WASHINGTON _ James Madison in Memphis. Thornton Wilder in Fort Worth. Mary Cassat in Minneapolis. John Singer Sargent in Sacramento. Henry Cabot Lodge in Louisville. Edward Hopper in Dayton. Jan Matulka in Miami.
These and hundreds other famous portraits, paintings and sculptures will visit cities across the country as two of Washington's premiere museums close for the next three years. The National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of American Art will close in early January for a $110 million renovation project of the building they share.
With so many examples of artistic genres and famous portraits going out to communities, said Judith Bell, spokeswoman for the National Museum of American Art, “People will have a greater sense of American art and what their artistic heritage is.”
Both museums are part of the Smithsonian Institution. About 450,000 to 500,000 people visit the museums every year, said Alan Fern, director of the National Portrait Gallery.
The National Portrait Gallery is sending eight traveling exhibits to at least 23 American cities and Japan, England and France. From the National Museum of American Art will be “Treasures to Go,” a collection of eight exhibitions with more than 500 works making at least 70 stops across the country.
“For a museum to tour so much of its collection is really an undertaking,” said Bell of the art museum.
The art museum also is working with a marketing agency to produce cable television specials and a syndicated network program for broadcast in each of the cities visited by one of the “Treasures to Go” exhibits, said Bell.
Among the traveling exhibits from the National Portrait Gallery are “Notable Americans,” with 75 paintings from Sequoyah to Michael Jackson; “Presidential Portraits,” with a pair of portraits of George and Martha Washington; “Modern American Portrait Drawings,” with 50 likenesses of writers, politicians, actors and musicians; and “Women of Our Time,” with 60 photographs of famous American women, including Georgia O'Keeffe, Eleanor Roosevelt and Janis Joplin.
Some of the National Museum of American Art's “Treasures to Go” exhibits include “Lure of the West,” a collection of paintings and sculptures of the frontier from the 1820s through the 1940s; “The Gilded Age,” a reflection of patronage by wealthy industrialists for artwork from the 1870s to the 1920s; “Scenes of American Life,” a showcase of everyday life in America from the Roaring Twenties to World War II and beyond; and “Modernism and Abstraction,” a reaction of artists to 20th century, industrial America.
The art museum closes Jan. 3, 2000, and the portrait gallery closes Jan. 9 for the renovation to their three-story building. They occupy one of Washington's oldest government buildings, completed in 1867. Both museums will keep a presence in Washington. But their headquarters will be empty.
“Nothing will be in this building. Nothing but toolboxes,” said Fern, director of the National Portrait Gallery.
Within the Smithsonian's complex of buildings will remain “a small selection of choice objects” for visitors to Washington, said Fern. The National Museum of American Art's Renwick Gallery will maintain its regular exhibitions of American crafts. Its Grand Salon will display some 19th century American masterpieces from the gallery's collection beginning the spring of 2000.
Of the $110 million renovation cost, the federal government will pay $60 million. The remaining $50 to $60 million has to be privately raised.
The most pressing reason for the renovation is to install better wiring, plumbing and temperature and humidity controls to protect the art work, said gallery director Fern. The bulk of the structural work will create a common entrance for the two galleries and more room for exhibits and programs.
“We have the foremost collection of American art in the world,” spokeswoman Bell said. With the renovation, she added, “We'll be able to show more of our treasures than we ever have before.”
For more information about the cities to be visited by the traveling exhibits, see the web sites of the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of American Art at ,a href=”http://www.npg.si.edu/”>http://www.npg.si.edu/ and http://www.nmaa.si.edu/.