The 35 days of the United States Government partial shutdown in late December through late January left the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C. barren and vacant of visitors. Tourists and locals, temporarily not working, roamed, as in a sci-fi movie, the nation’s capital looking for open, free cultural exhibitions. Private museums, including the Phillips Collection and Kreeger Museum, charged fees that tourists were unwilling to pay, and locals at this time could not pay, not knowing when the situation would resolve and when their paychecks would arrive.
The United Kingdom and France managed to keep their museums open, free and accessible during government strikes and temporary shutdowns; the embassies of these and other nations satisfied cultural cravings for all visitors. Foreign embassies, foreign collections and cultural centers offer permanent art on view, while temporary exhibits highlight their nation’s artists. Often, a cultural counselor or staff will offer a guided tour. Once on the list of visitors, further invitations to receptions and special events at the embassy might ensue.
The British Embassy’s collection, chosen by Great Britain’s Government Art Collection, which determines which art to hang around the world in British embassies and consulates, proudly displays a Barbara Hepworth painting in the living room, overlooking her sculpture in the garden below. On loan from the Tate Institution in London, one of Damien Hirst’s spot paintings is in the hall, while an excellent William Hogarth is in the dining room. American Andy Warhol’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth II is here, due, obviously, to the subject.
House of Sweden, the Swedish Embassy and Exhibit Hall, currently hosts “Ingmar Bergman and His Legacy in Fashion and Art,” an exhibition on Sweden’s famous film artist, dramatist and — unbeknownst to many — fiction writer. The downstairs gallery shows “Studio 54 Forever,” an exhibition of photographs by Swedish photographer Hasse Persson, of people carousing at the famous New York City club during its three years of existence. Free children’s events and contemporary and classical music concerts are held at the embassy several times a month.
The Embassy of Canada keeps surprising me with offerings ranging from a show about a residency by international artists at Fogo Island off the coast Canada, called “Belonging to a Place,” to a show of beautiful painted portraits of Vietnamese residents by Canadian artist Renée duRocher titled “Diversity and Identity,” showing the story of her travels to Vietnam, inspired by Vietnamese-born, Canadian author Kim Thúy. “The Inuit of Hudson Bay” visually documented Canadian-born Captain George Comer’s Arctic expeditions illustrating the Inuit.