100 acres of rolling countryside make for an unusual location for a fine arts museum but that is exactly where Mitchell and Emily Rales have developed Glenstone Museum, a not-for-profit contemporary art museum and foundation. Mitch, as his friends call him, first broke ground on the museum in 2003 after scarcely surviving a helicopter crash. ‘I came home with a different point of view. I wanted to do something of lasting value,’ Mitch told Sotheby’s in an interview earlier this year.
Working with architect and friend Charles Gwathmey, the design for the first 30,000 square feet gallery space for the museum was realized and in 2006, following Mitch and Emily’s marriage, Glenstone opened by reservation. Emily, formerly curator at the Guggenheim in New York, has since been Glenstone’s director and chief curator overseeing seven major exhibitions the museum has since exhibited.
Given their success, the Raleses embarked on a major expansion of Glenstone that would transform the site with the Pavilions, a 204,000 square foot addition boasts ample gallery space, two cafes, a bookstore, arrival hall, and 130 more acres of landscape. Their goal for Glenstone, which Mitch sees as a 30-year process, is to seamlessly unite art, architecture, and nature.
Glenstone centres around the Raleses in-depth collection of post-World War II artworks. As collectors, the pair have decidedly chosen to focus on specific artists who are integral to the history of art and have changed the way we think of art. Honing in on specific artists has allowed them to collect a diverse portfolio of works by each artist creating a better understanding of the artists. They have, therefore, become the largest individual collections for artists like Louis Bourgeois, Roni Horn, Eva Hesse, and Jeff Wall. For the Pavilions, the Raleses have worked with or the estates various artists including Michael Heizer, Charles Ray, Bob Gober, and Cy Twombly to establish site-specific installations and works.
The original gallery space was designed by Gwathmey and is now named for the late architect. After his death in 2009, the Raleses selected Thomas Phifer to head the design of the Pavilions. The large-scale addition, consisting of a series of cast-concrete structures, literally sinks into the Potomac landscape. Each structure forms a type of gallery pod that join a ring of gallery space all surrounding a tranquil water court. The understated buildings boldly contrast to the lush countryside. Large windows allow for ample natural lighting but they also allow visitors to simultaneously experience the landscape and exhibitions.
PWP Landscape Architecture have been working with the Raleses since Glenstone’s beginnings. They have works to integrate the expanded property with the contemporary galleries. PWP have restored meadows and woodlands and created pathways to give visitors a completely immersive experience. The landscape also plays a role in the museum’s name. Glen Road is the road along which the property line begins for the museum’s campus and ‘stone’ refers to an abundant, indigenous type of carderock stone found in the area.
The pair have quietly become ‘the most influential art collectors you’ve never heard of’, according to The Wall Street Journal, as they’ve created a space to break away life as we know it. ‘We’re trying to go backwards in time. Everything today is so fast-paced. We want people when they get here to slow down, turn off their phones, take it all in,’ says Emily of Glenstone as Mitch adds: ‘[y]our blood pressure should drop when you arrive.’