I had never been to the Kreeger Museum before this past week; in fact, I do not think I had ever set foot on Foxhall Road before. The area is quiet, woodsy, affluent, and, according to a warning sign in the museum’s sculpture garden, “frequented by deer.”
A docent took me and a dozen other guests on a 90-minute tour of the building, which was the home of philanthropists and art collectors David and Carmen Kreeger, and which is now a private museum. The tour began with a description of the building as a work of art in its own right; the home was designed by Philip Glass, who also designed the Glass House and part of Dumbarton Oaks.
Then we delved into the art itself. The collection boasts some impressive names: Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Miro. Our tour guide mentioned, more than once, that David Kreeger was especially keen on collecting works with “an academic interest.” A library full of art books attests to this desire to research the art.
When we entered a room full of paintings by Claude Monet, the docent stated that this room was the dining room and that David Kreeger liked “Monet for breakfast” because the paintings were just pretty and not intellectually challenging. Another room featured an Alfred Sisley painting above the fireplace. The docent said this painting was Carmen Kreeger’s favorite, and she always took her tea in this room.
Downstairs were displays of African art and abstract art, as well as an exhibit of works by Joan Miro. The docent introduced one abstract work by saying that it is abstract and therefore hard to describe, but we could talk about the artist’s technique.
I have long believed there is no one right way to look at art. You can consider and research the technique, and end up looking at art from a scientific angle – how chemicals bind together and change color, the workings of different tools, the mathematical sense behind the geometry or lighting of a piece. You can learn about what the artist was trying to convey as an individual person making an individual expression, or you can investigate how the work fits into the culture it came from and the trajectory of art history. You can stare intently at one painting, noticing one detail after another, realizing you never run out of things to notice. Or you can simply gaze and let your mind wander.
Surely all art historians are not in agreement that Monet’s work is not intellectually challenging. But it sounds like Monet’s watercolors inspired in David Kreeger just the kind of thinking he wanted first thing in the morning.
June’s blog theme is Learning from Objects: Primary and Secondary Sources.