If I left my house right now and hopped on public transportation, it would take me an hour and 48 minutes to get to Glenstone. If I got in a car, it would still take me a full hour. If I took a shared Uber / Lyft, it might honestly take me a full day. Glenstone is apart of D.C.’s art scene, but it’s not apart of D.C. It’s a destination. A trek. A day trip.
When I usually think (and talk) about Glenstone, the travel is part of the magic. Taking your time, blocking out a full day, to go visit a space that we have an abundance of in D.C. (i.e. excellent museums) makes the process feel more purposeful. I think Glenstone knows that. Their Arrival Hall and the path that takes you through a wild meadow before you even reach the first gallery all works to calibrate your mind. You’ve fought through traffic and survived the metro, and now you’ve made it. You’re on Glenstone time.
Unlike swinging by the National Gallery of Art on a Saturday or stopping by the Smithsonian American Art Museum after work, you have to plan your trip to Glenstone. D.C. galleries are your home, Glenstone is a vacation.
And Glenstone’s first new exhibition since expanding their gallery space in 2018 is absolutely worth the trip. After bringing food into the galleries at the Hirshhorn for the first time this summer, Rirkrit Tiravanija has taken over the old Gallery (not the new Pavilions) for “FEAR EATS THE SOUL,” a testament to Tiravanija’s ability to convince museums to do things they would never agree to do otherwise.
In the Hirshhorn’s case, the challenge was serving three kinds of Beau Thai curry inside a gallery while local artists covered the walls with scenes of protests and political unrest. The stakes at Glenstone feel a little higher. Not only has Tiravanija brought in a free, communal food element (the museum will be serving a rotating soup recipe everyday and will occasionally up the ante and make cochinita pibil tacos from pig buried on the property), but he’s covered the walls with graffiti and has built a working silkscreen t-shirt shop inside of the gallery.
In his constant effort to push museum boundaries, Tiravanija has made Glenstone feel more commercial and less commercial at the same time. He’s created a space for strangers to relax and enjoy free food, a space just to sit and be. But he’s also opened a t-shirt shop. To be fair, the t-shirts are cool as hell and “buying” a t-shirt only requires a donation to City Kids Wilderness Project, but it’s a delightfully surreal look nonetheless.
The exhibition also contains work from the artist Gordon Matta-Clark, as well as chrome sculptures meant to reference the Tiravanija’s exhibition at Gavin Brown’s enterprise in New York in 1994 (a show he did with Andy Warhol) and the first version of “FEAR EATS THE SOUL” in 2011. That earlier version of the exhibition involved Tiravanija taking the doors and windows off of the gallery, allowing visitors to come and go as they please and opening everything up to the street. To capture that same freedom, that lightning in a bottle, Glenstone has teamed up with local graffiti artists, who will come in and slowly cover the walls of “FEAR EATS THE SOUL.”
Which brings me back to the beginning. Watching Tiravanija’s Hirshhorn show grow and evolve was easy. You could stop by every weekend to see how the murals had changed and grab a cup of curry. One of the most interesting aspects of Tiravanija’s art, his refusal to put something on the wall and call it done and instead treat his shows like a living breathing organisms, is harder to see at Glenstone. If you have the luxury of taking a car, you’ll need to pin down your tickets in advance (and those free tickets sell out at the drop of a hat). If you have the time to take the train to the bus, you’re luckily guaranteed entry, but that could still mean four hours of traveling.
Taking a trip to experience “FEAR EATS THE SOUL” is still worth your time. Where else can you get art that fully permeates your skin? Art that you can wear on you back and in your belly? But the exhibition makes me wish Glenstone was closer and easier to get into and entirely different.
“FEAR EATS THE SOUL” is at Glenstone through early 2020.