After a three-year closure, $69 million in renovations and a 12,250 square feet expansion, the East Building of the National Gallery of Art reopened to the public Sept. 30 with 150 new artworks on display.
The renovations were a result of $39 million in federal funding and $30 million in donations from local philanthropists.
Several renovations, such as the addition of a staircase, were required to ensure the building meets regulations and codes. Other renovations were made to open up new spaces to house more artworks, expanding from 350 works in the permanent collection to 500. Additionally, the new space allows for larger temporary collections.
The reopened building also features a new range of around 50 works acquired in January from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, which closed in 2014. These pieces include works by Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly and Pablo Picasso.
The reopening also marks the beginning of three temporary exhibitions, one of which is courtesy of Virginia Dwan, an art dealer and patron. Dwan’s new contributions are located in a temporary exhibition, “Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959-1971,” which will remain on display until the end of January.
Originally designed by architect I. M. Pei, the East Building opened in 1978 adjacent to the National Gallery’s West Building, which houses art from the 13th to the 19th centuries.
One of the renovations is the new roof terrace, which connects the two tower galleries and overlooks Constitution Avenue. The previously unused area between the northwest and northeast towers now serves as an open space for visitors to walk through, complete with sculptures.
NGA Curator and Head of Modern Art Harry Cooper said the new outdoor space helps make the National Gallery unique among the other museums on the National Mall.
“It’s so, so wonderful to have that 12,000 extra squarefeet of space up there, that really wasn’t being used, and put it to use with these beautiful galleries, and just to have an outdoor museum space on the Mall is unique,” Cooper said.
Cooper said that by reconsidering the function of each specific space in the East Gallery, the galleries could be repurposed to house different collections.
“One of the major decisions that happened, which then really determined a lot of other things, was the decision to move special exhibitions from the heart of the building, where they had been for a long time on the mezzanine and upper level mostly, down to the concourse — the lower level — to free up those mezzanine and upper level galleries to the permanent collection,” Cooper said.
According to Cooper, moving the permanent collection to the upper level galleries, which are situated around the East Building’s open atrium, allows for a more coherent presentation of the collection.
“The permanent collection of modern art has been growing and growing, and I really wanted to be able to present it, among other things, in a kind of chronological order so people could learn the history of modern art,” Cooper said.
After revisiting the gallery for the first time since its reopening, Asian art history professor Michelle Wang said the use of the upper level and tower galleries stood out to her.
“What struck me this time was that you still have that experience where the galleries are located on the periphery of the building, but now there’s greater coherence and certain galleries are spread out over multiple levels,” Wang said.
According to Renaissance art history professor Al Acres, the museum’s reconfiguration of its permanent collection and special exhibition galleries have enhanced the East Building’s best features while preserving its familiarity.
“The celebratory or contemplative space of the atrium remains what it was — that changes for different people and over time — but the bread and butter, the real work of the gallery can now be done in many different ways,” Acres said.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.