One of the oldest art museums in the country is closing its doors in January 2000. Though it's not always been a museum, the building has been around since 1836. Situated not far from the Mall in Washington, Walt Whitman once called it "the noblest of Washington buildings." President Lincoln's second inaugural ball was held there just weeks before his death at nearby Ford's Theater. As late as the 1960s the building housed the nation's Patent Office. Since then, it has been the National Portrait Gallery. But let's face it, any building 136 years old has seen its better days. Though it was last remodeled as recently as thirty years ago, having suffered through the riots following the death of Martin Luther King, as an art museum, it is, today, totally inadequate. No, it's not being torn down, thank God--not this time at least. No, instead it's in for a three-year, $60 million facelift. The new, two-acre copper roof alone is slated to cost $5 million. Skylights that have been shuttered for thirty years will be reopened. And like all self-respecting museums today there will be added the obligatory restaurant, gift shop, and research library, all brand new, spic and span, and ready for the new century (and only three years late).
The Smithsonian owns the whole complex, which now includes a recently purchased $86 million building nearby which will house the new Center for American Art. Twentieth Century Art will remain in the newly remodeled "old" building. All in all, once all the steel, paint, and plaster is in place, there will be another 60,000 square feet of NEW show space. It's a good thing too, the collection now includes some 38,000 paintings and other works of art. Still sounds like the place will be a bit congested. The question arises, in the meantime, what to do with all this art? Warehouses don't make particularly good art galleries. So, the curators of the National Museum of American Art have put together 12 traveling shows slated to move amongst more than 70 major art galleries nationwide during the next three years. This in addition to four other currently traveling shows from the National Portrait Gallery.
Eight of the traveling shows will cover the period from Frederic Remington to Grandma Moses. Four additional shows will cover Contemporary Art, basically Georgia O'Keefe to Jackson Pollock. This will be the first show to open, January 7, 2000, in Miami at the Florida International University Art Museum. Others shows will include American Impressionists, the Gilded Age, and the Roaring Twenties. Even so, counting all the traveling exhibits, only a smattering of work will be on the road--a mere 500 paintings. The other 37,500 will be gathering dust in some remote, government warehouse, on shelves next to Indiana Jones' fabled "Lost Ark."