D.C.’s Can’t-Miss Cultural Exhibitions

Catch these temporary shows before they’re gone.

From miniature abodes reflecting changing domestic trends across the centuries to space-age photos revealing the surface of the moon in dramatic detail, these cultural displays take visitors on a mind-expanding journey.

The Arthur M. Sackler and Freer Gallery of Art

An intimate exhibition here represents the collaboration of these tunnel-connected Smithsonian museums: Asian antiquities at the Freer, Asian contemporary art at the Sackler. “Red: Ming Dynasty/Mark Rothko” juxtaposes a rare, 15th-century dish of copper-red, glazed porcelain and a Rothko painting of layered pigments—luminous wine reds and browns. Abstracted from context, the two works enter a visual dialogue that becomes a contemplative experience. (Through Feb. 20, 2017)

Get there: 1050 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C.; 202. 633.1000, Metro: Smithsonian

Mark Rothko painting Ming Dynasty bowl

Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens

Marjorie Merriweather Post’s estate with mansion and gardens focuses, as she did, on the decorative arts. Now intriguing loan shows complement her luxe collections. In the gardens rise four 15-foot-high fiberglass sculptures that depict human busts (heads and shoulders) as if formed from botanical materials. With these startling works, contemporary artist Philip Haas pays homage to portraits of the four seasons as depicted by Renaissance painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo. (Through March 31, 2017)

Tucked into multiple galleries on the property, “Deco Japan” reveals a dazzling array of objects created from the 1920s to the 1940s. Japanese artisans adapted the West’s moderne style—geometric, Jazz Age and streamlined—for their own expressive traditions. The cross-era results: silk kimono with cityscapes or movie-star glam cigarette smoking motifs, a calligraphic poster with flapper holding a cocktail and silver cranes mimicking the ancient art of origami. (Through Jan. 1, 2017)

Get there: 4155 Linnean Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.; 202.686.5807

Porcelain sake flask in the shape of an Akita dog

Mount Vernon

With “Lives Bound Together,” the Donald W. Reynolds Museum tells stories of slave life at the Washington estate. Artifacts include objects found in archaeological excavations and the original pages of Washington’s 1799 will instructing that his slaves be freed at his death. Nineteen enslaved individuals provide a narrative thread, while a slave cemetery-turned-memorial honors those whose identities are, for the most part, lost.

Get there: 3200 Mount Vernon Highway, Mt. Vernon, Va.; 703.780.2000

A view of the new slavery exhibit at Mount Vernon

National Air & Space Museum

“A New Moon Rises” consists of 61 large images—craters, mountains, lava flows and Apollo landing sites—taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera. (Through December 2017)

Also here: photos of dramatic airport towers like Dubai’s which are flower-shaped and tinted with a golden glaze (through November 2016). At the museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, find an exhibit case holding Transformer toys and props used in the Paramount/DreamWorks film (ongoing).

Get there: 6th St. & Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C.; 202.633.2214, Metro: L’Enfant Plaza. Udvar Hazy Center: 14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway, Chantilly, Va.; 703.572.4118

A photo showing the topography of the surface of the Moon

National Building Museum

Enter miniature worlds—12 dollhouses from London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, spanning 300 years and graced by 1,900 restored objects, and a “Dream House” of 24 rooms, each the vision of a fine artist, designer or architect. Imaginative spaces hold furnishings crafted of clay, 3-D printing, insects and even marshmallow Peeps. (Through Jan. 22, 2017)

Get there: 401 F St. NW, Washington, D.C.; 202.272.2448, Metro: Judiciary Square

Bright mod dollhouse


Dedicated to the glories of a free press, its exhibitions document events like 9/11 and the fall of the Berlin Wall as well as light-hearted topics like “First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Pets.” Special: the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery, updated to include every winner since the first award in 1942, and (very timely) “CNN Politics Campaign 2016: Like, Share, Elect,” the story of the current presidential campaign in real time. Think “immersive experience” that by Nov. 8 computes the election and tracks America’s shifting demographics on a “magic wall” (through Jan. 22, 2017). 

Get there: 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.; 888.639.7386, Metro: Archives-Navy Memorial

Students participating in Newseum’s politics exhibit

Renwick Gallery

The Smithsonian’s showcase of fine craft installs 70 works by contemporary artists, all fascinated by “transformation, ruin and rebirth.” They embrace a variety of media: Steven Young Lee’s clay vessels slumped in the kiln, Kristen Morgin’s fool-the-eye painted clay replicas of vintage toys, Norwood Viviano’s narrative sculptures of glass, cast bronze and 3-D printing and Jennifer Trask’s jewelry and large-scale assemblages of bone, resin, antique frames and butterfly wings. (Ongoing)

Get there: 17th & Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.; 202.633.7970, Metro: Farragut West or McPherson Sq. (about six blocks)

A brass and crystal spike knuckle ring

The Textile Museum

On the George Washington University campus, curators mount an election year treat—rare campaign flags like a strangely configured stars-and-stripes banner touting Lincoln’s 1860 presidential run (through April 10, 2017). A colorful, more exotic display features Okinawan museum treasures of bingata, robes of resist-dyed fabrics, as well as contemporary fashion designs. (Through Jan. 30, 2017)

Get there: 701 21st St. NW, Washington, D.C.; 202.994.5200, Metro: Foggy Bottom