Soon after the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., opened in 1978, I visited the new structure designed by I. M. Pei & Partners. The structure, both impressive and controversial, was the first to introduce sophisticated modernism into the predominantly classical monumental zone, perfectly embodied in John Russell Pope’s magnificent National Gallery building next to it. What I most remember from that first visit was a curiously intimate encounter with the triangular geometry that orders the entire structure. There was an installation of tiny French Impressionist paintings in one of the smaller galleries. I entered the room and immediately began looking closely at the pictures hung on the left wall precisely at eye level. Alone in the room and completely absorbed by the art, I stood close to the wall and moved slowly from left to right,...


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