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Two Art Museums Reopen in Washington, D.C., After Extensive Renovations

The National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum, two major art museums in Washington, D.C., reopen after six years and $300 million in renovations.

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    After six years with doors shuttered and a $300 million renovation, the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum have once again opened in Washington.

    Housed in one of the great architectural gems of the capital, the original Patent Office Building that dates from 1842, the two museums have reoccupied a spectacular space, with plenty of natural light once again allowed to shine in and offices removed to create more exhibition halls.

    The museums have always told stories of America, and their iconic images are still given pride of place, including Gilbert Stuart's Lansdowne portrait of George Washington and Albert Bierstadt's classic view of the Sierra Nevada.

    But along with the renovation has come a chance for redefinition, of portraiture, its styles and subjects of the breadth of American art, and, through both, how best to tell the nation's story.

    Mark Pachter is director of the National Portrait Gallery. His counterpart at the Smithsonian American Art Museum is Elizabeth Broun.

  • ELIZABETH BROUN, Director, Smithsonian American Art Gallery:

    We like to be a traditional museum in presenting the very finest artworks made by Americans over more than 300 years. However, we have a very special role also: We try to connect those artworks to the larger story of the country and how we became the society we are today.

    I think what Mark and I appreciate the most is that the artworks tell the story in a way that is very approachable and very powerful. It has an emotional component to it.