10 Reasons To Fall In Love With D.C. Museums (Again!)

While many things in the nation's capital feel magical — great restos, top-notch shopping, inspiring architecture — the one we always come back to is our museum culture. On any given day, whether you're feeling bored, curious, melancholy, ambitious, or what have you, a visit to one of the city's abundant museums can change your whole perspective.
Even better? More often than not, those visits won't cost you a red cent. And we're not just talking about staring blankly at paintings, either — D.C.'s cultural meccas offer film festivals, workshops, gallery talks, and plenty of opportunities to boost your artsy IQ. To help you dive in, we've cooked up a list of 10 amazing things you can try right now. What are you waiting for?
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Of all the city's cultural institutions, the American Art Museum has the best location for a field trip, hands down. Situated squarely between the shopping and dining of Penn Quarter and the nightlife of Chinatown, the museum shares space with the National Portrait Gallery, making it the ultimate two-in-one destination. A retrospective on Korean-born artist Nam June Paik launched in mid-December includes 67 thought-provoking works, as well as 140 items from the artist's archive. Our tip? Trade a gloomy winter afternoon for a few hours with Paik's brightly lit, colorful creations.

Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F Streets NW; 202-633-7970.

Photo: Courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum
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The National Building Museum's lecture series, Spotlight on Design, has brought the likes of Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, and Rem Koolhaas to town to discuss the importance of design and architecture in our lives. This month's featured speaker is Jamie Drake, principal of Drake Design Associates and a regular in the pages of Architectural Digest. Get his insight on adding color, drama, and personality to your space during an intimate chat later this month.

When: Wednesday, January 30, from 6:30-8 p.m.
Where: National Building Museum, 401 F Street NW; 202-272-2448. Tickets are $20 for non-members, $12 for members/students.


Photo: Courtesy of Drake Design Associates
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You don't need a special exhibition to visit the Newseum — there's enough fascinating fodder here to keep you occupied for days. But if you're a political junkie, now is a great time to visit: One of the most intriguing current exhibitions, "Every Four Years: Presidential Campaigns and the Press," showcases everything from the microphone FDR used to deliver his "fireside chats" to the getup Tina Fey wore to portray Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, wraps up on January 27. You can also catch the ongoing exhibit, "First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Pets," if you need a dose of cuteness.

Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW; 202-292-6100.


Photo: Courtesy of the Newseum
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The free film screenings at museums across town are one of our favorite little secrets about life in D.C. — why pay upwards of $20 to see yet another Hollywood flop with your S.O. when you can pay, well, nothing and see an incredible foreign film, art-house flick, or documentary? Head to the Freer Gallery for the 17th annual Iranian Film Festival, which kicks off on Friday, January 25, and runs through Sunday, February 24. We've marked our calendars for A Modest Reception, a darkly funny psychological thriller from director Mani Haghighi.

Freer Gallery, Jefferson Drive at 12th St SW; 202-633-4880.


Photo: Courtesy of Freer Gallery
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Starting tomorrow, the Corcoran Gallery of Art will let you mix culture and cocktails on Wednesday nights. Dubbed "Corcoran Uncorked," the event series will include receptions for new exhibitions, docent-led highlight tours, and drinks from the city's top mixologists and wine directors in Todd Gray's Muse restaurant. Tomorrow night's kickoff festivities include the opening of This Is Not a Museum in Gallery 31 and the museum's first-ever juried festival of movies made on mobile phones by D.C.-area filmmakers.

When: Every Wednesday night. Starts tomorrow, January 9, from 5-9 p.m.
Where: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th Street NW; 202-639-1700. Launch event is free; subsequent events are $15 for non-members and free for member/students. \

Photo: Courtesy of Corcoran Gallery of Art
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If you haven't yet made the trip to Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens to see the incredible works of Isabelle de Borchgrave, your time is steadily running out. The stunning exhibition, entitled Prêt-à-Papier, consists of an array of dresses inspired by styles from the 17th through the 20th century, each painstakingly crafted from paper — that's right, paper — by the Belgian artist. The incredible works are on display until Sunday, January 20, so pencil in a weekend visit soon.

Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, 4155 Linnean Avenue NW; 202-686-5807.

Photo: Courtesy of Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens
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Since 2005, the Hirshhorn's Black Box art space has been devoted to video artwork, showcasing new and established artists from all over the world. The current exhibition highlights the work of DEMOCRACIA, a Madrid-based artists' collective known for socio-political themes. For Ser y Durar, the film currently showing at Black Box, the artists worked with a group of parkour pros and filmed in Madrid's Almudena civil cemetery, the final resting place for many prominent political progressives, intellectuals, and founders of the Spain’s democratic society in the pre-Franco era. The result? A captivating contrast of athleticism and anthropology.

Hirshhorn Museum, 7th Street and Independence Avenue SW; 202-633-4674.

Photo: Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum
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The Phillips Collection is a favorite among art buffs who like to combine museum visits with some healthy mingling — after all, the Phillips After 5 monthly events have been going strong (and selling out) for years. The museum just announced extended hours on Thursdays, so you now have an extra 3.5 hours (until 8:30 p.m.) to peruse the offerings. Now through February 10, you can check out (IN)balance, the first major U.S. presentation of Xavier Veilhan's work, which ranges from sculpture to painting. On Thursday, January 17, the museum's curator of modern and contemporary art will discuss the exhibition.

Phillips Collection, 1600 21st Street NW; 202-387-2151.

Photo: Courtesy of Phillips Collection
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Can't get enough indie films after the glut of holiday blockbusters? We feel you. Head to the National Gallery of Art for Sixpack: The Austrian Experiment, a month-long film festival that spotlights Austria's burgeoning independent cinema. On Saturday, catch Toward Nowa Huta, a reflection on the past and present lives of filmmaker Dariusz Kowalski's hometown in Poland.

National Gallery of Art, East Building, 4th Street and Constitution Avenue NW; 202-737-4215.


Photo: Courtesy of Sixpack
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Created by artist Lincoln Schatz, The Network is the National Portrait Gallery's newest acquisition, and it's a doozy. Schatz interviewed 89 politicians, innovators, scientists, and scholars — ranging from Cokie Roberts to Karl Rove —and combined the Q&A sessions into one single-screen video that seamlessly organizes their responses by subject matter. The effect? One effortless conversation that stays on topic and isn't impeded by arguments and interruptions.

National Portrait Gallery, Eighth and F Streets NW; 202-633-8300.

Photo: Courtesy of Lincoln Schatz
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