The 2018 expansion introduced the Pavilions, designed by architect Thomas Phifer. © Scott Francis
An aerial view reveals the Pavilions surrounded by a rolling landscape and outdoor sculptures. © Iwan Baan
Opened in 2006, Glenstone originally showcased outdoor sculpture and single-artist exhibitions. © Iwan Baan
The indoor Passage surrounds an 18,000-square-foot Water Court. © Iwan Baan
Tony Smith’s “Smug.” © Iwan Baan
Jeff Koons’ “Split-Rocker.” © Iwan Baan
The glass-walled Passage connects the Pavilions’ 11 galleries. © Iwan Baan
Winding pathways traverse the serene, 230-acre site. © Iwan Baan

Total Immersion

Potomac’s newly expanded Glenstone Museum offers visitors an intimate encounter with architecture and modern art

The Washington area’s abundant arts scene got even richer with the October expansion of Glenstone Museum in Potomac. Five years and $200 million in the making, the addition of a boldly modern second building and 130 acres of pristine woodlands and meadows does more than double Glenstone’s original splendor. It also lands the venue firmly on the map as a world-class art institution.

Far from a line-up-at-the-turnstile attraction, Glenstone orchestrates a contemplative, immersive experience for guests, accentuating art, architecture and landscape design in equal measure. Visitors are greeted by guides at an arrival court, then dispatched on a gravel path meandering over a stream and through swaths of ferns and wildflowers. After they catch a glimpse of Jeff Koons’ mammoth “Split-Rocker” on the horizon, the Pavilions rises from the landscape.

Though it appears to be comprised of separate minimalist structures, visitors discover inside that the “pavilions” are actually connected via the airy Passage—a corridor rimmed with walls of glass that encircle a dream-like Water Court.

Designed by New York architect Thomas Phifer, the Pavilions houses 11 light-filled galleries, some with clerestory windows or floating walls, which display art from Glenstone’s collection. Billionaire industrialist Mitchell Rales and his wife, Glenstone director Emily Wei Rales, founded the museum to share their vast holdings with the public. While nine rooms in the Pavilions are devoted to a single artist, the largest houses an inaugural installation of 65 works by 52 artists, dating from 1943 to 1989.

Taking in the landscape is meant to be part of the experience, as viewers travel among the two museum buildings, 10 outdoor sculptures and two new cafés on site. “We considered the landscape as the inspiration,” explains Phifer. “From your first moments at Glenstone, the bustle of ordinary activities drops away and your mind and soul prepare for an intimate encounter with art.”

Glenstone Museum is open Thursday through Sunday; admission is free but reservations are required. glenstone.org