When you first lay eyes on Glenstone, the private art museum and surrounding estate nestled in the hills just outside Washington, you’re likely to wonder how a place so magical could have remained so under the radar. A sense of mystery, it turns out, permeates everything here.
Glenstone, first opened in 2006, is home to the vast modern and contemporary art trove of media-shy collectors Emily and Mitchell Rales, and for years, it was visited only by those who knew of the Raleses’ reputation in the art world (they’re regularly listed among the world’s top art collectors) — people who knew that a 37-foot-tall Jeff Koons bedecked with flowers bloomed somewhere in Potomac, Md.
Now, a $200 million expansion has deposited a starkly modern new exhibition space, dubbed the Pavilions, into the estate and turned 230 acres into painterly landscapes. This week, Glenstone is finally ready to lift the shroud.
For this new incarnation of their museum, the Raleses have drawn from a global mood board of influences, from Japanese rock gardens to art-filled campuses such as Houston’s Menil Collection. The monastic Pavilions area has been cast in creamy gray concrete blocks. A minimalist, Zen temple of contemporary art, built around a pool filled with water lilies, the new exhibition space has none of the usual barriers between guests and art. Newly laid paths wind visitors from the parking lot to the Pavilions and past the sights — which include the breezy grasses and punch-colored wildflowers as much as the Richard Serras and the Koons.
But the most breathtaking thing about Glenstone, the very reason you should want to visit, is the quiet. Embodying a burgeoning museum movement toward “slow art,” Glenstone will let in just 400 visitors a day free and prohibit indoor photography (even the cellphone variety), all in the name of encouraging a contemplative viewing experience. Which is to say: This will not be like that time you waited in endless lines at the Yayoi Kusama show.
Absent a world of distractions, you might notice an echoing emptiness in the corridors and the way a gust of wind gently whips the oaks. You could see the way that vast picture windows and skylights make the interiors of the Pavilions seem to glow, untarnished by harsh artificial lights. Glenstone is a museum, and an escape from it all.
Now you know why you should go. We’re here to help you with the other mysteries, too. How do you get tickets? What should you see? Why exactly is Glenstone so different from other museums you’ve visited?
Read on for our guide to everything you need to know.
How do I make a reservation?
Glenstone offers entries issued in timed intervals on the half-hour and hour. Although you might have to wait a few weeks (or months) for your turn, once you’re in, it’ll be far more serene than your last visit to MoMA. Plus, it’s free.
Tickets for October, November and December have all been reserved, but a new batch is available online on the first of every month, at midnight. On Nov. 1, tickets for January will become available.
Worth noting: No-shows are always a possibility, giving some visitors a chance to fly standby. Glenstone spokeswoman Emily Grebenstein said that the museum will try to squeeze in walk-ups when possible but cannot guarantee entry to those without tickets.
Can I bring my kids? They’re angels. Angels who love conceptual art.
At Glenstone, there’s no barrier between the visitors and the art, and no alarms that trigger if you get too close. Given that knocking over a priceless work is a real possibility, the rule is firm: Leave young children at home. (Those age 12 and older are welcome.) Besides, your kids may be incredibly well-behaved, but do they really want to spend their day considering the significance of Richard Serra’s “White Neon Belt Piece”?
A member of my party has problems with mobility. Will they be able to get around?
Glenstone and the outdoor trails are ADA-compliant. In addition to providing wheelchairs, the museum will have a wheelchair-accessible motorized cart available to take guests to the Pavilions. Inside, there are elevators to the galleries and places to stop and rest, including gorgeous benches created by sculptor Martin Puryear. Keep in mind that the paths are paved, but transportation to the outdoor sculptures won’t be provided.
If I come just to explore those 230 acres and enjoy the outdoors, can I bring my dog?
Service animals are allowed at Glenstone, but pets aren’t.
So, what can I bring onto the grounds?
Glenstone’s bag policy falls between that of most Washington museums (backpacks welcome!) and MoMA’s (no bags beyond laptop size). You’ll be asked to hang large coats (there’s no coat check) and lock away most larger bags — even purses — and umbrellas in free, self-service lockers; if there’s something you don’t want to part with, consider leaving it at home, or in your trunk. Glenstone does provide some helpful accommodations: Visitors can borrow ponchos or umbrellas to traverse the grounds.
No outside provisions or beverages are allowed, including water bottles. (A few water fountains are scattered around.) You can purchase meals and drinks in Glenstone’s two cafes — more details on that below.
Will there be a place to eat? Can I bring my own picnic?
Glenstone has two cafes, one seated, with table service, and the other a grab-and-go affair. However, expect the offerings to be quite limited. Even in the lovely, wood-lined full-service cafe, just a handful of locally sourced, seasonal offerings will be available for now: baked goods, plus a soup, salad and sandwich, which will change regularly. (The cafes will be cashless, so be sure to bring a credit card.) Vegetarians and those with food allergies should strongly consider eating before or after a visit. And although the field seems to scream out for a picnic blanket and your famous cheese spread and pasta salad, Glenstone isn’t a park, so picnicking isn’t allowed. Also, note that no alcohol is served, so you also won’t be able to cap off your day with a glass of wine on the estate’s shaded patio (coffee and tea are available, however). If you want to rest your feet and decompress over a drink afterward, check out our list of nearby restaurants below.
It sounds fancy. Should I dress up?
There’s no dress code, but if you’re planning on crisscrossing the grounds in search of Glenstone’s sculptural treasures, do yourself a favor and wear sneakers. (One reporter racked up nearly six miles of walking during a visit.) As for what to wear, dress as if you’ll be outside as much as you’ll be in the galleries. Thank us later.
So, how’s the parking situation?
There are about 150 spaces in the “parking grove” — no, really, it’s a parking lot where spaces come with their own trees — and the site is free.
Just kidding. I don’t feel like driving. Can I get there on Metro? What about Uber? What about bike racks?
Glenstone isn’t easy to access by public transportation (and it could take drivers just under an hour to get there from downtown Washington). From the Rockville station, you’re looking at a 45-minute ride on the 301 Ride On bus (service directly to Glenstone began Thursday). The Rockville and Twinbrook stations are roughly equidistant from Glenstone, at just over nine miles by cab/Uber/Lyft/electric scooter. If you’re ready to join the Lycra-clad cyclists who take to River Road on weekends, bike racks are available in the Red Oak parking grove.
Visitors are already using ride sharing to get to Glenstone, and drivers can come into the lot for pickups and drop-offs. From downtown, car-sharing trips typically cost about $35-$40 each way — not unreasonable if you have a group splitting the fare.
My admission time is 2:30 p.m. When should I actually arrive?
Glenstone’s staff estimates that most visitors will take four hours to explore the collection in the Pavilions and the 10 sculptures on the grounds. However, visitors are ushered out of Glenstone, beginning with the Pavilions, at 5 p.m., regardless of when they arrived.
If you’d like to see it all in one visit, try to snare an earlier ticket. But don’t plan on coming well ahead of your admission time. Glenstone is discouraging guests from arriving more than 15 minutes before their ticketed time, but if possible, endeavor to show up on time, because it does take several minutes to walk from the arrival hall before you even reach the galleries in the Pavilions.
What do I absolutely need to see?
Because the expansion added the Pavilions and gorgeously wild landscaping, we’d prioritize those. Consider starting with the indoor galleries and then getting as much of a taste of the outdoor art as you can.
The closest hills are dotted with sculptures such as Koons’s “Split-Rocker” and Richard Serra’s “Contour,” which blends coolly into the horizon, making them easier to see than some of the far-flung outdoor works, such as the sound installation “Forest (for a Thousand Years),” by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. Glenstone’s original, 9,000-square-foot exhibition space remains open and features work by Louise Bourgeois, if you have the time. But if you don’t, know that it doesn’t pack the architectural punch that the new additions do.
Why aren’t there any wall texts explaining the art?
Glenstone’s driving ethos is that modern art is open to interpretation. Instead of accompanying each piece with what Grebenstein refers to as “didactic text that guides you to a certain way of thinking,” the museum wants each guest to ponder Swiss artist Dieter Roth’s mind-set when he created a stove that looks as if liquid chocolate flows from every opening.
The signs and labels, often hidden discreetly in doorways, are succinct, bearing only names of the artist and work and the year it was created. Guides, who seem to hover at every turn, will be on hand to answer questions; they’ve been trained to read body language to tell whether guests want to interact or be left alone. More introverted art lovers could buy a copy of the museum’s field guide ($12) in the arrival hall. It has more information about all the artists on display but, like the museum itself, it’s spare on details about the works.
Okay, my phone is charged, and I’m ready to selfie. What’s the policy on photography?
Glenstone has adopted a message more musicians and comedians — if not museums — are trying to get across to their fans: Tuck your phones into your pockets and leave them there, and try simply being in the moment. So, photography, on a smartphone or otherwise, isn’t allowed in the galleries. Also worth knowing: We found cell service inside nonexistent on our visits. Outside on the grounds, however, you can go nuts, so long as you don’t use selfie sticks or tripods.
So, about that huge sculpture that’s in a pit in the ground. How do I see it?
Michael Heizer’s “Collapse,” inside the Pavilions, is quite a sight. But because it’s basically a gaping hole in the floor, the museum is limiting viewing hours to just two hours a day and will allow only a few people at a time to check it out. Current viewing hours will be noon-1 p.m. and 3-4 p.m.
What’s up with the staff uniforms? The guides look kind of like members of Devo. (Also: Can I get one?)
These minimalist, slate-hued shirt dresses and two-pieces — think utilitarian Dickies Chic — were custom-made for the Glenstone guides, and they’re just as avant-garde as the museum itself. Unfortunately, they’re not for sale (yet!).
On a related note, you also won’t be able to buy any of the usual museum swag, like scarves or jewelry, at Glenstone; it doesn’t have a gift shop, only a bookstore, which sells the guide and books about the museum’s artists, architect and vegetation.
The cafe didn’t fill me up. Where should we go for lunch or dinner — and that glass of rosé — afterward?
The Potomac restaurant scene is . . . somewhat lacking. Near the village center, you’ve got American cuisine at Lock 72 Kitchen and Bar ($38 crab cakes, $20 wagyu burger) and the more casual Hunter’s Bar and Grill, where the daily happy hour, from 4-6:30 p.m., includes $5 craft beers and $6 wine. Other local dining includes Five Guys, the Tally Ho diner and Potomac Pizza. If you rarely find yourself in Montgomery County, its Chinese and Taiwanese options are unparalleled, with options such as Peter Chang, A&J and the new food hall the Spot about a 20-minute drive from Glenstone.
And if you really want to tack on another suburban excursion while you’re in the area, head to the Maryland viewing point for Great Falls, roughly a 20-minute drive away, and totally worth it.
12100 Glen Rd., Potomac, Md. 301-983-5001. glenstone.org.
Dates: Expansion opens Oct. 4. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
Tickets: Admission is free, but reservations are required.