Alexandria, VA – Springtime in Washington is rivaled by no other city in the world. Not even Paris in April. The confluence of brightly colored blooms complemented by a green that defies description (apple, grass, lime, or Kelly, never quite capture its essence) against a pervasive urban canvas of vastly white marble is nothing short of breathtaking.
The Kreeger Museum on Foxhall Road, just north of Georgetown, recently reopened in time to celebrate the symphony of springtime in the sculpture garden. Designed by Phillip Johnson in 1963, the Kreeger is an exemplary modern art temple boasting five and a half acres of lush grounds, sculpture garden space, and wooded expanse. Established in 1994, the museum was originally the private home of David Lloyd Kreeger and Carmen Kreeger. Along with Glenstone in Potomac and the Phillips Collection in D.C., and since the Corcoran Gallery of Art closed in 2014, the Kreeger is among the premier destinations for progressive, contemporary art exhibition.
The permanent collection, on display on the ground level and outdoors, is an eclectic array of the giants of 19th- and 20th-century painting and sculpture: Picasso, Monet, Braque, Cezanne, Bonnard, and Moore. The intimate exhibit space benefits from the ample ambient light throughout, thanks to Johnson’s classic organic design.
Traces of the Kreegers’ private lives remain. A grand piano in what was the main salon, a library in what was the study, with the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright apparent floor to ceiling. Johnson emphasized the interface of the natural world and interior living environment using glass, stone, and indigenous woods.
Some pieces de-accessioned from the Corcoran Gallery, which donated artwork from the collection to art institutions throughout Washington, are on display. A notably narrow and elongated, unusually color-implosive Hans Hoffman canvas flanks a fireplace with an iconic Josef Albers square homage to the left.
The most diverting canvas in the room is a landscape abstraction by Milton Avery. Gaspé, painted in 1941, depicts a pastoral scene along the waterfront of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, Canada. Avery’s palette perfectly emulates the colors and mood of the glorious spring day. Or is it the other way around?
On the way to the lower level gallery, visitors must pass a smaller sculpture by Henry Moore, his classic reclining voluptuous nude woman paired with a vibrant, kinetic Kandinsky. The marble terrazza overlooking the back garden and pool has more Moores. These larger-than-life abstractions of human form and movement portend an imminently defiant dance across the patio and a jeté descent despite the expansive staircase, preparing for an impromptu plunge into the pool or a covert interlude secreted away in the cool, dark corners on a hot, sunny day.
Upon entry to the museum, visitors are handed 3-D glasses with which to view some works on exhibit in “Traces,” the show of eight artists that had opened before the Kreeger shut down again last fall due to modified COVID restrictions in D.C. “Traces” proved to be a dynamic and timely addition to the contemporary D.M.V. art scene in 2020 and 2021. It’s tactile without the ability to touch, an ironic nod to life in the time of COVID when touch became taboo.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is Salamander Room, a cacophonic mural painting by Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann. The movement is so vibrato that it’s deafening. Sumptuous marble work by Sebastian Martorana in the next room is exquisitely crafted. Stone cold fabric folds appear supple as silk, a teddy bear huggably soft, and “vinyl” cushions improbably comfortable.
Antonio McAfee’s plaintive 3-D portraits taken from images in a 1900 exhibition of African Americans by W.E.B. Du Bois and Thomas Callaway dominate the other gallery. The images are riveting with and without the use of 3-D eyewear. Something is haunting and appropriate about the unaided view of these images. Ghostly apparitions casting a shadow of an unknown, lost incarnation of another time, a different world.
The Kreeger is open by free reservation online or by phone Tuesday – Saturday at 10:00 or 11:00 am and 2:00 or 3:00 pm. Parking on-site is free and convenient. The staff is gracious, welcoming, and never intrusive. During the Zebra’s visit, only ten people were touring the galleries and grounds at any time. Come to the Kreeger for the Moore- and more- and you’ll leave wanting more, more, MORE!!!