The East Building at Forty: Reflections from Curators Past and Present
Panelists include E. A. Carmean Jr., a canon in the Episcopal Church and former curator and head of 20th-century art, National Gallery of Art (1974–1984); Jack Cowart, founding executive director, Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, and former curator and head of 20th-century art, National Gallery of Art (1984–1993); Mark Rosenthal, independent curator, former head of modern and contemporary art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and former curator and head of 20th-century art, National Gallery of Art (1993–1997); Marla Prather, former curator of modern and contemporary art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and former curator and head of 20th-century art, National Gallery of Art (1996–1999); and Jeffrey Weiss, former senior curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and former curator and head of modern and contemporary art, National Gallery of Art (1999–2007).
The National Gallery of Art was conceived and given to the people of the United States by Andrew W. Mellon (1855–1937). In 1936 Mellon wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt offering to donate his art collection for a new museum and his own funds to construct a building for its use. With the president’s support, Congress accepted Mellon’s gift and established the Gallery in March 1937. Andrew Mellon had anticipated that the collections would grow beyond the capacity of the original building, and at his request, Congress had set aside an adjacent plot of land for future use. In 1967 Andrew Mellon’s children, Paul Mellon and Ailsa Mellon Bruce, offered funds for a second building, and architect I. M. Pei (b. 1917) was selected to design it. Construction of the East Building began in 1971, and artists such as Henry Moore and Alexander Calder were commissioned to create works for the space. On June 1, 1978, Paul Mellon and President Jimmy Carter dedicated the new museum to the people of the United States. To celebrate the East Building’s 40th anniversary on June 1, 2018, the Gallery’s current and former head curators of 20th-century art gathered to reflect upon their experiences acquiring art and planning special exhibitions.