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Visiting the Smithsonian Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington, DC
Discover the world of Asian art just steps from the National Mall in two beautifully renovated galleries.
What are the Freer and Sackler Galleries and how do I get there?
The vibrant and colorful world of Asian art is all around at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art, both located on the National Mall and part of the Smithsonian Institution museums. The Sackler Gallery is located at 1050 Independence Avenue SW, while the Freer Gallery resides on Jefferson Drive at 12th Street SW. The two galleries are connected by an underground exhibition space.
The Sackler Gallery opened to the public in 1987, with Dr. Arthur M. Sackler as its primary donor. His immense collection of Asian art included famous Chinese jades and ancient bronzes, necessitating a new Smithsonian museum dedicated to works from Asian nations more than 60 years after the Freer Gallery opened in 1923, whose founder was a railroad-car manufacturer named Charles Lang Freer. The Freer now contains more than 26,000 objects across 6,000 years of history.
The museums recently underwent extensive renovations, with reinstalled and restored exhibitions and special new features featured throughout both galleries.
Both galleries are open daily from 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., except on December 25. Admission is always free. In terms of transportation, on-street parking is very limited, so using Metrobus or Metrorail is the best option to reach both galleries. Use the Smithsonian Metro station on the Orange, Blue and Silver lines. The 32, 34 or 36 Metrobus routes all serve the National Mall area. The DC Circulator’s National Mall route will also take you near the museums – making it easy to continue your exploration afterwards. The Freer Gallery features a handicap accessible entrance on Independence Avenue at 12th Street SW.
What’s inside the galleries?
The Freer and Sackler Galleries display a wide variety of Asian art from several regions and eras, including Islamic works, Chinese art, ancient Near Eastern art and pieces from South and Southeast Asia and the Himalayas. It all adds up to a comprehensive and historical look at some of the world’s most fascinating cultures.
With the renovation of the two galleries complete, each one is displaying a slew of new exhibits, as well as some past favorites. Highlights include Feast Your Eyes: A Taste for Luxury in Ancient Iran (a carryover from before the renovation), which displays luxury metalwork from ancient Iran, as well as the Peacock Room, one of the Freer Gallery’s cornerstones that represents the intersection of Asian and American art. Pro tip: The Peacock Room opens its shutters on third Thursdays of the month between noon and 5 p.m., illuminating the room in natural light and rich hues of gold, blue and green.
The Sackler Gallery’s Perspectives series has been reignited with jaw-dropping installations from internationally acclaimed artists.
Before you experience the museum, make sure to download the Freer Thinking app in the Apple App Store. You will be able to listen to a gallery-highlights tour of 60 objects narrated by National Public Radio’s Robert Siegel, including five objects specifically designed for kids and families. There are also four podcast-like guided tours that run for 20 minutes that focus on a specific theme and feature curator interviews and contextual music, which can be listened to on the app.
The galleries also host events and film screenings, with some held at other museums around town. Check the calendar to see if you can catch one during your DC visit.
A final insider tip: make sure to check out the beautiful Enid A. Haupt Garden, situated just outside of the galleries. The four-acre public garden boasts gorgeous fountains, brick paths for walking, a famous Parterre and beautiful scenery.