Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Wonder - Exhibit at Renwick Gallery, Part I

With its prime location across the street from the White House, the Renwick Gallery is easy to find. Being a part of the Smithsonian Institution's American Art Museum means it is also free to visit. For whatever reasons, however, in my 16 years in Washington, I had never visited this small museum. For the past two years it had been closed for extensive renovation, and reopened in November with an exhibit titled "Wonder," which I saw referenced on Twitter numerous times. Thus during my staycation I made it a point to finally make my way the Renwick, and am incredibly glad I did. Since then I have been telling all of my local friends they need to see this exhibit! Words do not adequately express how awe-inspiring and amazing it is.
The Renwick itself has a fascinating history -- it was the first American building built specifically to serve as an art museum.  Designed in 1859 by architect James Renwick Jr., who also designed the Smithsonian’s “Castle” and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, the museum was initially built to house William Corcoran's private art collection. However, the Civil War - as wars do - disrupted construction, and the building was even used by the Union Army. Finally, in 1874 the building opened to the public as an art gallery, although that did not last particularly long, as from 1899 to 1964 the Renwick was home to the U.S. Court of Claims. In the 1950s Congress even proposed that the building be razed, but in 1962 forward-thinking First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy led a campaign to save the gallery as part of her greater plan to restore Lafayette Square, which is behind the White House. Fortunately in 1965 the Secretary of the Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley asked President Lyndon B. Johnson that the building be turned over to the Smithsonian Institution. That did occur and the Renwick Gallery was finally returned to its intended purpose as a museum when it opened in 1972 as home of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s contemporary craft and decorative art program. Now, after a two-year-long renovation, the gallery has re-opened once again.
As explained on Renwick's website, "To celebrate, we're transforming the entire museum into an immersive artwork with our debut exhibition, WONDER. Nine leading contemporary artists—Jennifer Angus, Chakaia Booker, Gabriel Dawe, Tara Donovan, Patrick Dougherty, Janet Echelman, John Grade, Maya Lin, and Leo Villareal—are each taking over different galleries in the building, creating site-specific installations inspired by the Renwick. Together, these installations will turn the building into a larger-than-life work of art." To be honest, I had little idea what to expect -- all I knew was that I'd seen a couple of intriguing and beautiful images on Twitter.

If you live in the Washington area, or will be visiting anytime in the next six months, I highly recommend seeing this amazing exhibit yourself -- as I can assure you that you will enjoy it, and that my snapshots do not do it justice! If you are in a hurry, you'll be able to see it in thirty minutes, but an hour is really all you truly need.
Untitled. Tara Donovan
Main material used here: Index cards!
The piece that has gained the most recognition - at least on social media - is Gabriel Dawe's "Plexus A1." Using only threads and light he created a magical rainbow.
Whether up close or from afar - a beautiful sight!
A ladybug "stuck" in the threads.
The next piece was all natural...
Shindig. Patrick Dougherty

Located above the gallery's stairs, Leo Villareal's "Volume (Renwick)" is best described by the text on Renwick's website: Only part of Villareal’s artwork is visible in the materials suspended above the staircase. This hardware serves primarily as a vehicle for the visual manifestation of code–an artist-written algorithm employing the binary system of 1s and 0s telling each LED when to turn on or off. This simple command creates lighting sequences that will never repeat exactly as before. (Source: here.)
Watching this was mesmerizing!

To be continued...!

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