The American Wing

The scene into which we stepped bears description.

The American Wing is built around a sizable architectural piece, a customs house harvested from Salem, Massachusetts. Its marble front steps descend into an ivy- and fern-filled sculpture courtyard, where it’s all greens, gold, and ivory and pert adolescent breasts. The grandchildren of the tormentors of witches and warlocks swished up and down these sloped gray treads and passed beneath the snowy tetra-columned portico into a place of gossip and taxation; now you pass through into a total of five floors of period rooms, a mismatch with the 2.5 stories delineated on the building’s front, but whatever. It’s an impressive layout, and I don’t think the idea is that you are supposed to imagine what it was like so much as you are supposed to like how it is now, all pressure-cleaned and lit with recessed halogen. There is this fragrance, by the way, pertaining to all large open spaces in the museum, that makes me think that it is the exclusive task of some member of staff to think about how cleaning products smell when combined with high levels of western European and American midwestern BO plus CO2. It’s this comforting, vaguely herbal scent, with the just the smallest touch of canned air or airplane, just the slightest industrial indication that you are not at home. I mean, it’s immaculate but not at all impersonal, which is a difficult atmosphere to pull off.

Lucy Ives, Impossible Views of the World, 2017

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