Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Exploring Glenstone

Danita and Althea with Glenstone's sun protection
Any hopes I had for leaving Florida weather behind were dashed the moment I stepped off the plane in DC. That city can do heat and humidity. Nonetheless, I was baffled by Althea's ambivalence about a visit to Glenstone due to the weather. Sure, I'd never heard of this private museum until the day before, but I was desperate to go. Tickets for a (free) visit are snapped up the moment they become available three months in advance. After all, only 400 visitors a day are permitted access. So the sudden availability of three spots for that very afternoon seemed meant to be.

"Split-Rocker" by Jeff Koons (2000) 
Although I'd laughed at Althea, I understood her concern the moment we got out of our car.  Heat waves emanated from the asphalt on our short walk to the check-in center. The grounds -- 230 acres in all -- are part of the allure of Glenstone, and a leisurely stroll around the property to check out the sculptures clearly wasn't happening. (The umbrellas provided for visitors only did so much.) Still, we did get to see Jeff Koon's "Split- Rocker" from afar on our ten minute walk to the Pavilions. Althea learned on a prior visit that Glenstone employs a gardener whose sole responsibility is to care for the flower-laden sculpture.

"When Frustration Threatens Desire" 
by Kerry James Marshall (1990)
You've probably figured out that Glenstone is not your typical museum. It is the creation of Mitchell and Emily Rales. Mitch Rales is a billionaire collector of modern and contemporary art. (He and his brother co-founded the Fortune 500 Danaher Corporation.) Emily Rei Rales is an art historian and curator. It's a match made in art heaven. The Glenstone website describes their mission by saying, "We envision Glenstone as not only a place, but a state of mind created by the energy of architecture, the power of art and the restorative qualities of nature." It's a lofty goal, but this visitor believes they've achieved it.

The little we saw of the grounds showed their dedication to the goal of making the landscape an integral part of the experience. Nothing is left to chance. The "courtyard" in the center of the Pavilions contains a lily pad-laden pond that would make Monet drool. The Viewing Gallery has a small library and an expansive bench designed by Martin Puryear and Michael Hurwitz. It's a place where visitors can rest and enjoy the scenery through a non-reflective that stretches from floor to ceiling and wall to wall. The view is as curated as the art. Wildflowers abound, and the hill that breaks up the vista was constructed for the enjoyment of museumgoers. It was hard to pull ourselves away.

"Untitled" by Lee Contecou (1962) 
The Rales' approach to the museum experience is equally unique. No volunteer docents for Glenstone. Instead, the museum employs college grads who aspire to become curators. Emily trains these young people herself to ensure they can impart their knowledge about the collection in the Glenstone way. Instead of a recitation of facts about the artist or the work, the docents engage with visitors, asking them open-ended questions about their response to the work while providing some background. And that was helpful, because while there were works by artists familiar to me -- Warhol, Kerry James Marshall, Dan Flavin -- I was being introduced to most of the artists in the collection.

As during our visit to the Life of Animals exhibit, Althea pointed out a couple of her favorite works on display. "Untitled" by Lee Contecou made the list. This sculpture commands nearly an entire wall of a Pavilion. It measures 63 1/2" by 111" by 20", with the last dimension being its protrusion into space. We all admired the steampunk feel of the work whose materials include soot. To read more about Bontecou's work in this style, click here.

"Moon Landing" by On Kawara (from his Today series)
Althea--who could be a docent herself--also filled me in about On Kawara's work when we came to a Pavilion whose walls bore three large paintings, each with a July 1969 date. The works are part of Kawara's Today series, which he began in 1966. While Kawara didn't create a Date Painting each day, he did so with great frequency until his death in 2014. The date on each painting had either personal or historical significance to Kawara. The three paintings on display were entitled "Moon Landing." To read a great article about Kawara's Date Paintings, click here.

The walk up to the Pavilions
I could go on and on, but Glenstone can really only be experienced firsthand. A visit is worth organizing a trip to DC around, even if the weather isn't at its finest. I can't wait to go back.

For a terrific article about the Rales and their concept for Glenstone, click here. For another great piece about Glenstone, click here. Both include photos that allow readers to get a better sense of the museum. And, finally, here's a link to Glenstone's own website. https://www.glenstone.org/

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