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East Building Audio Tour

Use your smartphone to explore a wide range of works through the voices of National Gallery of Art curators. Set your own pace by listening to as many stops as you like in the order you choose.

To listen to information about a work of art, enter the stop number in the box below, select go, and press the play button when the stop appears. Please be mindful of other visitors and use headphones while listening to the audio tour.


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    Stop 0
    Introduction

    The East Building houses the Gallery’s growing collection of modern and contemporary art. Planning for the East Building began in 1968, although the site was set aside by founder Andrew W. Mellon in the 1930s. The East Building opened to the public in 1978 and reopened in 2016 after a three-year renovation and gallery expansion project. We invite you to explore the reinstalled galleries and to make your own connections to the works on view. 

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    Stop 1
    Alexander Calder artist
    American, 1898 - 1976
    Untitled 

    Alexander Calder’s monumental mobile moves solely on the air currents in the East Building Atrium. This motion is possible because the mobile was constructed in aluminum rather than welded steel, which was Calder’s customary choice of material. The sculptor considered installing a motor, but the use of advanced, lightweight materials made this unnecessary. Although the sculpture’s wingspan exceeds 85 feet, the entire work weighs only 920 pounds—two tons less than if it were made of steel.

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    Stop 2
    Edouard Vuillard artist
    French, 1868 - 1940
    Woman in a Striped Dress 

    Édouard Vuillard belonged to a quasi-mystical group of young artists that arose about 1890 and called themselves Les Nabis (after the Hebrew word for prophet). The Nabis rejected impressionism and considered simple transcription of the appearance of the natural world unthinking and unartistic. Woman in a Striped Dress is one of five works Vuillard painted in 1895 for Thadée Natanson and his wife Misia Godebska. The introspective woman arranging flowers here may represent the red-haired Misia, whom Vuillard greatly admired.

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    Stop 3
    Pierre Bonnard painter
    French, 1867 - 1947
    Nude in an Interior 

    Pierre Bonnard belonged to a quasi-mystical group of young artists that arose about 1890 and called themselves Les Nabis (after the Hebrew word for prophet). The Nabis rejected impressionism and considered simple transcription of the appearance of the natural world unthinking and unartistic. Bonnard often captured unguarded moments such as this one and used his work to explore and experiment with color and color harmonies.

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    Stop 4
    Georges Braque artist
    French, 1882 - 1963
    Still Life: Le Jour 

    Georges Braque famously worked alongside Pablo Picasso as the two artists developed the new style of cubism around 1910. This painting is typical of a later phase in Braque’s career, when he incorporated elements of cubism into still lifes and other subjects. In this work, the wood grain on the table, the design of the wallpaper in the background, and the text on the newspaper emphasize the interplay of pattern and texture.

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    Stop 6
    George Bellows painter
    American, 1882 - 1925
    New York 

    Completed in February 1911, New York is a large, ambitious painting in which George Bellows captured the essence of modern life in New York City. Bellows did not intend to represent a specific, identifiable place in the city. He instead drew on several bustling commercial districts to create an imaginary composite, an impossibly crowded image that would best convey a sense of the city’s frenetic pace.

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    Stop 7
    Edward Hopper painter
    American, 1882 - 1967
    Ground Swell 

    The blue sky, sun-kissed figures, and vast rolling water of Ground Swell strike a calm note in the picture; however, details in the painting call into question this initial sense of serenity. A buoy confronts the small catboat in the middle of an otherwise empty seascape. Its purpose, to sound a warning bell in advance of unseen or imminent danger, renders its presence in the scene ominous. The cirrus clouds in the blue sky—often harbingers of approaching storms—reinforce this impression of disturbance. 

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    Stop 8
    Georgia O'Keeffe painter
    American, 1887 - 1986
    Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. IV 

    In her youth, Georgia O’Keeffe had been particularly fascinated by the jack-in-the-pulpit. In 1930, she executed a series of six paintings of the common North American flowering plant at Lake George in New York. Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. IV presents a magnified view of the tongue-like spadix set against the spathe’s cavernous, dark purple interior. Green foliage and a hint of cloudy sky are confined to the upper right and left corners. 

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    Stop 9
    Aaron Douglas artist
    American, 1899 - 1979
    The Judgment Day 

    In 1927 James Weldon Johnson, a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, published his masterwork, God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse. Each sermon-poem was accompanied by an illustration by Aaron Douglas, a young African American artist who had recently settled in Harlem. Several years later, Douglas began translating his illustrations into large oil paintings. The Judgment Day is the final work in a series of eight. At the center, a powerful angel Gabriel stands astride the earth and sea. With the trumpet call, the archangel summons nations of the earth to judgment. 

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    Stop 10
    Ellsworth Kelly painter
    American, 1923 - 2015
    Tiger 

    The colors for Tiger were taken from study collages Ellsworth Kelly made from a type of colored gummed paper sold by Parisian stationers and used in French primary schools. Kelly’s use of this material reveals his particular interest in the objet trouvé (found object), which is a key to understanding his visual world. Kelly found his abstract forms and contours in the negative spaces of his natural or urban environment. During the period when this was painted, Kelly spent a lot of time looking at art and architecture in Europe. The geometric structures he saw probably provided source material for Tiger, however indirect.

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    Stop 11
    Pablo Picasso artist
    Spanish, 1881 - 1973
    Family of Saltimbanques 

    Family of Saltimbanques is the most important painting Pablo Picasso made during his early career. For him, these wandering saltimbanques (acrobats, dancers, and jesters) stood for the melancholy of the neglected underclass of artists, a kind of extended family with whom he identified. Like them, the Spanish-born Picasso was impoverished during the first years he spent in Paris striving for recognition. The brooding Harlequin—in the diamond-printed costume, at far left—bears the face of the dark, intense young artist himself.

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    Stop 13
    Henri Matisse painter
    French, 1869 - 1954
    Open Window, Collioure 

    Today, Henri Matisse’s Open Window, Collioure may appear gentle and lyrical, but originally its thick brushstrokes and intense colors were seen as violent. A small but explosive work, this icon of early modernism is celebrated as one of the most important paintings of the fauve school, a group of artists who focused on freeing color and texture from strict representations of natural appearance. Open Window, Collioure represents the beginning of this new approach in Matisse’s art.

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    Stop 14
    Ernst Ludwig Kirchner painter
    German, 1880 - 1938
    Two Girls under an Umbrella 

    This work dates to early in Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s prolific career, when he was a founding member of the expressionist group called Die Brücke (The Bridge) in Dresden in 1905. In this painting, Kirchner has depicted two nudes in a natural setting, rather than in the contrived space of an academic studio. This work is also an example of the artist’s use of bold, often crude, forms and vibrant color.

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    Stop 15
    Wassily Kandinsky artist
    Russian, 1866 - 1944
    Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle) 

    Wassily Kandinsky’s painting has some connection to the real world, but the details here have been distorted and adjusted to convey a mood. Although the amorphous shapes and colorful washes of paint may at first appear entirely abstract, they form a number of recognizable images. The central motif of Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle) is a pair of sailing ships locked in combat, their tall masts appearing as slender black lines. Kandinsky’s subject, found in a number of the Improvisations, was probably inspired by the apocalyptic imagery of the book of Revelations.

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    Stop 16
    Alberto Giacometti artist
    Swiss, 1901 - 1966
    No More Play 

    One of the great surrealist sculptors, Alberto Giacometti often incorporated themes of games and play into his early work, as with this sculpture. The form the artist used here resembles a board game with moveable pieces, yet the nature of the game is unclear. The ambiguous space and unknowable rules of the “game” represented in No More Play make this feel like an object one might encounter in a dream.

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    Stop 18
    Constantin Brancusi artist
    Romanian, 1876 - 1957
    Bird in Space 

    While this sculpture might seem abstract, Constantin Brancusi insisted that his works revealed the inner essence of his subjects. His work drew on traditions of African sculpture and Romanian folk carving, and he turned the pedestal into an integral component of the art. Brancusi worked on the Bird in Space series for years, imagining it as an ensemble that would be his crowning achievement. Unlike other sculptors, Brancusi did not have a large workshop; rather, he worked alone with his materials, in this case carving the stone and polishing the brass.

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    Stop 19
    Piet Mondrian artist
    Dutch, 1872 - 1944
    Tableau No. IV; Lozenge Composition with Red, Gray, Blue, Yellow, and Black 

    Piet Mondrian intended his abstract paintings to express his spiritual notion that universal harmonies preside in nature. The horizontal and vertical elements of his compositions, carefully calibrated to produce a balanced asymmetry, represented forces of opposition that parallel the dynamic equilibrium at work in the natural world. Mondrian said the diamond compositions were about cutting, and indeed the sense of cropping here is emphatic. Forms are incomplete and sliced by the edge of the canvas, implying a pictorial continuum that extends beyond the physical boundary of the painting.

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    Stop 20
    Jean Dubuffet painter
    French, 1901 - 1985
    Façades d'immeubles (Building Façades) 

    Feeling as though painting needed to start from scratch after World War II, Jean Dubuffet turned for inspiration to the art of the untrained, particularly by children or self-taught artists, which he collected and dubbed art brut (rough or raw art). In Façades d’immeubles (Building Façades), Dubuffet showed his own art brut. Using the schoolroom technique of scratching through black paint to a previously applied colored ground, Dubuffet elaborated a view of a Parisian street as it might appear to a child. However, the carefully controlled grid and imposing, allover wall of paint testify to Dubuffet’s awareness of modernist tactics.

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    Stop 21
    Arshile Gorky artist
    American, born Armenia, 1904 - 1948
    One Year the Milkweed 

    In One Year the Milkweed, one of several so-called color veil paintings Arshile Gorky made in 1944, films of paint have been washed unevenly across the canvas, and evocative but indistinct forms have been brushed in. The painting’s overall green and brown hues suggest a landscape, but there are no identifiable landscape forms and no spatial recession. Instead, vertical drips and the alternation of light and deep tones create a shifting, shimmering effect across the entire picture surface. 

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    Stop 22
    Jackson Pollock artist
    American, 1912 - 1956
    Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) 

    Jackson Pollock’s mural-size drip paintings met with mixed reactions when they debuted in 1948. For this painting, he laid a large canvas on the floor of his studio barn, nearly covering the space. Using house paint, oil paint, enamel, and aluminum, he dripped, poured, and flung pigment from loaded brushes and sticks while walking around it. He said that this was his way of being in his work, acting as a medium in the creative process. He “signed” the painting in the upper-left corner and at the top of the canvas with his handprints.

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    Stop 24
    Morris Louis artist
    American, 1912 - 1962
    Beta Kappa 

    The work of Morris Louis is essentially about color. Profoundly influenced by artist Helen Frankenthaler’s staining technique, Louis began to investigate the potential of this technique to give color a new role in his abstract painting. He thinned out his quick-drying acrylic paint and poured it onto unprimed canvas, controlling the flow of the pigment by moving the canvas or the scaffolding to which it was loosely stapled. Staining enabled Louis to achieve an impersonal quality, in contrast to the prevailing abstract expressionist style that emphasized the artist’s gestures through brushwork. 

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    Stop 25
    Roy Lichtenstein artist
    American, 1923 - 1997
    Look Mickey 

    Look Mickey may be the first time Roy Lichtenstein transposed a scene and a style from a source of popular culture: the 1960 children’s book Donald Duck: Lost and Found. Lichtenstein subtly altered the original to turn it into a more unified image, omitting background figures, rotating the point of view by 90 degrees, organizing the colors into bands of yellow and blue, and simplifying the characters’ features. Stylistically, Lichtenstein imitated printed media—its heavy black outlines, primary colors, and, in Donald’s eyes and Mickey’s face, the ink dots of the Benday printing process then used to produce inexpensive comic books and magazines.

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    Stop 26
    Donald Judd artist
    American, 1928 - 1994
    Untitled 

    Donald Judd’s Untitled sits on the ground without a pedestal, directly in the space of the viewer, brutally unframed in a way that almost no previous sculpture had been. The cubic structure is generated by geometric logic rather than by appealing to the language of expression: bisected across the diagonal, one half double the height of the other, creating a step formation. Judd took aim at what he saw as the continuing illusionism of European modernism, presenting instead a lucid form that would exist simply as an object. His pursuit of literal rather than apparent space challenges the terms of traditional perspective in painting.

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    Stop 27
    Eva Hesse sculptor
    American, born Germany, 1936 - 1970
    Test Piece for "Contingent" 

    Eva Hesse did not want to produce what she saw as a conventionally beautiful sculpture. She rejected traditional media used for sculpture, such as metal or stone, preferring instead more flexible material such as fiber, plaster, or latex, the latter of which is used in this test piece. It was one of several studies for the final Contingent work, which is made up of eight similar banners that now hang in the National Gallery of Australia. Hesse described it as “not painting, not sculpture. . . . It is really hung painting.”

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    Stop 28
    Nam June Paik artist
    American, born South Korea, 1932 - 2006
    Untitled (Red Hand) 

    Nam June Paik was born in Seoul, in what is now South Korea, but grew up and lived in Japan, Germany, and, finally, New York. He pioneered the use of new media, including video, in art. For this work, Paik altered a 19th-century Japanese scroll by adding his handprint and placing a flashing red light behind it. The juxtaposition of a traditional art form with modern technology would become a hallmark of Paik’s work.

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    Stop 29
    Barnett Newman artist
    American, 1905 - 1970
    First Station 

    One of the great figures of the abstract expressionist movement, Barnett Newman was an intellectual who developed his ideas in his painting, sculpture, and writing. In the mid-1940s he made his first works using his signature vertical elements, or “zips,” to punctuate the single-hued fields of his canvases. This painting is the first in a series of 14 paintings that Newman eventually named The Stations of the Cross (along with a coda in the form of a 15th painting, Be II). The Stations of the Cross was Newman’s most ambitious attempt to address what he called a “moral crisis” facing artists after World War II and the Holocaust: “What are we going to paint?”

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    Stop 30
    Glenn Ligon artist
    American, born 1960
    Double America 

    The bottom letters in Double America render the word America upside down with the outward-facing sides painted black, leaving the “shadow” of the white neon to reflect against the wall. The letters in the top row are painted black and turned toward the wall so the viewer looks at the illuminated backs of the letters. This arrangement of skewed perspectives evokes the political turmoil surrounding the election of America’s first black president and the country’s contemporaneous involvement in two wars.

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    Stop 31
    Jenny Holzer artist
    American, born 1950
    PALM, FINGERS & FINGERTIPS (RIGHT HAND) 000394 

    Jenny Holzer’s text-based art engages public consciousness. In 2005, she began using declassified and redacted government documents as the source material for a series of silkscreened paintings. This is one of six paintings that show enlarged handprints taken from US government records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The handprints belong to soldiers accused of detainee abuse in Iraq. By using the traditional materials of oil paint and linen to reproduce and enlarge the documents, Holzer called viewers’ attention to information that she felt “wasn’t always noticed or taken seriously.”

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    Stop 34
    Sigmar Polke painter
    German, 1941 - 2010
    Hope is: Wanting to Pull Clouds 

    This work features a young man standing at the seashore, attempting to wrangle clouds. Sigmar Polke appropriated this image from a 16th-century German woodcut that appeared in a book of epigrams. The image illustrates a quote: “Hope is a long rope, with which many pull themselves toward Death.” It serves as a reminder of our struggles against fate. Yet Polke’s representation is far less bleak—perhaps even hopeful. The artist eliminated details from the source woodcut, including a spew of flames from the man’s mouth and the original seaside setting. Instead, Polke invented his own background, filled with multicolored geometric shapes. 

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    Stop 35
    Kerry James Marshall artist
    American, born 1955
    Great America 

    Since the 1980s, Kerry James Marshall has used a variety of media and modes of representation to celebrate and make visible black life in America. Great America is a grand narrative painting about the unknowable trauma of enslaved Africans who experienced the Middle Passage. The viewer is drawn in by exuberant language (WOW) and the brightly colored image with black figures in a boat entering a dark, ghost-filled amusement park tunnel. A single head bobs above the water line in the upper right. The word FUN is redacted. The title implicitly asks, as the artist has said, “When did America become great for black folks?” 

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