Celebrate the Fourth of July at the American Art Museum

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Happy Fourth of July everybody! Sure, you could mark the day with cookouts, baseball games and fireworks displays OR you could come visit the Smithsonian American Art Museum to get your patriotic buzz. (And yes, kids, the Smithsonian museums are open today. The whole day is about being free and there's nothing freer—at least in the cost-effective sense—than the Smithsonian.) You could always go for the obvious and tour the Hall of Presidents at the National Portrait Gallery—but I think we can be a little more creative than that, yes? So, let's have a quick look-see at some of American Art's other nationalistic offerings.

Electronic Superhighway: Continental US, Alaska, Hawaii (1995) by Nam June Paik. It's hard to get more American than this: a map of the good ol' US-of-A rendered in neon and television sets. Paik's piece suggests that our vision of America is shaped by media—namely film and television. (I'm personally a big fan of the looped video of classic musicals: The Wizard of Oz representing Kansas, Meet Me in St. Louis standing in for Missouri and Oklahoma! embodying that A-OK state of the same name.) And don't be fooled by this itty bitty image, folks—this piece is huge and is like stepping into an electrified road map. Short of taking a road trip, it's an easy way to see the USA, so to speak.

Next up: July Fourth (1950) by Howard Cook. OK, I admit that when I first saw this piece I thought it looked a mite apocalyptic—the kind of image that might work better as a tribute to the damage wrought by Mrs. O'Leary's cow than to the birth of our nation. Then I puzzled and puzzled till my puzzler was sore and thought it did a beautiful job of capturing the feeling of being outside on a hot summer night with the sky all lit up. And how could you resist the charm of pyromaniac children running amok? Mmm. I can sense the sulfuric smell of burnt-out sparklers right now.

For those of you out there who prefer more subdued celebrations, let's look at Fourth of July (1971) by A. Brockie Stevenson. Here we have a very prim and proper house—just look at those straight-laced lines and hard angles and a seemingly unflappable flag that seems part and parcel of the structure. But there are no signs of life to be had here. A rather austere way to mark the day, eh?

And last, we have Miss Liberty Celebration (1987) by Malcha Zeldis a colorful celebration of life, liberty and diversity—those things that make this country the wonderful place it is. And Elvis and Miss America (lovingly rendered herein) make America pretty freaking sweet too. Zeldis created this piece after recovering from cancer and includes herself in the painting (she's the woman in red at the bottom right of the canvas) and refers to this work as an "exultation of survival."

So, these are the "Around the Mall" picks to check out at the American Art Museum this weekend. Did we miss something? What are your favorite patriotic pieces that are hanging out at the Smithsonian? Let's discuss in the comments area below. And may you all have a safe, happy and restful Fourth of July!

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