Glenstone in October 2018
|Location||Potomac, Maryland, United States|
|Curator||Emily Wei Rales|
Glenstone is a private contemporary art museum in Potomac, Maryland, 15 miles from downtown Washington, D.C. It contains about 1,300 works in many mediums from post-World War II artists around the world, and is noted for its distinctive setting in a broad natural landscape. First opened in 2006, the museum was expanded several times in size in between 2013 and 2018 on its 230-acre campus. A significant expansion was opened to the public on October 4, 2018, with the introduction of a new museum complex called the Pavilions, an arrival hall, entry pavilion, bookstore and two cafés. The museum was developed and financed by billionaire American businessman Mitchell Rales, is curated by Emily Wei Rales, and is open free to the public via online booking. It has been compared to other private museums such as the Frick Collection and The Phillips Collection.
In 1986, Rales purchased the Potomac, Maryland property, a former fox hunting club, in order to build a home. Soon thereafter, Rales began collecting art for that home. Rales first conceived of the idea of establishing a museum following a near-death accident on a helicopter trip in Russia, which inclined him to take on a philanthropic project. Glenstone is named for the nearby Glen Road, and because of stone quarries located in the vicinity. The museum's initial 30,000 square foot Modernist limestone gallery opened in 2006, and admitted visitors two days a week. In its first seven years of existence, the museum admitted 10,000 visitors.
A major expansion was announced in 2013 and was completed in 2018, opening to the public on October 4, 2018. The expansion cost approximately $219 million and increased the size of the museum by a factor of five, and included substantial landscaping changes to the 230-acre property. After the expansion opened, Glenstone began to admit 400 visitors per day, with the limit imposed to "give lots of space to our visitors, to really give them the time to explore and enjoy", according to Rales.
After the 2018 expansion, Glenstone continued to acquire adjacent properties, including lots containing residential homes. Speaking on Public Radio Tulsa's Museum Confidential program in 2019, curator Emily Rales said that future plans do not include substantial expansion, and will likely be limited to "one or two smaller buildings to house artworks, maybe in the woods, maybe on an adjoining property." She also referenced potential plans to build a conservation lab on the campus.
Collection and exhibitions
The museum's collection of about 1,300 post-World War II works consists of paintings, single-artist installations, video installations, sound installations, and both indoor and outdoor sculptures. One of the collection's constraints is that it only contains works by artists who have already exhibited for at least 15 years. Many of the museum's galleries feature only one or two pieces, do not contain explanatory text, and are sparsely furnished. While some exhibitions are permanent, the collection will rotate through the galleries over time.
The museum is staffed by recent undergraduate and graduate students through its "Emerging Professionals Program", a two-year program for aspiring curators. This uniformed staff is stationed in the galleries to answer questions from visitors about the art.
In 2018, the introduction of the Pavilions expansion debuted single-artist installations and exhibitions from artists Cy Twombly, Robert Gober, Pipilotti Rist, Charles Ray, On Kawara, Martin Puryear, Michael Heizer, Lygia Pape, Brice Marden. Other artists who have been on display at Glenstone have included Roni Horn, Alexander Calder, Ruth Asawa, David Hammons, Alighiero Boetti, Kerry James Marshall, and Mark Rothko.
On May 16, 2019, Emily and Mitchell Rales purchased Lee Krasner's 1960 painting The Eye is the First Circle for $11.7 million. The purchase set a record for the price paid for a work by Krasner. The painting is expected to be shown in Glenstone.
Glenstone consists of a cluster of distinctively designed museum galleries and other buildings set in a large 230-acre wooded campus. The museum buildings are located toward the center of the campus, and visitors approach the galleries from gravel parking lots via a pathway through the property that is about third of a mile (0.5 km) long. Because of its effort to establish a tranquil experience, Glenstone has been referred to as part of the "slow art" method.
The original Glenstone building opened in 2006 and was designed by American architect Charles Gwathmey of Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects. The building was a 30,000 square foot modernist limestone structure with 9,000 feet of gallery space, located on 100 acres of land.
The 2018 expansion added 50,000 square feet of gallery space in a 204,000 square foot museum structure called "the Pavilions", which was designed by American architect Thomas Phifer. Among the influences for the design are the Ryoan-ji Zen temple in Kyoto, Japan, the Menil Collection in Houston, and Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark. The Pavilions is built of six-foot-long cast-concrete blocks that were poured during different seasons to produce variable coloring. Though it is one building, the Pavilions is meant to appear as multiple separate buildings from a distance. The structure contains eleven galleries connected by glass-enclosed walkways, with windows made of 30-foot panels of glass. The galleries make heavy use of natural light through clerestories, oculi, and skylights. Regarding the architectural approach to the Pavilions, curator Emily Rales said, "we knew we wanted these discrete spaces where you could essentially enter into another world that happens to be an art installation."
Glenstone's 2018 expansion was a "critic's choice" in The Wall Street Journal's review of the best architecture of 2018, with Julie V. Iovine writing that Glenstone's architecture takes an approach "that offers a sequence of events revealed gradually with constantly shifting perspectives, as opposed to classic modernism’s tightly controlled image of architecture as geometric tableau."
The Pavilions is built around the "Water Court", an 18,000 square foot water garden containing thousands of aquatic plants such as waterlilies, irises, thalias, cattails, and rushes. The Water Court's design was inspired by the reflecting pool at Brion Cemetery in northern Italy. Referring to the way the museum returns visitors to the water court, Samuel Medina wrote for Metropolis, "Art isn't the heart of the Glenstone Museum, which opened in October -- water is." Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Sebastian Smee wrote of the water court:
It’s as if you’ve entered a beautiful sanctuary, possibly in another hemisphere, maybe another era. Although you’ve descended, you actually feel a kind of lift, a buoyancy, such as what birds must feel when they catch warm air currents. You exhale. You feel liberated from everyday cares. You’re ready for the art.
The expansion also added 130 acres of land, a landscape largely composed of woodland and wildflower meadows that was designed by landscape architect Peter Walker. The effort included the planting of about 8,000 trees, the transplanting of 200 trees, and restorations of streams flowing through the campus. Types of trees in the landscape include sycamore, oak, redbud, dogwood, honey locust, birch, and copper beech. This outdoor space hosts several large art installations by artists including Jeff Koons, Félix Gonzalez-Torres, Michael Heizer, and Richard Serra.
In a positive review for The Washington Post in 2018, Philip Kennicott wrote that Glenstone is a "must-see" museum and that its creators successfully "integrate art, architecture, and landscape." Referring to the natural setting of the museum, he wrote that "everything is quietly spectacular, with curated views to the outdoors that present nature as visual haiku." Kennicott tempered his review by mentioning that the museum's distinctive architecture and layout continually confront visitors with "strange visions" that will make it "interesting to see how it is received".
Kriston Capps of Washington City Paper called Glenstone's 2018 expansion "successful" and "enchanting", with a "sublime" viewing experience. He wrote that the museum's collection excels in its focus around conventional paintings, sculptures, and installations, but excludes more modern media, such as video or performance art. With respect to this "conservative" focus, Capps wrote, "Glenstone is not promoting equity, addressing inequality, or solving accessibility — not yet anyhow."
In Washingtonian, Dan Reed praised Glenstone's suburban setting, saying it "has little in common with the crowded downtown art meccas", and describing it as "soothing and contemplative" and "stunningly landscaped".
Writing for the National Review, Brian T. Allen called Glenstone "a gift to the public of rare size and consequence" and wrote that it "is a huge success on many levels, but among its triumphs is fashioning a mood and space to look intently and even to fall in love with art that most will be disposed to find difficult, forbidding, or inscrutable." Regarding the landscape, Allen wrote, "Getting people out of their cars for the long walk to the exhibition spaces creates a time of orientation and decompression. Few museums can even try this because they don’t have the land."
Sebastian Smee wrote in The Washington Post about Glentone's potential to appeal to some types of visitors, but not others. Calling it "the most exciting new private museum in America", Smee wrote that for some visitors, "the Glenstone experience can feel, at least initially, a little weird. A little too...controlling." Ultimately, Smee's review was highly positive, appreciating that the museum "wants you to have your own experience" and "proposes that art should not be glibly explained away by wall labels but experienced and reflected upon."
The Washington Post's dance critic, Sarah L. Kaufman, wrote that Glenstone exhibits many visual works that are relevant and influential to dance, including works by Pipilotti Rist, Jasper Johns, and Sol LeWitt.
In 2019, Glenstone opened a 7,200 square foot environmental center on its campus. The building contains self-guided exhibits about recycling, composting, and reforestation. To encourage the usage of public transportation, Glenstone admits visitors without reservations who arrive on public buses.
In August 2018, Glenstone Foundation Inc., the foundation that manages the museum, was sued by HITT Contracting, the company that managed the construction of the 2018 expansion. HITT Contracting sued Glenstone for $24 million to cover cost overruns, and in October 2018, Glenstone countersued HITT Contracting for $35.9 million, claiming that the project was over budget and that construction issues delayed the expansion's opening.
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