The National Gallery of Art has two spaces set aside for displays from its library, one in the West Building and one in the East Building. Even though the East Building is at present closed for renovation, the library is still open.
Walking through the West Building allows the visitor to see some of the works usually displayed in the East Building, as they've relocated a few pieces here. I must say, it reminded me of an apartment after a new roommate with wildly incompatible taste has moved in. The East Building pieces feel crammed in and even if there were plenty of room, they just don't belong here. I'd always rolled my eyes a bit at the East Building's design: so many jagged edges and so much wasted space. Well, I take it all back. A Calder mobile needs lots of white space to look like anything, and the West Building just doesn't cut it. It's wonderful as a home for early American furniture, but not for cubism. The East Building can't re-open soon enough.
But enough of this general grousing; on to the exhibits! The first is in the West Building and is on architectural books.
When: through September 1, 2014
The Grega and Leo A. Daly Fund for Architectural Books allows the National Gallery to purchase books on architectural subjects (which I'm sure are extremely expensive) and this small display shows some of the items that the fund has enabled the Gallery to purchase. One of the main areas in which the Gallery collects is public architecture. In this area, there is still some valuable information that exists only in printed form (imagine that!), so these books are quite useful to scholars, as well as being lovely for the casual visitor to examine. I was happy to see several examples of Palladian architecture - I saw a show on Palladio at the National Building Museum a few years ago, and I've noticed his influence on many major structures ever since.
The second display is on marginalia and is in the East Building.
When: through June 27, 2014
Marginalia is the name given to notes that book owners leave in their volumes, usually located in the margins. These on display are not the jottings of an average person, however. These books are made more valuable by these notes, usually because they belonged to famous people, or because the notes help to establish a book's provenance. Marginalia, even that of ordinary people, transforms a mass printed book into a personal, unique object. My favorite of the volumes on display is a copy of Livy's Roman History, complete with drawings of the action in the margins. Think of it as an early graphic novel.
Verdict: These displays are probably most interesting to book people, so if you're just as happy with an e-reader as the printed word, feel free to give these a miss. If the book as artifact appeals, have a look at these shows, easily managed in a lunch hour.