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DC's Kreeger Museum Turns 20

The Philip Johnson-designed residence turned museum celebrates a milestone year

Once upon a time, David and Carmen Kreeger lived in a modest brick colonial in northwest Washington, but they needed more space and, considering their “furnishings,” more light. After all, they had surrounded themselves with paintings by Monet, Picasso, Renoir, Chagall and Cezanne. David Kreeger, CEO of GEICO insurance company, described their situation in a 1963 letter to architect Philip Johnson, inviting the famed modernist to see their “collection…the source of our problem!”

Busy with major projects, Johnson resisted residential commissions, but when a National Airport flight delay gave him a few unexpected hours, he agreed to visit. Impressed by what he saw, Johnson accepted the design challenge of providing for the display of a growing collection, a large recital hall for concerts, family spaces with privacy, staff quarters, a swimming pool and tennis courts. The site—5 1/2 wooded acres with a distant view of the capital—no doubt factored for Johnson as well. His own Glass House, an icon of International Style (the term he may have coined as MOMA curator), nestles in a natural landscape.

The postmodernist design by Johnson and colleague Richard Foster features glowing ivory travertine within and without, a 22-foot square module as base unit for both intimate and soaring spaces plus roof and window arches that not only bring in vistas and light but also create a visual “procession.” In 1994, between the passing of David in 1990 and Carmen in 2003, their residence opened to visitors, and now through July 31 the Kreeger and its director Judy A. Greenberg celebrate that 20th anniversary with “K@20,” works by 14 artists who have mattered here—Kendall Buster, William Christenberry, Gene Davis, Sam Gilliam, Tom Green, Ledelle Moe, Michael B. Platt, Jann Rosen-Queralt, John Ruppert, Jim Sanborn, Jeff Spaulding, Dan Steinhilber, Renée Stout and Yuriko Yamaguchi. Sculpture by John Dreyfuss graces the pool.