Glenstone, a private museum in Potomac, MD about 45 minutes north of Washington, D.C. originally established by Emily Wei Rales and Mitchell P. Rales in 2006, now includes a new 204,000-square-foot museum building called The Pavilions, set among an “intentional meadow” as land, art, and architecture are harmonized as one experience.
As an art museum, Glenstone rests on a foundation of blue-chip artists collected by a monied power couple. As a private collection, that's a given. But after all the “intentional integration” of the land, architecture and galleries, The Pavilions provide nothing new. The art experience never goes beyond the rigid canon. The art experience offers no perspective outside of the market. The artists presented represent the highest exchange of money and status within the most elite art circles.
Art institutions’ uncanny ability to create something new without creating anything different will always astonish me.
In 2018, a recent history marked by the rise of the 99%, by the strife and persistence of activism, by a growing voice striking out against late capitalism, the Rales have built a monument to wealth.
Walking through the galleries, I'm struck by how irrelevant the space feels. In a zeitgeist championed by equity, this collection of buildings herald the upper-most class of elites.
The experience of the largest installation, Room 2 featuring 65 works by 52 artists is like drowning in a cliché sea called the boys club. The labels read like canonized white male roll call - and most are proudly “Present!” After the onslaught of Cy Twombly, David Hammons, Donald Judd, Mark Rothko, Dan Flavin, Jasper Johns, it is a relief there are no Carl Andres in sight.
Now to be fair, the Rales are known philanthropists. Their charity work and collection provides public access among other services. However, it is striking that their spirit of goodwill is not applied to issues of representation. The immense maleness and whiteness of the artists presented is overwhelming. I would dare to call it oppressive. The weight of the canon is crushing. If this represents the education young art enthusiasts are supposed to receive, it's no wonder that our institutions are received with protest by people of color.
Glenstone is a private property on private land, so I don't expect any protests here, though Indigenous artists may have something to say about that. But I also don't know why any people of color would want to make the 45-minute drive out of DC to come here. Aside from the designed benches throughout, there are exactly two Martin Puryears on display, and not in designated rooms as other artists are presented.
The real estate given to white male artists is palpably overt, but less obvious is the consideration around the commissions. For the opening of the Pavilions, there is a Brice Marden and a Lawrence Weiner of note. The Rales’ unique principle of working directly with artists to build their collection has never been applied with equal vigor to artists of color within the real estate of the exhibition spaces to date.
Considering all the energy, time, and money to create a new art space - both for the region but also within the larger scope of institutions - I am struck by how little respect is paid to the issues of representation. How much longer can we sustain - can we tolerate - “new” ways of experiencing art without challenging the exclusive principles of the canon? How much longer can we praise an institution for “radically changing” collection experiences, while maintaining the status quo of representation?
Yes, the Pavilions are a beautiful and calming space, tucked away from the bustle of city life in the District, but the lack of representation throughout the space is a violent dismissal of my existence. As a middle-class black woman, I feel disregarded here. If the Rales meant for Glenstone to be inviting for all, they've profoundly missed the bar on welcoming those outside their class.
Admittedly, advocating for the inclusion of marginalized artists in private collections is misplaced. And in truth, an equitable reckoning with the canon would do nothing short of dismantling the oppressive system at its core. We should not be advocating for marginalized artists to be added to the existing system of exclusion, rather we need to change the system itself.
Thus, the activist in me wants to set aside this collection (and most private collections of art) outside of the import of our public institutions, and to recognize it as simply the purchasing desires of two private citizens. However, the realist in me knows that someday, likely after the Rales have passed, that this museum will be heralded as “A Great American Collection.” It will be looked to as telling the story of great American art, and for that reason, I cannot just give the Pavilions a passing grade for relevance or equity.
Written by Kayleigh N. Bryant-Greenwell.
Featured image: Approach to the Glenstone Museum Pavilions, by Iwan Baan, Glenstone Museum.