Friday, May 14, 2004

Three D.C. museums this weekend are opening exhibits targeting the millions of tourists expected to visit the National World War II Memorial.

This weekend’s openings — at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Northwest, the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Northeast and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Southwest — are part of more than 140 special events slated for the city’s “America Celebrates the Greatest Generation” festival.

About 100,000 tickets have been sold for the May 29 dedication of the National World War II Memorial on the Mall, which opened last month, and about 800,000 visitors are expected for the Smithsonian’s four-day reunion that weekend. About 1 million visitors are expected throughout the summer.

“We knew the dedication weekend would be very special, but they only have 100,000 seats for the ceremony,” said Victoria Isley, spokeswoman for the nonprofit Washington, D.C. Convention and Tourism Corp. “We’ve been working to create a summerlong program for the [World War II] generation and their families.”

Today, the Corcoran Gallery will exhibit Norman Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” paintings, and the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center will showcase Christian and Jewish artifacts on loan from the Virginia War Museum.

Both exhibits will close shortly before Labor Day.

“Given the nature of the tie-in with the [World War II] memorial, I’m expecting a lot of people,” said Daniel G. Callahan, director of exhibits for the Pope John Paul II Center. “I’m hoping for a unique response from people of faith and not just Catholics.”

The centerpiece of Mr. Callahan’s exhibit is a set of triptychs adorned by religious crusader imagery. Jewish, Protestant and Catholic chaplains for the Navy and Army placed the triptychs on makeshift altars when conducting worship services in the field.

At the Corcoran, 100 archival objects — including fan letters to Mr. Rockwell and essays on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” — are on display in addition to the four paintings.

Sarah Cash, the Corcoran’s curator of American art, said the gallery also is expecting a large crowd.

“We’re just a few blocks away from the memorial,” she said. “We figured this would be a wonderful way of showcasing the artist most closely associated with the war era.”

Tomorrow, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will begin displaying U.S. Signal Corps photographs of American soldiers liberating Europe.

“It’s an interactive experience that takes the visitor from D-Day to Ebensee,” said director of exhibitions Stephen Goodell. “Visitors can control the still photo presentations electronically.”

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