At the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC, visitors can expect to meander amongst capsules and satellites that have grazed the constellations, or to crane their necks as they behold flying machines inscribed forever in the books of history.
But recently, numerous paintings and photographs line the walls on which, one would believe, gliders should. Three visual art exhibits currently occupy these rooms, the first of which is High Art: A Decade of Collecting, on view through December 1. Featuring 50 works of art from the museum’s nearly 7,000-strong collection, curators Dr. Tom Crouch and Carolyn Russo hope the exhibit will aid in bridging art, science, and technology.
“One of the reasons we have an art collection is because our museum is full of sharp, pointy, shiny objects,” said Crouch. “The artists’ visions help our visitors reach an entirely new take on the rest of what this museum does.” Two other exhibits, Searching For Goldilocks and Suited For Space, will also run through December 1.
Until recently, the museum had another key treasure that bridged the worlds of art and science: Leonardo da Vinci’s original Codex on the Flight of Birds, which had been on loan from the Biblioteca Reale in Turin, Italy. Written in his renowned “mirror handwriting,” da Vinci’s Codex is full of observations and doodles regarding the mechanics of birds in flight, revealing the Renaissance artist’s passionate scientific explorations. The Codex was exhibited next to a replica of the Wright Flyer, the first successfully powered aircraft, in order for visitors to visualize the Flyer’s early artistic sources.
All four exhibits bring visitors on a journey from the earliest conceptions of aviation to modern fantasies of flight; from theorized mechanics to futuristic mastery. The following slideshow represents works of art from each show.