OH NO! You’re scheduled to be in DC right when the government shutdown has closed all the Smithsonian art museums.
NO WORRIES! The truth is, you can still have a fabulous DC experience. There are some exceptional art museums in Washington that tend to be overshadowed by the big Smithsonian entities. This is a great time to explore the smaller and/or lesser-known museums in the Nations’ Capital.
Presented alphabetically, here is a summary of 17 museums where you can enjoy fine art, decorative arts, and historic architecture in DC, without setting foot in a government museum. Whatever your interest — textiles, Byzantine art, historic houses, Faberge eggs, sacred art, Impressionist or modern masterpieces — there’s a museum that’s open and ready to welcome you!
Note that these museums — not being tax-payer supported — do charge an entry fee. As always, it’s a good idea to check the museum website or call to verify their open hours.
- American University Museum — located in the university’s multidi-sciplinary Katzen Arts Center. Note that, withoout a permanent ongoing display, the museum closes for installation between rotating exhibitions.
2. Anderson House — Beaux Arts Landmark mansion holds Asian sculptures, paintings, and decorative arts as well as European landscapes, Flemish tapestries woven in Brussels at the turn of the 17th century, Russian icons and more.
3. Art Museum of the Americas — Shows cutting-edge exhibits of artists whose output creatively combine aesthetics with topical social and political issues, and establish a dialogue with AMA’s Permanent Collection.
4. Dumbarton House — This historic house museum, a Federal-period home in Georgetown, holds a collection of furniture, paintings, textiles, silver, and ceramics primarily from 1789 to 1825.
5. Dumbarton Oaks — This estate, museum, and garden is an institute of Harvard University. Features Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art, and European masterpieces, plus a rotating program of Special Exhibitions.
6. Textile Museum — Located at the George Washington University Museum, the collectionincludes more than 20,000 textiles and related objects dating from 3,000 BCE to the present, representing five continents.
7. Heurich House — This 31-room 1890s mansion, built by a German immigrant brewer and philanthropist, is a masterpiece of craftsmanship and design, featuring the most modern technologies of the day.
8. Hillwood Museum and Gardens — Housed in Marjorie Merri-weather Post’s Georgian-style mansion, set on 25-acres, is her collection of 18th-century French decorative art, nearly 90 Fabergé items including eggs, and other Russian Imperial art.
9. Howard University Gallery of Art — A collection of African artifacts, Renaissance and Baroque paintings, and 16th-19th century European prints.
10. IA&A at Hillyer — Based at the International Arts & Artists headquarters, this contemporary arts center features work of regional and international artists.
11. Kreeger Museum — The museum features work from the 1850s to the present, including European, American, and traditional art from west and central Africa and Asia. Nine Monet paintings, work by Renoir, Sisley, and Pissarro, Munch, Dubuffet, Kandinsky, Picasso and Miro.
12. Luther W. Brady Gallery — Located at George Washington University , this is a collection of paintings, sculptures, graphics, textiles, ceramics, historic furnishings, and photographs.
13. Museum of the Bible — This new museum incorporates the most advanced museum technologies to display artifacts spanning 3,500 years of history. Iincludes illuminated manuscripts, printed Bibles and sacred art from a range of cultures and time periods.
14. National Building Museum — Despite its name this is not a Smithsonian museum. Devoted to interpreting the history and impact of the built environment, concentrates on architecture, engineering, and design. Worth a visit to experience the interior, with its colossal 75-foot-tall Corinthian columns and the 1,200-foot decorative terracotta frieze on the exterior.
15. National Museum of Women in the Arts — Another independent “National” museum, this is the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to championing women through the arts. The museum holds a collection of more than 5,000 objects and presents ten special exhibitions each year.
16. Phillips Collection — A notable collection of French impressionist, American modernist and contemporary art, in an intimate setting. Paintings by Renoir, Rothko, Bonnard, O’Keeffe, van Gogh, Arthur Dove, Berenice Abbott, Diebenkorn and more.
17. Tudor Place Historic House — Located in Georgetown’s Historic District, this 1816 estate is an excellent example of neoclassical architecture. It holds a notable collection of decorative arts from the mid-18th through late-20th centuries. A National Historic Landmark, it remains one of the nation’s few historic urban estates retaining the majority of its original 5-acre landscape.
This is your chance to get off the beaten path and explore “the other” fabulous art museums and the historic houses dotted around Washington. Yes, you may have had your heart set on a particular special exhibition when you planned your trip — and that’s disappointing. But with these 16 non-Smithsonian museums to explore, you may very well find an unexpected and memorable art experience to lift your spirits.
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