Looking for a reason to start planning your next adventure? We have a new reason for you to travel to Potomac, Maryland this spring. 

Glenstone remains one of the Washington, DC area’s greatest secrets.

About 30 minutes from downtown DC in Potomac, Maryland, this gorgeous museum showcases groundbreaking, post–World War II artworks in a stunning setting where art, architecture and nature merge. Beginning this May, there’s another compelling reason to go out of your way to visit Glenstone: one of the largest retrospectives ever mounted of the work of beloved American abstractionist Ellsworth Kelly (1923–2015), on the centennial of his birth.  

“Ellsworth Kelly is an artist who has been foundational to Glenstone’s collection,” says Daniel Mauro, Glenstone’s curatorial assistant. “While he was still alive, the museum had a close relationship with him, so we have a pretty amazing collection of his work that spans much of his career.” 

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A rainbow-stripe piece of art hangs on a gallery wall.
Ellsworth Kelly, “Spectrum IX,” 2014. Acrylic on canvas, 12 joined panels, 107¾ x 96 inches (274 x 243 cm) © Ellsworth Kelly Foundation. Photo: Ron Amstutz, courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

That career spanned seven decades – over which time Kelly helped shape American abstraction in the 20th and 21st centuries. Ellsworth Kelly at 100 charts his evolution beginning as a young artist in Boston and then Paris – where he studied after World War II on the GI Bill and developed some of his most radical ideas – and continues with work he created in his native New York. Along the way, he drew inspiration from nature and the world around him, exploring the dynamic relationships between shape, form, line and color. Kelly is now regarded as a master of monochrome and multi-panel painting. 

Seminal works on display include Window (1949), which reflects Kelly’s pioneering take on painting. “Everywhere I looked, everything I saw became something to be made, and it had to be made exactly as it was, with nothing added,” he explained in 1971.  

Another masterpiece to seek out is Yellow Curve (1990), the first presentation of this work in the United States. The long, graceful, canary-yellow curve inside a diamond-shaped canvas is his first piece in a series of large-scale floor-based paintings, and will be displayed in a custom-designed space. 

A painting of a white wall with a color-blocked painting.
Ellsworth Kelly, “Painting for a White Wall,” 1952. Oil on canvas, five joined panels, 23¾ x 71¼ inches (60 x 181 cm) © Ellsworth Kelly Foundation. Photo: Ron Amstutz, courtesy Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland

The exhibition also features early examples of his multi-panel works, including Painting in Panels (1956) and Painting for a White Wall (1952). 

While Kelly made his name in painting, he also created sculptures, drawings, prints and works in other media. Visitors to the Glenstone show will see examples of all of this output – including a selection of rarely exhibited photographs. “While [photography] wasn’t a central part of his artistic objects,” Mauro says, “it really gives insight into his artistic vision and how he saw the world as an artist, and how he translated so much of the world around him and nature into these different forms.” 

Mauro offers a crucial piece advice to visitors: take your time. “A lot of Kelly’s work might seem simple at first when you think how it is based on shapes and broad uses of color, very abstract forms,” he says. “But with his work, the more time you spend and the more time you see the different relationships drawn across the different works of his career, it becomes more enlightening.” 

He also says to come prepared to walk. “The exhibition covers quite a bit of ground.” 

Ellsworth Kelly,

Featuring nearly 70 works, the Ellsworth Kelly exhibition will (and should!) take up much of your time at Glenstone. Yet the captivating campus, called “the most exciting new private museum in America” by the Washington Post (it opened in 2006 then expanded in 2018) offers so much more. Situated on 300 rolling, woodsy acres are a cluster of concrete pavilions, where rotating artworks are displayed in minimalist settings. An absence of explanatory texts leaves interpretation to the viewer; uniformed staff members are on hand to answer questions and engage in dialogue about each piece should your curiosity be piqued.

In the collection are works by contemporary masters like Cecily Brown (A day! Help! Help! Another day!), Michael Heizer (Collapse) and Brice Marden (Moss Sutra with the Seasons). Walking trails wander through the peaceful grounds, which are sprinkled with massive outdoor sculpture installations by Jeff Koons (Split-Rocker), Richard Serra (Contour 290) and more. 

Ellsworth Kelly at 100 is on view at Glenstone from May 4, 2023 until March 2024. Admission to the museum is free, though you’ll want to reserve a coveted timed ticket well in advance. After Potomac, the show travels on to Paris, then Doha

Planning tip: While visiting Glenstone is free, timed tickets are available to book on the first of each month for all dates in the month 60 days out. (Every slot for June, for example, will be available on April 1.) Tickets are in such demand that we recommend logging on to snag one as early in the day as possible on the first of the month.

Where to eat in Potomac 

The museum has two good options right on its grounds: the Café, with a locally sourced, seasonal menu; and the indoor-outdoor Patio, serving cappuccinos and light bites (lemon scones!). In Potomac, the Colada Shop offers Cuban fare with modern, artsy flair, while the brasserie-style Duck Duck Goose in nearby Bethesda taps into Kelly’s French connection. 

Where to drink in Potomac 

A historic restaurant and bar dating to 1860, Old Angler’s Inn in Potomac has a beautiful outdoor beer garden offering live music. Clyde’s Tower Oaks Lodge in Rockville, an ornately decorated restaurant and bar, has a large drinks menu that includes mocktails made with zero-proof spirits. 

Where to stay near Potomac 

If you don’t want to base yourself in central Washington, DC (with its plethora of hotel choices), Bethesda, a 20-minute drive from Glenstone, is your best bet. Several hotels have creative touches, including Canopy by Hilton Washington DC Bethesda North in North Bethesda, with its live green wall and art displays. Marriott Bethesda Downtown at Marriott HQ has a mid-century-esque flair. 

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