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Fodor's Washington, D.C. 2014
National Gallery of Art, East Building
National Gallery of Art, East Building Review
The East Building opened in 1978 in response to the changing needs of the National Gallery, especially to house a growing collection of modern art. It's set to undergo a major renovation to add an additional 12,260 square feet of exhibit space and an outdoor sculpture terrace overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue. At this writing, galleries were scheduled to close on a gradual basis until January 2014, when all of the galleries will be closed for approximately three years. For the most up-to-date information on details of closures before you visit, refer to the gallery's website www.nga.gov/renovation.
Even if the East Building galleries are closed when you visit, you can still admire its unique structure—the trapezoidal shape of the site prompted architect I.M. Pei's dramatic approach: two interlocking spaces shaped like triangles provide room for galleries, auditoriums, and administrative offices. Despite its severe angularity, Pei's building is inviting. The ax-blade-like southwest corner has been darkened and polished smooth by thousands of hands irresistibly drawn to it. Inside, the sunlit atrium is dominated by a colorful 76-foot-long Alexander Calder mobile, the perfect introduction to galleries filled with masterworks of modern and contemporary art.
Masterpieces from every famous name in 20th-century art—Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Piet Mondrian, Roy Lichtenstein, Joan Miró, Georgia O'Keeffe, and dozens of others—fill the galleries.
Huge, color-drenched Mark Rothko works are a perennial favorite—the gallery owns more than 300 paintings on canvas, and a study collection of more than 600 works on paper by the iconic American modernist.
World-class temporary exhibitions are a big draw. Recent years have seen the collected works of Andy Warhol, Paul Gauguin, Canaletto, Robert Frank, Joan Miró, Roy Lichtenstein, Albrecht Durer, and Harry Callahan.
To reach the East Building from the West Building, you can take the underground Concourse, lined with gift shops, a café, and a cafeteria, but to best appreciate the building's sleek and celebrated architecture, enter from outside rather than underground: exit the West Building through its eastern doors and cross 4th Street.
The Atrium, with Andy Goldsworthy's Roof and Calder's mobile, will remain open during the renovation, and visitors may still access the West Building through the East Building's Concourse walkway. East Building lectures and films may be moved to other locations within the Gallery; visit the website for up-to-date information.
Free docent-led tours leave from the information desk weekdays at 11:30 and 1:30, and weekends at 11:30 and 3:30. There is a variety of free foreign-language tours offered; see www.nga.gov/programs/tours/#foreign.
Pick up the cheat-sheet "What to See in An Hour": it pinpoints 15 highlights of the East Building.
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