There’s an art gallery growing out of the hills in Potomac, Maryland. It’s free, it’s beautiful and it’s unlike any museum you’ve ever seen. Founded by Mitch and Emily Rales in 2006, Glenstone is perched on 230 acres of meadow and forest right off a country road in the middle of Potomac, Maryland. When the new building is officially open to the public on October 4, its 50,000 square feet of additional gallery space will make it one of the largest private museums in the United States. In other words, Glenstone will no longer be another interesting footnote in the DMV’s gallery scene. With their keen sense of curation and over the top attention to detail, the Rales have created an institution poised to rival D.C.’s most famous art museums. What they lack in longevity compared to the National Gallery, Hirshhorn or Portrait Gallery, they make up for in sheer innovation.
With its all grey design, slick silver accents and impeccable lighting, the comparisons to Apple’s approachable modernity are endless. Walking around the new gallery (casually called ‘The Pavilions’), I heard one person joke that they expected both the Rales to show up dressed like Steve Jobs. It’s an easy cultural touchpoint, and while the Rales and Jobs must have a certain obsession with detail in common, there’s another eccentric, design obsessed millionaire that fits the bill: Willy Wonka.
The color palette may be the same, but walking around Glenstone feels nothing like traversing an Apple store and everything like cruising around an empty, but wondrous chocolate factory. Simply replace the chocolate with contemporary art made post World War II and the charismatic and mysterious chocolatier with two charismatic and mysterious art fiends. Much like Charlie, you never know what’s going to be around a corner, down a path, or inside a gallery at the Glenstone. The mix of traditional gallery space, outdoor sculpture and lush vistas (the land here is just as compelling as the art), makes Glenstone something not to line up for, but be explored. You’re expected to wander leisurely from Jeff Koons floral “Split-Rocker” to On Kawara’s stark “Moon Landing” without bumping into a single stanchion, rope or line.
That confluence between art and nature is built into the very foundation of the museum. The building grows out of the rolling hills like an deconstructed rock quarry and art grows out of the walls and floors like world’s strangest garden. Each gallery feels like it was constructed to specifically hold the pieces within it. Scheduled with an eye for “slow art,” Glenstone plans to change their exhibitions no more than once a year, making the line between temporary and permanent installations feel blurry. Instead, each piece feels entirely at peace in the museum. Considering the Rales don’t request pieces on loan and everything in the museum is part of their private collection, it really is their home.
The natural ease of the building and the stunning collection inside is only responsible for part of Glenstone’s charm. Walk down the right hallway and you’ll find a honey-hued, wood paneled room that functions as a mini library and is filled with books suggested by various artists in the collection. There are coats on loan for wintery days so guests can comfortably visit an outdoor sculpture by Iwan Baan. The two cafes on site are exclusively farm to table. Even the parking lots are immaculately designed. And that’s not to mention their incredible staff. Decked out in Glenstone’s signature grey, they’re fonts of knowledge, who are more than happy to chat about art history or their personal analysis of art.
Glenstone will start accepting reservations and doling out timed passes starting October 4. Even if you have to hitchhike your way to Potomac, I recommend you make it there as soon as you can.