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Reflections from the Second-Floor lounge of the USHMM

Posted on August 20th, 2018 by

This post was written by JMM Visitor Services Coordinator Paige Woodhouse. To read more posts from Paige, click here!

Entering the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, D.C., I felt as though I had entered a building that could have been located anywhere in the world. I was separated from the hustle and bustle of tourists moving between their destinations across the National Mall. Having arrived prior to the Museum’s opening, our group from the Summer Teachers Institute collected on the stairs in the Hall of Witness. I immediately knew that the Museum’s design would have a strong impact on my visit.

STI participants standing at the bottom of the staircase in the Hall of Witness. The staircase is often thought to look like a railroad track. (Want to hear more about Summer Teachers Institute? Check out Ilene’s recent blog post here.)

Different components – including the exhibit floor plan, color of the walls, light levels, scents, and sounds – within a space culminate together to influence a visitor’s experience. These elements are carefully curated by the team at USHMM. The architecture of the USHMM was not designed to reference any specific site or structure. Rather through a collection of carefully selected materials and features, the architecture eludes to the history shared inside the Museum. It is meant to evoke reflection and memories.

The lounge located after portion of the permanent exhibit The ‘Final Solution’ – 1940 to 1945 dedicated to ghettos and death camps, is an example of how a carefully curated space impacted my experience.

The second-floor lounge is a clean white space. This space, with a few benches along the wall, is where I encountered artist Sol LeWitt’s wall drawing “Consequence.” But first, let me back up a few steps. Before entering this lounge, I walked through the “Tower of Faces.” The “Tower of Faces” is a three-floor-high component of the permanent exhibit. The tower is filled from floor to ceiling with photos of families and individuals. Consisting of approximately 1000 reproduction photos, this tower is devoted to the Jewish community of the Lithuanian town of Eisiskes. This community was massacred on September 25th and 26th, 1941.

“Tower of Faces.” You can learn more about this component of the USHMM’s permanent exhibit here.

I walked out of the “Tower of Faces” feeling saturated by images of families, couples, and individuals. I saw a glimpse into these people’s personal lives and their unique stories. After exiting this tower, I was confronted with Sol LeWitt’s artwork on the wall of the lounge. The artwork is composed of five monumental squares set on a black background. Each square is a different color: purple, yellow, blue, red, and orange.. In the center of each colored square is a smaller grey square with a thin white border.

Sol LeWitt’s “Consequence” located in the second floor lounge in the permanent exhibit at USHMM.

The result is four colorful portrait frames with nothing in the middle of them. Unlike the tower immediately prior, there are no faces, no families, no personalities, and no stories. They are void. They emit emptiness.

This space provided me, and other visitors, an opportunity to reflect. To digest the information presented in the permanent exhibit. The artwork “Consequence” is poignant. Taking up the entire wall, the artwork embodies that overwhelming sense of loss.

There are numerous spaces throughout the USHMM and each is designed in an incredibly thoughtful manor. While my experience in the second-floor lounge heavily resonated with me following my visit, I am certain that when I visit again I will find another element carefully curated that impacts my experience as a visitor.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland