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Unearth Glenstone – A New Kind of Museum

There’s that time in each of our lives where we need a break from the mundane, a haven from the exhaustion that is the standard work desk. The legs need a chance to move around, and the heart a chance to absorb some fresh oxygen. Why not try that in an artistic way?

That’s what makes the Glenstone Museum, located in Potomac and created by Mitchell and Emily Rales, such a surreal experience. There are few locations in the world similar to it, where art and landscape come together in harmony to form a contemplative environment for young teenagers and adults.

Immediately after driving through the gates, there stands a figure that seems a hundred feet tall. It could be a monkey, it could be a new creature, but artist Jeff Koons deserves kudos for decorating the sculpture with thousands of living flowers. It’s a grand and welcoming taste of what’s to appear in the private exhibit.

Now, a walk in the woods can hearken back to childhood memories, playing with sticks and walking down paths that feel as if they are endless to the younger mind. As you reach the end of the trail, you find yourself in a setting to listen to the multimedia presentation, “Forest (For a Thousand Years).” Married couple Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller compiled a myriad of noises to create each individual’s perception of nature. Everyone sits on tree stumps while they listen to the Estonian choir, to the echo that comes from the deep basses. Or perhaps they’re covering their ears to the sounds of the World War II-era tanks and bombs (this piece was made for, and debuted, in Germany).

If you can sneak your way into a tour led by the docents, there’s the chance to explore in depth the work of Andy Goldsworthy. His mission was to create houses made from land native to the Potomac area. One project of his is a ball of clay that is multiple people standing with arms opened wide. The ball sits in what feels like an air-conditioned building. The twist is that the art itself keeps the small viewing space cool. Someone on my tour asked how a large ball of clay could sit in a room without having to be heated at a thousand degrees Fahrenheit like ordinary clay sculptures. The guide told us to look into the cracks – hair! Yes, human hair, rat hair and all sorts of other animals’ hairs are what binds the clay together.

This feature won’t last forever. The guide said that Goldsworthy wanted the collection to be ephemeral, to last for a short amount of time. As the land erodes, so will his clay sculptures, and thus is the way with nature. One thing that will never change according to the Rales’ vision, is the landscape. The marvel of the whiff of the green plants and the wind from the trees is to remain permanent. The nature is its own art, something to admire thanks to its vastness.

The last great spectacle is the indoor gallery. This section features one individual artist and his or her work. The current highlight is Louise Bourgeois, a French-American artist revered for her work with sculptures and installations; she is also a printmaker and painter. The gallery tours through her body of work and illustrates how her style and creations have changed over time. Her dark but sexy craft comes out in a lot of her sculptures, which were a revolution for feminist vulnerability. Some of my favorites are “Destruction of the Father,” “The Tomb of a Young Person” and “Le Défi IV.”

What makes Glenstone special is the staff itself. They aren’t there to lead through the gallery and explain their perceptions; instead, they ask visitors to provide their own interpretations, inviting different perspectives beyond those of the artist and the curators. Whether you’re 12 or 112, they will encourage discussion of what is seen at Glenstone, and how it may change your view of day-to-day life.

“To each their own;” that’s how I’d describe Glenstone. No two people will walk out with the same thoughts. Whether you want to go at your own pace or sit and enjoy the ambience of the outdoors while contemplating the works’ surroundings, there is no wrong way to experience it.