Serge Diaghilev is the most influential 20th century cultural figure whose name you may not know. You do, however, know his work. Diaghilev (pronounced di-AH-ge-lev) ran Ballets Russes, the famed troupe that scandalized and thrilled Europe with ballets like The Rite of Spring, Petrushka, and Sheherazade. But while ballet was Diaghilev’s business, his legacy also looms large in art and music. The National Gallery of Art celebrates that legacy with an exhibition featuring roughly 135 Ballets Russes costumes, set designs, paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings. By commissioning art and music from the most groundbreaking artists and composers of the day, Diaghilev basically curated the 20th century avant garde. As a result, the names of artists featured in the exhibit (individuals like Man Ray, Pablo Picasso, Coco Chanel, Henri Matisse, and Jean Cocteau) became more famous than the impresario’s own. “Astound me!” was Diaghilev’s charge to his collaborators. A century later, the curators of this exhibit hope visitors will be astounded as well.
The exhibit is on view Mondays to Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. to Sept. 2 at the National Gallery of Art, 4th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. Free. (202) 737-4215. nga.gov.