover was the first First Lady to appear in Vogue.

This gown was Jackie Kennedy’s, of course.  It was designed by Oleg Cassini for a state dinner in 1961.  According to his autobiography, he made this dress with one shoulder as a stepping-stone to making a strapless dress for her.  And that he did very soon.

The dress is the background was not for a midget; this was an unfortunate trick of perspective.  The dress belonged to Julia Dent Grant.

I’m sure you all recognize this dress as the one worn by Michelle Obama for the first inauguration in 2009.  Designed by Jason Wu, I can tell you that even though I’d seen this dress in dozens of photos and in video, its beauty was simply astounding.  Maybe it was because all the news photos were so brightly lit, but I’d never noticed how the dress sparkles, with little bits of gold embroidered throughout.

Note the crowds of viewers.

Dolly Madison was well-represented, as she should be.

This dress, with both a daytime and an even bodice, was worn by Mary Todd Lincoln.  It is thought to have been made by Elizabeth Keckley.

Note Patricia Nixon’s name imprinted inside her Herbert Levine shoes.

This is another dress belonging to Grace Coolidge.

And I do have to show a garment from at least one president, so here are Warren G. Harding’s silk pajamas and his slippers.

I have more photos from the NMAH that I’ll be showing next week.  To see good pictures of the dresses, plus some more, you should visit the museum’s Pinterest page that is devoted to the First Ladies collection.

ADDITION:

I meant to talk about the big difference in experience of this museum and that of the DAR.  It is amazing how much a little quiet and solitude can mean when one is trying to absorb information.  After returning home I realized just how little I had retained from the First Ladies exhibit, so I turned to the internet to refresh my memory.  The notes on the museum website are the same as that on the museum text panels, and I was surprised to see just how much I missed in the details of these items.

For anyone planning a trip to Washington, DC, I suggest that you put this very popular exhibit at the top of your schedule.  Be there then the museum opens and go straight to it before the crowd starts to gather.

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