ngaIf you’re not doing stuff for free in DC, you’re doing it wrong. Seriously, though…while DC can have you pinching pennies, it’s also pretty phenomenal in terms of free entertainment and resources. Whether it’s a park, museum, art gallery, monument…you can find something to do without swiping your credit card. Case in point: The National Gallery of Art.

The National Gallery of Art is, quite literally, a gift. It was created and bestowed upon the good ole’ USA by Andrew W. Mellon, a financier and art collector from Pittsburgh who once served as secretary of the treasury. In its own words, the gallery’s mission is:

“…to serve the United States of America in a national role by preserving, collecting, exhibiting, and fostering the understanding of works of art at the highest possible museum and scholarly standards.”

No pressure. As the national gallery, the National Gallery is home to an impressive array of art, featuring household names such as Rembrandt, Liechtenstein, Picasso, Bearden, Matisse, da Vinci, and more. But don’t let the regulars fool you – there are new kids on the block swooping in to showcase cutting-edge art regularly, too. It’s almost always worth it to drop by and see what exhibit is in town. Right now, one of the coolest portrait artists around is on display – Rineke Dijkstra.


Rineke Dijkstra is a Dutch artist has been on the photography scene since the ‘90s, and in that time, has become known for her exceptionally simple and equally striking large-scale portraits, mostly of young people. Her portraits are very much a direct reflection of the people in them – she keeps backgrounds minimal.

As revealed in the book of interviews, “Image Makers, Image Takers,” Dijkstra was originally studying to teach arts and crafts when she got hold of a camera thanks to a friend. It was love at first sight. She then followed up with photography courses and art school in Amsterdam, eventually leading her to a career as an independent and influential modern artist. Giving further insight to her punchy style, Dijkstra went on in the book to explain her aim when taking pictures:

“I want to show things you might not see in normal life. I make normal things appear special. I want people to look at life in a new and different way, but it always has to be based on reality. It’s important that you don’t pass judgement, and leave space for interpretation.”

The simplistic nature of Dijkstra’s set-up certainly leaves room for interpretation. Most times, it makes you look a little deeper into the subject’s eyes, wonder about their story a little longer. In the artist’s words:

“If you leave out the details, the viewer has to look for much subtler hints such as how her shoelaces are tied, or her lipstick, or the state of her. The same goes for the picture of the boy in Odessa. You could show he is poor by including a trashcan or a stray cat in the picture. But for me it’s all about subtlety and the fact that you really have to read the image to get clues about the boy. That makes it equal for everybody.”


In terms of themes in Dijkstra’s work, she focuses mainly on time, change, and the lack of change, showcasing her subjects as the show the emotional vulnerability of everyday life. She prints her work in large formats, because she likes “when a picture is monumental.” Not so big, however, that you are not drawn to come closer and look at the details, she deliberately mentions in interviews.

Dijkstra’s work arrived at the National Gallery in early December and will be there until July 16th, 2017 in the West Concourse Gallery. In other words, you have no excuse to not high tail it over there in the next few months to get the full effect of her work in person. Other upcoming exhibits to keep an eye out for, coming soon: Sally Mann – A Thousand Crossings, In the Tower – Anne Truitt, In the Tower – Theaster Gates, and more.

Oh yeah, did I mention admission is free?

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