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Visiting the National Gallery of Art East Building
Modern artworks have a new-look home, and it’s stunningly beautiful
The I.M. Pei-designed National Gallery of Art East Building stands out in Washington, DC as a modern marvel, which sleekly contrasts with the Beaux Arts and Classical architecture seen throughout the nation’s capital.
After a three-year renovation, the museum wing closest to the Capitol has added two sky-lit tower galleries, two staircases connecting all levels of the museum, a rooftop terrace with a blue rooster sculpture and, best of all, more than 500 works of art.
The revamped museum has been thoughtfully laid out to provide a walking chronology of artworks from the late 19th century to present-day, as well as flowing exhibition spaces arranged by artist, theme and nationality.
What’s inside is nothing short of incredible, from design motifs echoing I.M. Pei’s sketches of the museum to gleaming galleries with works by Alexander Calder, Barbara Kruger, Jasper Johns, Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko and so many more.
Situated on Pennsylvania Avenue, the East Building reopened to the public in late September 2016. Whether you’ve visited in the past or you have yet to visit, the all-new East Building will blow your mind!
The East Building of the National Gallery of Art features one of the most uniquely shaped exteriors of any building in DC. The façade remains unaffected by the renovation, and it’s just as stunning as when the museum debuted in 1978.
Architect I.M. Pei designed the museum based on this early sketch, where the East Building is represented by the two triangles along the right. Featuring two sides of equal length, the isosceles triangle has been incorporated into the redesign as a major feature of the building’s architecture.
A peek over the railing of this new staircase reveals two triangles placed end to end, forming a rhombus. This, and another set of stairs, now connect museumgoers to all five levels of the museum, improving the flow of foot traffic.
Yet a third set of stairs of which you’ll want to take note: #thatngawall. Appearing as if it converts 3-D to 2-D, the wall and staircase is as Instagram-worthy as it gets.
The new roof terrace, which concept architect Perry Chin likens to a “zen garden,” gives visitors a moment to pause and catch their breath in between visiting galleries. It comes with views of The Smithsonian Castle, the U.S. Capitol and some awesome sculptures.
Facing north, Katharina Fritsch’s sculpture, Hahn/Cock, electrifies the rooftop with its vivid cobalt hue. Head to the edge of the rooftop, look east and you'll encounter a more established DC landmark.
Colorful canvases from groundbreaking abstract expressionist Mark Rothko are a highlight from the Tower 1 gallery. The works will rotate through the Gallery’s vast collection of Rothkos. Check out even more Rothko paintings at The Phillips Collection.
Composed of 45 sculptures and paintings, Alexander Calder: A Survey boasts the largest display of works by the artist. The artworks can be found in the new Tower 2 gallery.
The East Building’s wide-open atrium features a kinetic chandelier, a 76-foot-long mobile work that was the last sculpture Calder ever made. Unlike Calder’s other works, it remains Untitled because he passed away before he could name it.
Explore inventive and iconic works of modern art in the upper level. Among the artists featured are members of the Washington Color School of the late 1950s and '60s, including Gene Davis (who is the subject of a new exhibit opening on Nov. 18 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum) and Kenneth Noland.
One of the East Building’s new special exhibits, Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959–1971, explores abstract art being made across two coasts. An art collector and aficionado of the avant-garde, Virginia Dwan has promised a number of artworks from her personal collection to the National Gallery of Art.
The roles of viewer and subject take center stage in the exhibition, In the Tower: Barbara Kruger. As a former layout editor for Condé Nast, Kruger creates works evoking a magazine cover with a subject in profile and large text, leaving it to the viewer to conceptualize complex themes amid a pop backdrop.
Admire the evolution of experimental photography through the lenses of Thomas Demand, Andreas Gursky, Hiroshi Sugimoto and others in the exhibition, Photography Reinvented: The Collection of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker.
Amble through the concourse’s Contemporary Art galleries and admire works riffing off the themes of markers and signs, as well as flow. This neon sign by Glenn Ligon depicts disorienting versions of "America."
It’s official, DC truly is a work of art! Got some cool DC artworks of your own to share? Post them with the #MyDCcool hashtag for a chance to be featured on the @visitwashingtondc Instagram.
Forget marble: Janine Antoni's Lick and Lather shows off 14 self-portrait busts made from chocolate and soap. Want to guess what served as Antoni’s chisels? Hint: It’s in the name. She used her tongue for the chocolate creations and created the features of the soap sculptures in the bath.
Now that you’ve explored all there is to see in the East Building, venture through Leo Villareal’s Multiverse to the National Gallery of Art West Building. A preview of what you’ll see: early American artists, as well as European masters like da Vinci, van Gogh and Monet.
To continue on more modern art adventures, plan a trip to the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.