The National Gallery of Art’s East Building recently reopened after a three-year, $69 million renovation, unveiling an expanded and upgraded home for one of the world’s finest collections of modern and contemporary art.
Located on the National Mall in Washington, DC, the newly reconfigured wing is a must-see for Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall community members seeking an enriching cultural excursion off base.
Since it originally opened in 1978, the National Gallery’s East Building has stood as one of the most striking architectural landmarks in the nation’s capital. I.M. Pei’s modernist design is a dynamically geometric symphony of triangles and rectangles, contrasting yet complementing the neoclassicism of the older West Building, with which it shares the same Tennessee marble construction.
Inside, visitors will find more than 12,250 square feet of new public space, much of which is built to accommodate the often grand scale of twentieth and twenty-first-century artworks. The vast, multi-tiered main atrium remains crowned by a monumental orange-and-black mobile sculpture by Alexander Calder suspended beneath the glass-paneled ceiling. Natural light bathes Ellsworth Kelly’s Color Panels for a Large Wall at one end of the atrium, while on a lower level, Anselm Kiefer’s warplane-like Angel of History faces Robert Motherwell’s Reconciliation Elegy, a meditation upon the Spanish Civil War.
At the top of the East Building’s new staircases, visitors encounter some of the most impressive spaces added during the renovation. Katharina Fritsch’s electric blue Hahn/Cock perches alongside other outdoor sculptures on the new, tree-lined Roof Terrace, which offers sweeping views overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue.
Adjacent to the terrace, the new northeast Tower Gallery houses a dramatically skylit room showcasing abstract expressionist paintings by Mark Rothko. On a relatively quiet, crowd-free day, this gallery can be an almost chapel-like setting in which to contemplate Rothko’s efforts to engage “timeless and tragic” subject matter through intense colors and monolithic shapes. Immediately next to the Rothko room, Barnett Newman’s epic painting series The Stations of the Cross looks more compelling than ever now that it has been reinstalled from its previous location in the basement galleries. The starkly black-and-white abstractions provide an apt counterpoint to Rothko’s vibrant palette, while echoing his spiritual ambitions.
Overall, the East Building’s exhibition spaces feel noticeably bigger and more comprehensive after their renovation. Galleries branching off from the central atrium feature an expanded selection of hundreds of artworks from the National Gallery’s permanent collection, including masterpieces by such luminaries as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol. The collection is arranged in roughly chronological order and grouped by movements, allowing for an intuitive journey through the history of modern and contemporary art.
In addition to the permanent collection galleries, spaces are set aside for temporary exhibitions. Currently on view are Photography Reinvented: The Collection of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker on the upper level, and Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959–1971 in the lower concourse.
The National Gallery of Art’s East Building is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.. Admission is free.