Washington may not owe its fame to an art scene, but you'd be amazed at how many devoted art lovers make this place their home. In Kalorama, there's a couple who are among the city's most committed collectors, and they recently told me they spend about half their waking hours chasing down good art. They don't miss a single major show in town, and once they've finished with the District they hunt farther afield. Local art addicts like these two make even the most globe-trotting critic feel like a philistine slob.
Here's what a truly maniacal connoisseur's fall and early winter might look like:
Our Energizer art bunny might see September starting a bit slow. There's nothing big on the local scene until the Smithsonian's new National Museum of the American Indian opens on the 21st. (It's not an art museum, properly speaking. But its native artifacts are guaranteed to have a high aesthetic quotient, and there will be contemporary Indian art exhibits, too.) So, early in the month our local culture vulture might head all the way to Oslo to catch a rare retrospective of American artist Jeff Koons. Koons's riffs on pop culture -- an inflated rabbit toy cast in stainless steel, for instance -- started out annoying almost everyone, but now they're unavoidably acknowledged as some of the best works of our times.
Someone who'll go as far as Oslo to see a single artist's work should think nothing of skipping down to Sao Paulo, Brazil, to see work by 140 of Koons's peers. From Sept. 25, the city's 26th international art biennial gives competition to its Venetian older sibling, which launches in the spring.
October is the big month for art openings, at home and abroad, so our art-loving friend will be busy. On Oct. 3, the National Gallery of Art continues its trend toward the contemporary, with the first full-scale survey of American artist Dan Flavin, who died in 1996. His hugely influential fluorescent-tube sculptures, which he began to manufacture back in the 1960s, strike a perfect balance between sensory stimulation and conceptual heft.
On Oct. 9, the Phillips Collection heads further back in modernism, with a pairing of paintings by Joan Miro and mobiles by Alexander Calder: Biomorphs-R-Us.
By heading back to the Mall, our art lover can take in some more current work. On Oct. 14, the Hirshhorn will launch a major retrospective of Cuban-born artist Ana Mendieta, who died at only 36 in 1985. The work she made in her last decade, blending performance and earth and body art, had a role in pushing formalist abstraction out of the limelight it had hogged since World War II.
From Oct. 30, the Hirshhorn is also collaborating with its neighbor, the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery, to give us works by contemporary Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang. He's famous for having turned exploding gunpowder into an artistic medium.
Washington's supreme art fiend will certainly be scooting all the way to Pittsburgh to see one of the fall's most important shows, the Carnegie International, which is shipping in works by 38 contemporary artists from five continents for the latest edition of its twice-a-decade survey. (From Oct. 9.)
And then, having filled up on the cutting edge, our jet-setter might head to Europe for a calming dose of the Old Masters.
Bosses at the venerable Prado Museum in Madrid have lately been toying with an American, blockbusterized model of museum programming: The gallery's mega-show, opening Oct. 19, will be a huge roundup of the all-time greats of Spanish portraiture -- and there aren't many countries that can compete with Spain in that arena.
After filling up on tapas and Rioja and Velazquez, our aesthete will want to fly home for several early November openings -- though with a quick stopover in London at the National Gallery to catch a rare survey of the work of Italian master Raphael, which opens Oct. 20. (Raphael is one of the three official Greats of High Renaissance art, but in this country he gets overshadowed by his contemporaries Leonardo and Michelangelo.)
On Nov. 3, the Baltimore Museum of Art will open the second of its "Cram Sessions," a series of provocative little exhibitions organized by Chris Gilbert, the BMA's curator of contemporary art. His first Cram Session, launched in March, was one of the most promising art experiments to hit the region in recent years. A few days later, on Nov. 7, the National Gallery will go all out to celebrate the first comprehensive survey of painter Gerard Ter Borch, one of the many geniuses of 17th-century Dutch art. His portraits and scenes of domestic life in Holland are as magical as anyone could want; if our eager gallery-goer likes Rembrandt and Vermeer, Ter Borch should do the trick as well.
Later in the month, there's more celebration scheduled for the 25th anniversary of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art. Its birthday show, opening Nov. 19, will highlight treasures from the museum's permanent collection, accompanied by a number of loans.
Then our aficionado hits the road again, with a trip to New York to take in the Nov. 20 reopening of the renovated and massively enlarged Manhattan premises of the Museum of Modern Art. The museum is betting -- to the tune of a half-billion dollars or so -- that bigger can be better.
Following that, on the first weekend in December, Florida calls, for the annual art fair and festival named Art Basel Miami Beach. The four-day event launched only in 2002, but it's already cheered as one of the most important occasions to see and buy contemporary art, and to party hard with other culturati.
Hung over or not, the second our big shot gets home, it's off to the Sackler Gallery for a change that should be good as a rest. A scholarly show called "Iraq and China: Ceramics, Trade and Innovation," opening Dec. 4, looks at the fertile crossing of Islamic and Chinese pottery that began circa A.D. 850, and that eventually gave birth to China's famous blue-on-white porcelain.
And then the District's leading art maniac stays home over Christmas -- all those permanent collections to show off to visiting relatives -- and into the New Year, for a show of paintings by Berthe Morisot at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, opening Jan. 14. Morisot was one of the few women to make a splash in impressionist circles in France.
Finally, January ends on a high note, with the Jan. 30 opening of the National Gallery's in-depth look at 17 religious portraits by Rembrandt. It promises to be one of those tightly focused little shows that have more power to refresh the soul than any number of bigger spreads.
And after the agenda I've laid out for our imaginary aesthete, refreshment will be the order of the day.