The regional museum near Washington, D.C. debuts a $200 million expansion, thrusting its holistic experience of art, architecture, and landscape into the international spotlight.
Seamlessly embedded into the hills and woodlands of one of Washington, D.C.’s wealthiest suburbs, the Glenstone has been a sanctuary for city dwellers and visitors looking to escape the chaos since it first opened in 2006. This October, the venue unveils a $200 million expansion, including an additional 130 acres of serene surroundings and a brand new 204,000-square-foot Pavilions building, that creates an even more meditative environment combining art, architecture, and nature.
During the preview ahead of the reopening, I followed the silvery entrance path from the Arrival Hall through a rolling meadow to the Pavilions, the main museum building, my senses were heightened to the natural light, color, and sounds of the day. On either side, delicate wildflowers shook in the breeze to a choir of bugs and the occasional honking of geese. Up ahead, the smoky sky and drizzle complemented the grayscale patchwork of the stacked, concrete towers of the new complex.
Overlooking the scene from a hilltop was Jeff Koons’s massive flower-covered rocking-horse head, Split-Rocker, an appetizer for the whimsy, creativity, and innovation that the rest of the experience would hold.
The artworks are from the private collection of married, billionaire founders Emily Wei Rales and Mitchell P. Rales. They range from works by household names like Andy Warhol to those that deserve more recognition like Ruth Asawa. The museum aims to “focus on challenging works of art, as those are the ones that stay with you [and] inspire other generations to be risk takers,” Emily Rales said during the preview.
The spacious, roofless Room 5, meanwhile, features Michael Heizer’s large Collapse sculpture, whose weathered-steel beams sink into the ground of crushed, rust-colored argillite stone. The Raleses granted sculptor Charles Ray “full control” over what to showcase in his dedicated Room 8. Out of their deep collection of his work, Ray selected four for the debut: Baled Truck, Table, Fall, and The New Beetle. He has said that “every stone, block, wall, floor, door, and window has been considered for the betterment of viewing art.”
Room 2 is the largest, showcasing the chronological and international scope of the collection. Iconic names like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko represent New York’s abstract expressionism movement, while lesser-known artists and movements include Shozo Shimamoto of Japanese gutai, Alighiero e Boetti of Italian arte povera, and Lygia Clark of Brazilian neo-concretism. The room culminates in the 1980s with politically charged art that still resonates today, including David Hammons’s controversial portrait of a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesse Jackson entitled How Ya Like Me Now?
As impressive as the Glenstone’s exhibits may be, perhaps the most memorable piece of art is the Water Court. Connecting the rooms is a spa-like passageway with glass walls that frame the perimeter of this central, lush oasis. I was so entranced by its beauty that upon first glance, I nearly walked through the clear glass.
Beyond the walls of the main Pavilions space are a new café, patio, and the original gallery, which opened in 2006 and currently features five decades of works from trailblazer Louise Bourgeois. Even further beyond are 230 acres of woods, streams, and meadows in which visitors can wander and uncover multi-sensory works of art like Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s haunting sound installation Forest (for a thousand years).
A polite guide tracked me down on a meadow trail and brought me back to reality. “We’re closing, you need to leave,” the guide said, and I reluctantly shuffled off toward the exit. “But there’s more to see and experience; I’m not done,” I thought to myself. And that’s the point, you’re never done here. With the beautiful nuances that the changing seasons are sure to bring, the Glenstone is a destination to return to several times.
The Glenstone reopens on October 4th. Admission is free. Crowd numbers are limited by timed reservations and slots are already filled for the next two months.