Lonely Planet Writer

Washington DC's Asian Art museums reopen with a state-of-the-art cultural festival

It’s not every day a museum reopens after a large-scale update. In the case of the Freer and Sackler galleries, both part of Washington DC’s esteemed Smithsonian Institution, two neighboring museums are re-emerging new and improved. And they’re doing it with panache.

Freer Gallery of Art entrance, Smithsonian Institution, The Mall, Washington D.C., USA Image by Lester Lefkowitz/Getty Images

The two National Mall museums, host to some of the world’s best Asian art collections, are hosting a weekend-long reopening celebration. “IlluminAsia: A Festival of Asian Art, Food, and Cultures” will include a bustling night-market on the museum grounds, special exhibitions and a state-of-the-art animated artwork on the Freer’s façade.

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The fun begins at 5pm on Saturday, 14 October, with the night-market showcasing Asian food stalls and live music and performances. The museums then open their doors to the public at 6pm, with several long-anticipated exhibits, including Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt, Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice across Asia, Resound: Ancient Bells of China, and Subodh Gupta: Terminal.

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, The Mall, Washington D.C., USA Image by Lester Lefkowitz/Getty Images

The evening program’s highlight will be the presentation of “A Perfect Harmony,” a state-of-the-art animated artwork set to curated music that will transform the Freer’s façade into a vast canvas. This spectacular show is being produced by 59 Productions, the team behind the video design of the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. There will be five performances of the 12-minute show.

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‘The company’s ability to weave together art and technology to tell powerful human stories perfectly fits with the mission and method of the new Freer/Sackler,’ said Julian Raby, director of the Freer/Sackler. The event continues on Sunday, 15 October, with the night-market and tons of cultural programming, including art-making workshops, storytelling, and performances. The event is free and open to the public.

Behind the closure of the Freer/Sackler

The Freer closed in 2015 to return its galleries to their original neoclassical aesthetic using eco-friendly materials, improve lighting and technology, and reconfigure the visitor experience by adding front desks and way-finding. The Sackler has been closed since July for a refresh of its galleries. The Freer Gallery of Art opened in 1923 as the Smithsonian’s first fine art museum, while the adjacent Arthur M. Sackler Museum opened in 1982. Together they boast more than 40,000 Asian artworks, as well as a coveted collection of works by American artist James McNeill Whistler (including his stunning Peacock Room).

By Barbara Noe Kennedy