David and Carmen Kreeger got what they asked for when they commissioned a structure to be used as a residence, an art gallery and a concert hall in Northwest Washington. The result, completed in 1967, is the "biggest three-bedroom house with an attached garage, ever," according to one builder. Since no personal objects remain in the house, it's hard to imagine the Kreeger Museum as a home, but the building is a fine setting for viewing art.
Architects Philip Johnson and Richard Foster organized the structure around a module system -- every room is some multiple of 22 feet by 22 feet by 22 feet (like like 22 by 22 by 44 or 22 by 22 by 66). Ceilings rise and fall from 11 to 22 feet.
Proportion is just one classical element woven into this postmodern mansion: teak and coated aluminum accent walls made from marble-like travertine, the material used to finish the Coliseum in Rome, to provide a neutral background for the 180 paintings and sculptures; glass fills in the rear walls, allowing plenty of natural light.
To the Kreegers, who amassed their collection in a mere 15 years, art was a passion more than an investment. But they certainly knew whose art was worth collecting. Most of the male masters of the late 19th and 20th centuries are represented -- there's not a woman in the bunch -- from Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cezanne to Georges Braque and Man Ray. What once served as the dining room on the first floor is now the domain of Claude Monet; Pablo Picasso reigns over the downstairs landing area.
In an adjacent room, docents lead visitors through paintings by more 20th-century artists and into a gallery of African art. Beyond the masks and figural sculptures is a room reserved for contemporary artists, many from the Washington Color School, a group of Washington area abstract painters whose work became popular in the 1960s. The sculpture terrace marks the final stop on the tour, where works by Henry Moore and Aristide Maillol overlook the five-acre wooded lot.
Washingtonians also knew the late David Kreeger, a former CEO of GEICO Insurance Company, as an amateur violinist and pianist, and a music patron. He and his wife entertained in the domed Great Hall; often he plucked on his Stradivarius accompanied by such virtuosos as Isaac Stern and Pinchas Zukerman. The museum continues to make use of its exemplary acoustics by giving two "musicales" (social events with music as the leading feature) each year, which usually feature quartets. Another regular event is the fall lecture series on renowned artists, led by the Kreeger Museum's education director. Also, each spring the museum invites local artists to talk about their work.
-- Margaret Hutton