National Gallery of Art Washington DC

2,437.24 mi from Sartle HQ in SF, CA

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Marguerite Elliot

Contributor

Love open spaces, clean lines, or just need a place to breath and find a bit of peace in the nation's capital? You'll love I.M. Pei's East Wing of the National Gallery.

You can't have all that open space and lots of art too. Here the architect rules, one I.M. PEI, creator of the Lourve pyramid.

In the atrium, a giant 920-lb. Calder mobile floats from the ceiling. But it's difficult to appreciate the wonderful forms because of the mishmash of skylights directly above it.

And so it is with the 15-ton (really!) Henry Moore sculpture adjacent to the entrance. The elderly Moore wanted it out in front, unobstructed by the building. The last thing Pei wanted was a 17-foot bronze sculpture to compete with his design, so he pushed it under the overhang. The architect rules. 

The National Gallery is a family project. The West Wing was completed in 1937 with big bucks from Andrew Mellon – one of the ten wealthiest men in the United States at that time. Then in 1978 Mellon's son Paul and daughter Ailsa Mellon Bruce funded the construction of the East Wing.

PEI unites the two very different buildings by using the same pink marble of the West Wing exterior for that of its eastern counterpart. Unfortunately, the exterior of the building suffered structural failure and had to be totally rebuilt 30 years later. Oops! Ruling architect messes up.

Must sees or (stuff I like):

  • Light installation (40,000 LEDS) by Leo Villareal in the Concourse connecting the East and West wing

  • Great gift shop

  • The room devoted to Alexander Calder filled with lots of cool mobiles casting amazing shadows

  • The Max Ernest sculpture in the Atrium depicting a rather strange family

  • Henry Moore's very large sculpture out front

  • I.M. Pei's signature glass pyramids in the courtyard – mini versions of his huge Louvre pyramid (think Da Vinci Code).

    Best of all: admission is free!


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