Kreeger Museum a monument to modern art

June 01, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

WASHINGTON — Washington--The Kreeger Museum, consisting of the house and collection of modern art of the late David Lloyd Kreeger and his wife, Carmen, becomes Washington's newest museum today when it opens on an appointment-only basis.

It's an attractive addition to the area's art scene, although it falls short of being a stunning one.

The house, designed by architect Philip Johnson in 1967, is a modern structure that looks like a breath of fresh air in this fussy postmodern era.

The collection sounds glorious on paper. It includes 180 works by Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, van Gogh, Picasso, Braque, Kandinsky, Chagall, Miro, Calder and many others. With a few exceptions, however, these are lesser works of major masters.

That's not to say the Kreeger isn't worth one's time. Not only are both house and collection worth seeing --these are, after all, great artists, and even their lesser works usually delight -- but together, and especially in their tree-enfolded northwest Washington setting, they provide a relaxed, agreeable, even a charming experience. The Kreeger is a fine gift to the public and a tribute to its creators.

David Lloyd Kreeger, insurance executive, philanthropist, collector and music lover, was one of the Washington cultural scene's greatest benefactors from the 1960s until his death at 81 in 1990. The former president and chairman of GEICO insurance company was at one time or another president of the National Symphony, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Washington Opera. The Kreeger Theater at Arena Stage and the Kreeger Music Building at American University were named for him, and he served on the board of Georgetown University, Baltimore's Peabody Institute and many other cultural institutions.

Lifelong devotees of music and art, Kreeger and his wife began collecting art in the late 1950s. In 1967, he commissioned Johnson to design a house with major spaces for the art collection and a 66-foot-long great hall at its center.

The house consists of spaces based on 22-foot-square modules -- the great hall is three modules long, the former dining room is two, and so on. It is a severely modern but airy, high-ceilinged building into which the art collection fits gracefully. Two-hour guided tours, arranged in advance, show more than a half-dozen interior spaces plus a sculpture terrace.

There's much art to see. On the main floor, the great hall offers late 19th and 20th century works by Cezanne, Picasso, Rodin, Leger and van Gogh, among others -- including two late Braque paintings, "Interior with Black Vase" (1938) and "Vase, Palette and Skull" (1939), that are among the collection's finer works.

The former dining room contains primarily a group of eight Monets, including "Meadows at Giverny" (1884) and "Impressions of Sunset, Pourville" (1882). The former living room contains late 19th century works by Sisley, Renoir, Gauguin, Odilon Redon and others.

Downstairs, three of the four main spaces are devoted to 20th century works, including a group of Picassos covering the artist's career from the cubist "Still Life with Fruit, Glass, Knife and Newspaper" (1914) to "Woman Sitting with Hat" (1939) to "Man with Golden Helmet" (1969).

Elsewhere on this floor are works by Miro, Dubuffet, Modigliani, Edvard Munch, Clyfford Still, Hans Hofmann, David Smith and Frank Stella, and a group of African art works from Gabon, Zaire, Ghana, Nigeria and elsewhere. The sculpture terrace boasts works by Henry Moore, Aristide Maillol, Jean Arp and others.

The Kreeger Museum is administered by the David Lloyd Kreeger Foundation, overseen by Mrs. Kreeger and the couple's two children, Peter Kreeger of Potomac and Carol Ingall of Chicago. The museum has a paid staff of five and about 20 volunteers, with artist and former Rockville Arts Place president Judy A. Greenberg as director. Tours, conducted by docent, must be reserved in advance and are limited to 15 individuals or groups of up to 30. There is limited parking on the museum grounds; no full-size tour buses allowed, but the museum can accommodate a 25-passenger mini-bus. At this point, tours are filled for June and are partially booked into the fall.

HOUSE OF ART

What: The Kreeger Museum

Where: 2401 Foxhall Road, N.W., Washington

When: Limited to tours arranged by appointment. Tours 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays through Sept. 2. Tours 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, beginning Sept. 6.

Admission: $5 suggested donation

Call: (202) 337-3050

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