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March 05, 2021 (December 15, 2021)

National Gallery of Art Commissions Three Temporary Site-Responsive Works for East Building in 2021

Installation view of Avish Khebrehzadeh's video animation, "Seven Silent Songs"; projecyed in a darkened room on a wide, curvilinear screen. Animation depicts whales and octopi on a blue background.Three people are in the room, with their backs silhouetted against the screen.

Avish Khebrehzadeh, Seven Silent Songs, 2020, video animation (20 minutes), Courtesy of the Artist with in-kind production support provided by Daniel Sallick and the Subject Matter Agency

Update: Sarah Cain's installation My favorite season is the fall of the patriarchy is no longer on view. Kay Rosen’s SORRY remains on view and Avish Khebrehzadeh’s Tree of Life in Blue and Seven Silent Songs have been extended through February 27, 2022.


Washington, DC—Installations by artists Sarah Cain, Avish Khebrehzadeh, and Kay Rosen will take advantage of spaces outside and inside the East Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, to create works that are, respectively, exuberant, serene, and thought-provoking. While the East Building undergoes a skylight replacement and other renovations, modern and contemporary works of art that are typically on view in the Atrium (including Alexander Calder's 1976 mobile, Untitled) have been removed or covered. To enliven the building, the three artists—all known for making works in temporary sites or architectural spaces—were commissioned to create special site-responsive installations.

Beginning mid-April, Kay Rosen's bold language-based work SORRY (2020–2021) will cover the East Building's Main Entrance. Sarah Cain’s painterly installation My favorite season is the fall of the patriarchy (2021) and Avish Khebrehzadeh’s set of video animations, Seven Silent Songs (2020), and drawing, Tree of Life in Blue (2021), will be on view inside the East Building when it reopens in 2021. A survey exhibition of Lynda Benglis' work, originally scheduled to open in March 2020, will also be on view when the East Building reopens.

"Art created in response to the East Building is part of our DNA. Since its inception the Gallery has worked closely with artists, from Henry Moore to Leo Villareal, to commission works that activate the environment. These projects extend that tradition with meaningful works for the Gallery's present," said Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art.

"As we work to preserve I. M. Pei's architectural masterpiece, the renovations offer us an exciting opportunity to showcase the problem-solving talents of three artists who, through a variety of means, make use of provisional surfaces and alternative spaces to engage viewers in stimulating ways," added Molly Donovan, curator of contemporary art at the National Gallery.


Kay Rosen, Photo by Larry Lapidus

Kay Rosen, Photo by Larry Lapidus

Kay Rosen
Kay Rosen's (American, b. 1943) text-based work, SORRY (2020–2021), will cover the 90-foot-long and 10-foot-tall façade of the East Building's Main Entrance, cleverly acknowledging its temporary closure while also suggesting larger issues of institutional voice, care, and responsibility. Trained in linguistics, Rosen investigates the visual possibilities of language through a range of mediums, including paintings, drawings, murals, and videos. Her work explores how scale, material, composition, typography, and design can affect the meaning and structure of words, with poetic and graphic results.

Solo exhibitions of Rosen's work have included a 25-year survey at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, as well as presentations at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston; The Art Institute of Chicago; The Drawing Center, New York; Aspen Art Museum; Art, Design & Architecture Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara; Dunedin Public Art Gallery, New Zealand; and Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia. Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; Indianapolis Museum of Art; Collection Lambert in Avignon, France; and Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Rosen, who taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for 24 years, lives in Gary, Indiana, and New York City. She was the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 2017 and three National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts Grants, among other awards.


The artist Sarah Cain standing in front of her work, "We will walk right up to the sun" (2019), on site at The San Francisco International Airport, Photo by Jeff McLane

Sarah Cain
We will walk right up to the sun, 2019
permanent work on site at The San Francisco International Airport commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission
Image courtesy of the artist
Photo by Jeff McLane

Sarah Cain
Sarah Cain's (American, b. 1979) energetic abstract paintings jump the bounds of the canvas to integrate a variety of surfaces and materials while drawing on a wide range of sources. Cain took the title of her installation, My favorite season is the fall of the patriarchy, from a coffee mug. The work centers on Cain's 45-foot-long abstract painting installed on a temporary wall on the ground floor of the Atrium and extends onto nearby protective coverings encasing permanent collection sculptures. With a range of stylistic applications—atmospheric spray-painted grounds, hard-edged figures, and torn, cut, sewn, and beaded canvas—Cain's riotously-colored works dynamically play between painting and sculpture.

Cain's work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Aspen Art Museum; and Contemporary Art Museum, Raleigh. Exhibitions of her work are being presented in 2021 at The Momentary at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, and at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College. Her work can be found in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Blanton Museum of Art, Austin; North Carolina Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego; and Pérez Art Museum Miami. A 2020 recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painter & Sculptors Grant, Cain lives and works in Los Angeles.


Avish Khebrehzadeh, Photo by Lorenzo Palmieri

Avish Khebrehzadeh
Courtesy M77 Gallery, Milan
Photo by Lorenzo Palmieri

Avish Khebrehzadeh
An installation by the DC-based artist Avish Khebrehzadeh (Iranian American, b. 1969) on the Concourse Level of the East Building will include a large-scale drawing made in situ, Tree of Life in Blue, as well as Seven Silent Songs, a video animation featuring humans and animals alternating in procession to create a poetic cycle. Khebrehzadeh's animations of horses, rhinos, jellyfish, and people moving through fluid natural scenes are made of thousands of drawings on sheets of paper. The serene work engages with questions of migration, climate change, and human nature.

Khebrehzadeh's work has been featured in solo exhibitions worldwide, including Rome's Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo (MAXXI), in group shows, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and in the biennials of Istanbul, Santa Fe, Liverpool, and Venice, where in 2003 she received the Golden Lion Award for best young artist working in Italy. Her work is in held in the public collections of the Albertina Museum, Vienna; Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporaneo, Turin; Museum of Old and New Art, Tasmania; Museo d'Arte Contemporanea di Roma; and MAXXI. The artist's work is often inspired by her own experience of migration, from her native Iran to Italy, Madagascar, the United Kingdom, and finally the United States.


East Building Renovations and Reopening
The East and West Buildings of the National Gallery of Art are home to thousands of masterpieces, as well as significant works of architecture in their own right. To preserve these historic buildings and improve their accessibility, energy efficiency, and infrastructure, the museum is committed to its Master Facilities Plan, an ongoing, phased approach to long-term repair, restoration, and renovation.

Major renovations to the north side of the East Building were completed in 2016. Since 2019, additional work has been underway to improve accessibility throughout the building, to overhaul select building systems, to renovate the galleries on the west side, and to replace the Atrium skylight, which is original to the building and over 40 years old. The skylight replacement work is currently underway; an elaborate system of sliding platforms has been installed to move glass panels, and a suspended platform installed beneath the skylight allows construction workers to facilitate the glass replacement and reinstall various electrical systems safely while also protecting visitors and works of art. The Atrium skylight replacement project will be complete by early 2022. Accessibility improvements to the main entrance, elevator lobby, and restrooms on the Ground Floor and Mezzanine are also underway and will be complete by fall 2021. Additional improvements include new flooring, lighting, and laylights for Tower 3 and the west galleries on the Upper Level. For more information on East Building renovations, visit

This phase of renovation work was designed around the priority of remaining open to the public throughout construction. The East Building has been closed since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Once the East Building reopens later this year, most of the galleries, the Atrium, and other public locations will be available for visitors to enjoy.

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