Whether familiar with Africa’s rich artistic history or new to it, art lovers visiting Washington, D.C. should make time for the National Museum of African Art, whose 9,000-plus objects represent all parts of the continent from ancient to modern times. Though the museum doesn’t look like much from the outside — just a small pavilion behind the Smithsonian Castle — it runs three stories underground and houses an impressive 22,000 square feet of gallery space.
The highlight of the permanent exhibitions is a selection of 60 works from the Walt Disney–Tishman collection of traditional sub-Saharan art, a major influence on African art history. Pieces from the museum’s collection of traditional and modern ceramic works are also on permanent display. The rest of the galleries hold temporary exhibits. In 2009 these included “Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and its Diasporas”; works created by António Ole of Angola and Aimé Mpane of the Democratic Republic of Congo; a retrospective show of the Nigerian-born Yinka Shonibare; and Artful Animals, a show for kids about how African artists depict animals’ appearance, behaviors, and personalities and use them to represent human successes and failures. For more, visit http://africa.si.edu/.
The museum offers docent-led tours based on specific objects or themes. Regular tours are held Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 10:30 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. But you can ask at the information desk for an unscheduled tour at any time, and if there’s a docent around you’ll likely get it.
National Museum of African Art (Smithsonian)
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily except December 25.
Parking: On-street parking in the area is restricted during morning and evening rush hours. The street parking that is available tends to fill quickly, and is limited to two hours. There are commercial lots nearby.
Metrorail: Blue and Orange Lines to the Smithsonian stop.
Old Town Trolley Tour