Editors' pick

Smithsonian American Art Museum - Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian American Art Museum - Smithsonian Institution photo
(Timothy Hursley)

Editorial Review

All4One offers side-by-side piano performance, with a few wrinkles

Alexander Wu and Sasha Papernik, at American Art Museum, need to iron out partnership, but solo work is crisp.

Ang Li shows technical ability but lacks lyricism

At American Art Museum on Sunday, the pianist offered a staid program of Mozart, Debussy, Chopin and others.

The museum, housed since 1968 in the Old Patent Office Building (now the Reynolds Center), shares a home with the National Portrait Gallery. One of the biggest changes visitors will encounter is that the two museums don't occupy clearly delineated halves of a single building, as they did before the massive renovation that was completed in 2006, but that they now flip-flop from floor to floor. The Portrait Gallery, for instance, formerly restricted to the south side of the structure, now sits to the east (Seventh Street) on the first floor. On the second it leapfrogs to the west (Ninth Street), while coming around to the south side (F Street) only when you get to the third floor.

Don't worry, say representatives of the two museums' public affairs staffs, the signage will be ample and clear. Look for the nearest wall label. If the subject of the artwork is listed first (e.g., George Washington), with the name of the artist second (e.g., Gilbert Stuart), you're in the Portrait Gallery. The American Art Museum does it the other way around.

This intermingling of spaces, with the division of real estate based on what looks best where, and not an arbitrary slice down the middle of the cake, is part of a newfound spirit of cooperation between the two museums, whose relationship has not always been harmonious. Shared spaces include the 346-seat Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium and the Lunder Conservation Center, a new, one-of-a-kind facility that will allow the public to watch conservators do their jobs preserving art behind the windows of state-of-the-art, glassed-in workshops. The museums also have joint use of the enclosed Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard, a year-round gathering spot with an undulating canopy by architect Norman Foster.

The museum also houses the Luce Foundation Center for American Art. This three-floor, library-like "open-storage" facility is unique in Washington in that it will allow visitors, for the first time, to take a behind-the-scenes look at 3,300 works from the museum's vaults that were not chosen for display in the public galleries.

-- Michael O'Sullivan (Updated Friday, March 9)