March 23, 2011
Dame Elizabeth Taylor, actress and legend of the silver screen, passed away this morning at age 79. She suffered from chronic health problems and died at Cedars Sinai Hospital from congestive heart failure, a condition she was initially diagnosed with in 2004.
Born in London, Taylor began acting at the age of 12, scoring her breakthrough role of Velvet Brown in the 1944 film National Velvet, where she played an aspiring equestrian who illicitly competes in the Grand National Steeplechase. She became a major child star at MGM and was one of a few young actors who were able to make that difficult transition to adult roles. Maturing into a dazzling beauty with raven hair and violet eyes, Taylor was at her zenith during the 1950s and 60s, appearing in films such as Father of the Bride, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer and Cleopatra, where she met her future husband Richard Burton. She took home Oscar gold for her performance as a call girl in BUtterfield 8 and for playing the disillusioned and acidic Martha in a cinematic treatment of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
In 1956, she appeared opposite James Dean in a screen adaptation of the Edna Ferber novel Giant. During filming, photographer Sid Avery captured a behind-the-scenes shot of the actress, currently on view at the National Portrait Gallery. “It is in the unscripted, candid moment captured in this image that Taylor’s extraordinary beauty is most striking,” says Ann Shumard, the Portrait Gallery’s curator of photographs. “Blissfully unaware of the camera, the 23-year-old actress raises her face to the Texas sun as she enjoys a break in the filming of Giant. Even in an unguarded moment, she is every bit the star whose beauty made her such a mesmerizing presence on the screen.”
Taylor also had a longstanding love affair with jewelry and wrote a book about her collection and the stories behind her pieces. Currently on display at the Cooper Hewitt Museum’s exhibition Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef and Arpels is her lamartine bracelet that dates from 1970.
“Elizabeth Taylor had extraordinary taste in jewelry and a very fine collection,” says Sarah Coffee Coffin, a curator at Cooper-Hewitt. “The bracelet and earrings that go with them were both a present from Richard Burton that he bought her in Geneva in 1971. He liked them because the cabochon amethysts went with her violet eyes.”
Her film career waned in the 1970s and in the 1980s she was a recurring figure on the daytime soap operas “General Hospital” and “All My Children.” It was also during this period that she poured her time and resources into AIDS charities in an era when it was still a taboo subject. She created the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1991 to assist people living with the disease. And though she was absent from acting and made few public appearances in her later years, she kept in touch with her legions of devoted fans via Twitter, sending out messages until just days before she was admitted to Cedars Sinai Hospital on February 11.
March 22, 2011
Game On. Registration has now begun for the new Smithsonian-museum based alternate reality game, Vanished.
Developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with funding from the National Science Foundation, the game encourages students, ages 11 to 14, to kick their critical thinking skills into high gear to solve a mystery . The 8-week alternate reality game engages students to try to figure out the cause of an environmental disaster using games, puzzles, online challenges, museum visits and scientific deduction. While the gaming experience is online, players are also encouraged to investigate their immediate environs by visiting Smithsonian and Smithsonian affiliate museums to find information that will help them complete the game.
In online video conferences, Smithsonian scientists—forensic anthropologist Kari Bruwelheide, paleo-ecologist Conrad Labandeira, geologist Elizabeth Cottrell, entomologist David Roubik—will interact with the players to help them along in the game, as well as to give them a realistic idea about what it’s like to be a professional in the field, debunking some of the more pervasive cultural stereotypes. (There are more women in the field than you might initially think and yes, they do have hobbies and outside interests like the rest of us.)
“We want kids to go in and feel like investigators and scientists,” says MIT’s Caitlin Feeley, the game’s project manager. “This online mystery-solving community is a lot like a scientific community.”
Gamers will pool and discuss their ideas on moderated online forums, as a group they can challenge their own assumptions and rethink hypotheses and collectively solve clues.
Sidebar mini games available on the site teach scientific concepts that can be used to help solve the larger mystery. For example, in Rover, players can explore a virtual archaeological site and digitally dig up and examine artifacts in the Smithsonian’s collections, using observations to interpret data.
A few years ago the Smithsonian approached the Education Arcade at MIT, a group focused on finding innovative ways to use digital gaming as a teaching tool, about doing a game on museum education. ”It gets kids into museums with purpose,” says Feeley.
“Sometimes there are efforts to get kids engaged with museums that don’t actually get kids to think about why the exhibits are important or get them to integrate that into other things. They’ll do something like go on a scavenger hunt, write a report on what you saw—that kind of thing,” she says.
“In a lot of ways, solving a mystery, even if it’s a fictional mystery, teaches you a lot more about how to be a scientist than memorizing some stuff and copying it down on a test next week. Sometimes if kids don’t get a good science teacher, they get the unfortunate impression that science is just about memorizing a bunch of stuff. Why would you want to do that? We want kids to understand that it’s about problem solving, investigation,” says Feeley. “You make some hypotheses and if they don’t bear out, you take your investigation in another direction based on what you’ve learned. That’s true for mystery solving and it’s true for science.”
Visit Vanished to sign up. The free games begin April 4, 2011, all you need is a computer with an internet connection.
March 21, 2011
Monday, March 21: March Film Screening: My Name Is Kahentiiosta
Kahentiiosta, a young Kahnawake Mohawk woman, took part in a 78-day armed standoff in 1990 as a part of a land dispute between the Mohawks and the Canadian federal government. Arrested and imprisoned, she was detained longer than her peers because the prosecutor refused to let her stand trial using her native name. Learn about Kahentiiosta’s story and why she was prepared to die to protect the land and trees sacred to the Mohawk people of Kanehsatake. Free. American Indian Museum, 3:30-4:00 PM. This event repeats daily, except Wednesdays, through the month of March.
Tuesday, March 22: Naturalist Center
Explore this resource center of some 36,000 natural history and anthropological specimens where visitors, students, collectors, and natural history lovers can handle and study these objects, identify their own treasures, do research, draw, and more. The center is open year-round, Tuesday through Saturday and is closed on most federal holidays. Call 703-779-9712 (voice), 800-729-7725 (voice), or 202-633-9287 (NMNH’s TTY) for directions, information, and weather-related closings. Visitors must be 10 years of age or older to visit the main study gallery. A small Family Learning Center is available for younger guests. Groups of 6 or more admitted with advance reservations only; 2- to 4-week notice required. Please call to make reservations. The Naturalist Center is not located on the National Mall. Its address is 741 Miller Dr., Suite G2, Leesburg, Virginia. Free. Natural History Museum, 10:30-4:00 PM.
Wednesday, March 23: National Portrait Gallery Pop Quiz: Women’s History Month Challenge
Head out to the Kogod Courtyard to play the National Portrait Gallery’s new multimedia collection–inspired trivia game. In honor of Women’s History Month, tonight’s line of questions will be based on women in the National Portrait Gallery collection. Refreshments will be available for purchase. Free. National Portrait Gallery, 6:30 PM.
Thursday, March 24: Stargazing at the Public Observatory
The museum’s Public Observatory is open for special nighttime stargazing. Don’t miss this chance to see an array of celestial objects through a powerful professional telescope, as well as additional portable telescopes. Free. Air and Space Museum, 9:00-10:00 PM.
Friday, March 25: Live Tarantula Feedings
If you don’t get the heebie-jeebies from creepy crawlies, come on out to the Insect Zoo where you can observe a tarantula feeding, touch live insects and ask questions about any of the creatures living at the Zoo. Free. National Zoo, 10:30 AM. This event repeats year-round Tuesday through Friday at 10:30 AM, 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM, and on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30 AM, 12:30 PM and 1:30 PM.
For updates on all exhibitions and events, visit our companion site goSmithsonian.com
March 18, 2011
Weekend Events: Pulitzer Prize Winning Biologist E.O. Wilson, Rachel Carson and the Art of Digital Buddhist Shrines
Friday, March 18: E.O. Wilson: Biologist, Naturalist, Writer, Professor and Environmentalist
Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist E.O. Wilson played a key role in the development of the new field of chemical ecology in the 1950s and 60s. With William H. Bossert of Harvard University, Wilson created the first general theory of properties of chemical communication. This evening, he discusses his two recently published books, The Leafcutter Ants: Civilization By Instinct (W. W. Norton) and Kingdom of the Ants: José Celestino Mutis and the Dawn of American Natural History (Johns Hopkins University Press). Book signing follows. Free. Natural History Museum, 7:00-8:30 PM
Saturday, March 19: Conversation: Creating the Digital Cave
Have you visited the new, immersive digital display Echoes of the Past at the Sackler and have a “how’d they do that” moment? This afternoon, artist Jason Salavon and Freer and Sackler curator Keith Wilson discuss the fascinating process of creating a digital reconstruction of Xiangtangshan’s Buddhist cave temples and how Salavon was able to convey the site’s modern history of despoliation, preservation, and reconstruction. Free. Sackler Gallery, 2:00 PM.
Sunday, March 20: Portrait Story Days: Rachel Carson
Perfect for young visitors (accompanied by an adult, of course), drop in to listen to a story about a person who has influenced American history and culture and to create a special piece of art. Today, learn about Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring and founder of the modern environmental movement. Free. Portrait Gallery, 1:00-4:00 PM.
For updates on all exhibitions and events, visit our companion site goSmithsonian.com
March 16, 2011
If you grew up with video games, and have piles of cartridges, diskettes and CD-ROMs lying around your home, you’ve more or less been curating your own personal exhibition of video game art in the comfort of your own home. But in your esteemed opinion, what games stand out as testaments to technological innovation or spectacular design? Coming to the American Art Museum next year, The Art of Video Games will be an exploration of how gaming has evolved as an art and entertainment medium over the course of 40 years.
But is it art? Can games seriously make the leap from toy store shelves to a museum? The answer is a qualified “yes” as far as exhibition curator and video game collector Chris Melissinos is concerned. “Video games allow for self expression, social reflection, intent and observer insight,” he says. “Due to its interactive nature, video games are an amalgam of art styles and mediums that allow for exploration, by the player or observer, of the artist’s intent or message. This exploration allows the player to internalize the message in a very personal and unique way. There is no other form of media, books, music, movies, or painting, that affords this opportunity. None. I have spent time in front of the paintings of Jackson Pollock and, while interesting, I found no self reflection or intent in them. I understand his technique, understand his intent, but it fails to move me at all. However, in the game Flower, there was a moment in the game where the music, visuals and actions transported me back to when I was a child growing up in New York that was so profound, it caused me to well up. It so happens that my personal reaction was in line with what the designer intended to convey. Between the two, Flower stands, for me, as a work of art.”
And for those of you who were similarly impacted by gaming, now is your chance to help decide which games will be included in the show. The games selected by the curators were milestones of a particular era or genre, received worldwide recognition and were innovative on a technical and visual level.
“I wanted the people who would come to see the exhibition to experience the reflection of their desires in the materials,” Melissinos says. “Not just the voice of the designers, artists and myself. Having the public vote on materials that we selected allows their participation and sense of community.”
And what’s Melissinos’ favorite game? “If I had to pick one, it would probably be Robotron 2084. In the Robotron world, robots and computers have become self aware and realize that humankind is the most destructive force against human existence. In an attempt to save the human race, the robots take over and control the population. You are there to save the last human family from this prison.”
While Robotron 2084 isn’t among the 240 game titles you can pick from, you have until April 7, 2011 to cast your votes and winnow down the list to 80 games. The Art of Video Games will open at the American Art Museum one year from today on March 16, 2012.