7 Must-See D.C. Exhibits

Thought-provoking, emotional and just plain beautiful exhibits on now.

Don't miss these exhibits when visiting Washington, D.C. at National Gallery of Art, Portrait Gallery, African Art Museum and Hirshhorn.

Piero di Cosimo's "Allegory" at National Gallery of Art

National Gallery of Art

This museum holding one of Washington's finest art collections has its fair share of Botticellis and Michelangelos. In “Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence,” through May 3, the museum shines a spotlight on a lesser-known, but no less prolific, Italian Renaissance artist. Forty-four of the Florentine painter’s pieces showcase his imaginative retelling of mythological tales and his playful sense of humor in depicting even the soberest of religious scenes. In di Cosimo’s world, mermaids swim while ponies frolic with angels (above), and strange creatures populate everyday scenes.

For decades, National Gallery of Art curators coordinated with Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, several Italian churches and private collectors around the world to bring the paintings together in the largest retrospective of di Cosimo’s work since 1938. In June, the exhibit travels to the artist’s hometown, where it will be displayed at the Uffizi through September 27.

401 Constitution Ave. NW, 202.737.4215

Robert Wilson's Lady Gaga at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

The Hirshhorn debuted 40 years ago to much fanfare. Today, buoyed by an energetic new leader, the circular edifice housing D.C.’s first modern art collection launches its fourth decade with a year’s worth of special events and exhibits, plus third-floor galleries restored to architect Gordon Bunshaft’s original design. “Days of Endless Time” (through April 6) highlights moving image installations, including Robert Wilson’s video collaboration with Lady Gaga. In it, the pop star recreates well-known artwork like Ingres’ 1806 “Portrait of Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière” (above), which made quite the splash at New York’s Watermill Center and the Louvre, where the exhibit opened.

Independence Ave. SW at 7th St. SW, 202.633.1000

Photograph from National Portrait Gallery exhibit "Portraiture Now"

National Portrait Gallery

Six contemporary Latino artists in this exhibit challenge tradition in “Portraiture Now: Staging the Self,” through April 12. Rather than static likenesses, the artists’ mixed media collages, contextual paintings and staged photographs examine issues of identity, memory and familial relationships.

F St. NW at 8th St. NW, 202.633.1000

Man Ray in Hollywood 1948

The Phillips Collection

“Man Ray—Human Equations: A Journey from Mathematics to Shakespeare,” until May 10 at Phillips, provides a glimpse into the surrealist’s process through models and objects, photographs and the series of paintings they ultimately inspired, his “Shakespearean Equations.”

1600 21st St. NW, 202.387.2151

Tony Walton's 1934 "Grand Hotel" design

Library of Congress

Drawing from the library’s collections, “Grand Illusion: The Art of Theatrical Design,” in the Madison building through July 25, presents behind-the-scenes illustrations and notes from “Chicago,” “My Fair Lady” and “Ziegfeld’s Follies.” Also on display: Tony Walton’s scale model for the set of “Grand Hotel.”

101 Independence Ave. SE, 202.707.9779

Gerard Sekoto's Boy and the Candle 1943

National Museum of African Art

With pieces from the Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. collection, “Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue,” through January 24, 2016, at Smithsonian's African Art Museum offers a wide-angle view of the African diaspora. Traditional totems juxtaposed with contemporary artwork span spirituality, politics and power, nature and family, providing plenty of fuel for thoughtful discussion.

950 Independence Ave. SW, 202.633.1000

Portrait of Doris Lee ca. 1935-1937

National Museum of Women in the Arts

“Doris Lee: American Painter and Illustrator,” in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library through May 8, seeks to familiarize today’s audiences with the Depression-era painter’s folksy-modernist work, which evokes Gottlieb and Klee, among others. 

1250 New York Ave. NW, 202.783.5000