on February 8, 2001
Tel 202 737 4215 / www.nga.org / There are three parts to the Gallery: The West Building, The East Building, and the Scuplture Garden (outdoors). The two buildings are connected by an underground concourse which runs under 4th Street. The gift shops and cafeteria are located in this concourse.
These galleries are immense. On a sunny day that is not too humid (as DC can be in the summer) the Sculpture Garden is an absolute dream. Any other day, the West Bldg holds the older art, while the East Bldg generally concerns itself with art from the 20th Century and forward, as well as special installations. While I was there, the French Art Nouveau show was drawing hordes of line-waiters (oui oui tres jolie). I passed this by, and browsed around through the permanent collection in the East Bldg.
My favorite collection this visit was the Calder room. In here the NGA has arrayed a dozen of Alexander Calder's famous mobiles and wire sculptures. The enormous mobile that hangs from the upper level of the East Bldg is his, too -- slightly reminiscent of a dinosaur skeleton, it is lumbering grace in primary colors. In the Calder Room, though, the mobiles are hung up high, and they are smaller and delicate, and they are lit from all angles, so that when you sit on the benches that line the perimeter, you can gaze up at the play of shadows and mobile and lose yourself in the flutter. Gazing at Calder mobiles has got to be one of the most relaxing and playful things we can do for ourselves as humans. When you're done, walk around to the balcony that overlooks the mobiles, and gaze at them from eye-level as they spin about. You are so close, you can almost touch their metal petals.
There are many other rooms worth mentioning, but I'll let you discover them on your own. I do want to say, though, that I spoke with four guards while I was in the East Building, and all were the most courteous and friendly people I met. One took my picuture with the mobiles, another gave me directions with a truly sincere smile, and another two gave me permission to take photos. These small kindnesses made my day, and were surprising in the face of the crowd of people to see the Nouveau show.
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