The Washington Examiner has a great article about Arthur Wheelock ’65, curator at the National Gallery of Art:
Late in 1995, National Gallery of Art curator Arthur K. Wheelock was looking forward to unveiling the exhibit of his career.
That exhibit, Johannes Vermeer, brought together 22 of the enigmatic Dutch genius’ 35 known paintings. Three centuries had passed since the last time so many Vermeers could be seen in one place.
“That was something nobody ever thought would be possible, says Wheelock, curator of northern Baroque paintings. “You couldn’t get the loans.
And yet, after eight years of negotiations with museums and private collectors throughout the United States and Europe, he was about to make it happen. It would be the apex of a career that began when he’d written his dissertation on Vermeer more than 20 years earlier.
The show opened on Nov. 12. Two days later, it closed with the rest of the gallery, a victim of the federal budget impasse between President Bill Clinton and Congress that shut down the government for six days that month and 10 more the next.
The Vermeer exhibit couldn’t be extended in Washington: It was due to open at the Mauritshuis — the Dutch Royal picture gallery — on March 1. Acting quickly, the gallery secured private money to reopen Johannes Vermeer, but not the rest of the museum, during the second shutdown. In January, a record-breaking snowfall buried Washington, at a cost of three more exhibition days.
“People started lining up at four in the morning, in the snow, Wheelock remembers. “By the end of the show, the first person in line was there at 9 o’clock at night. The line went all the way around the West Building. Then you got into the gallery, and it was quiet a church. One of the reasons the line was so long was that nobody wanted to leave. They just wanted to be there.