Dumbarton Oaks is among my favorite places in Washington, D.C. While I have always considered it a place of art and beauty, in the past few years the gardens have hosted sculptural installations that provide an element of surprise at the same time they merge organically with their site. The latest of these is the Cloud Terrace, which I visited with my friend Paul on Friday. It was bitterly cold, so we stopped by the gatehouse to make sure we took the shortest route. The guard directed us past the Orangery and Beech Terrace, then down through the rose garden. On the way, we spotted snowdrops and stopped for a look at them.
As the guard had said we would, we spotted the “clouds” from the rose garden. They are on the Arbor Terrace, which if you are familiar with Dumbarton Oaks, is an open space that overlooks the flower and vegetable gardens. At the west end, there is an arbor with a fearsome looking water god dribbling water into a shallow pool in the warmer months. At the east end, there are pear trees and a view toward Montrose Park.
The terrace floor was taken up for the cloud installation and a reflecting pool was placed in its center surrounded by gray stone. There was also green crystal scattered around the edges that I first mistook for small mosses. Like all good art, Cloud Terrace bears looking at over long periods of time. As we looked, we kept seeing new things and getting new impressions. The crystal sparkled. Fallen leaves rested in the clouds (yes, two different sizes of chicken wire) as though taken up by a whirlwind. The whole, including the sky above, reflected in the pool. Paul took some video while there, so you can view it in motion as well.
Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot of Cao|Perrot Studio conceived of the work and Dumbarton Oaks staff oversaw the installation. The clouds have 10,000 pieces of Swarovski Crystal attached to them. They glimmer, a hallmark of Cao|Perrot installations, and are merely on loan until the Cloud Terrace comes down, probably in April. If you have a chance between now and then, go to see it. Weather won’t matter. The crystals can capture and refract all levels of light.
In our fascination, Paul and I lingered until we had that burning feeling in our hands and feet. Lucky for us, there was an antidote in the Orangery, where we sat for a while with the tropical plants sheltering inside for the winter. By the time we left, it really didn’t seem all that cold outside.