The National Gallery of Art’s East Building galleries are already beginning to close in preparation for a three-year renovation beginning in January, and that means a slump in the usual exhibition schedule. Add that to the lingering impact of the economic downturn and sequestration and the museum community is facing an unfortunate but unavoidable reality: It’s not a great season for art at Washington’s museums.
But there’s always a bright side. When a major blockbuster lands at the National Gallery it takes a lot of oxygen out of the local system. With the exception of an intriguing exhibition of art from the Byzantine Empire, the National Gallery will play a much smaller role in the arts ecosystem this season. Which means other actors will receive deserved attention.
Of great interest to everyone who watched the Hirshhorn’s woes over the past few months will be the first major exhibition since the whole “Bubble” debacle unfolded earlier this summer: The decision to kill the innovative temporary inflatable structure, the resignation of Director Richard Koshalek and the flight of important board members including Board President Constance Caplan. “Damage Control” (opening Oct. 24) is organized by chief curator Kerry Brougher, rumored to be the inside contender to replace Koshalek. The subject is art and destruction since 1950, with a focus on the anxieties unleashed by the invention of the atom bomb and the possibility of complete world annihilation. The exhibition will include haunting photographs by the Swiss photographer Arnold Odermatt, images by Scottish artist Douglas Gordon and paintings and drawings by the Latvian-born Vija Celmins. But one well-known 1960s image, already used to promote the show, seems to capture both the theme of the exhibition and the state of the Hirshhorn: Ed Ruscha’s classic painting “The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire.”