I am very guilty of not properly utilizing all of the excellent museums in and around DC. But every now and then an exhibition comes along that sparks my curiosity to the point that I’ll brave freezing wind chills in April and a line that could rival Rose’s Luxury just to stare at some art. Such was the case with Renwick Gallery’s Wonder.
Renwick Gallery was closed for a two-year renovation, and this is their opening exhibit. Even on a frigid Saturday, people were lined up around the block for access.
I got distracted while looking for a trash can and stumbled upon the tulips blooming on the White House lawn. It didn’t feel like spring, but the beautiful flora perked up my spirits quite a bit.
Luckily, the line moved pretty quickly and within about a half hour we were inside the gallery.
I will admit up front that I’m a long way from an art scholar, and I tend to get restless in museums, so don’t expect a lengthy discourse on the meaning behind these awe-inspiring pieces. But if, like me, you like to open your eyes and your minds to new things, come along for the ride. Or, better yet, go see Renwick Gallery’s Wonder for yourself! The entire exhibition is open until May 8th, and the first floor galleries will remain open for viewing until July 10th.
The first gallery will instantly appeal to your inner child. Patrick Dougherty’s Shindig was created by weaving together tree saplings to form life-sized nest-like refuges, great for photo ops.
The giant sculptures take up the entire room, from floor to ceiling and beyond. I found it interesting that even devoid of color, the structures were still so fascinating to the eye. I also found myself wanting to make a pallet on the floor and cozy up for a few hours.
All of the exhibits at Renwick Gallery’s Wonder use ordinary objects, like tree saplings above, to make something grander. In the next room, we witnessed the wonder of index cards piled high to resemble ice sculptures.
Similar in scale to Shindig, Tara Donovan’s exhibit evokes a cool, harshness. This is not a room in which you’d want to curl up for a nap but might ignite a little wanderlust and a longing for white-capped mountains and unsettled wilderness.
Because I like all things bright and shiny, I was particularly taken with the next exhibit, Gabriel Dawe’s Plexus A1, an illusion using only cotton embroidery thread.
I couldn’t get enough of this one, taking it in from all angles and snapping dozens of photos.
Tom’s camera was on the ready too. I loved that we continually captured each other taking pictures of each other. Silly, but museums need not be so serious.
The rest of the pieces are located on the second floor gallery, the first being a huge woven sculpture on the ceiling as you enter the grand salon.
The piece by Janet Echelman is based on the tsunami that devastated Japan back in 2011, a reminder that ‘Wonder’ is not always born out of safe harbors.
People took turns lying on the floor to better conceptualize the giant sculpture, which seemed continually to move and change as you remained perfectly still beneath its waves.
We had plenty of time to take in the magnitude of the piece, as we waited in another line to enter the final series of pieces.
Weekday visits would definitely reduce the amount of time spent waiting, but even on a Saturday we moved through relatively quickly.
As soon as you reach the end of the line, you find yourself staring straight into the center of an undulating tree trunk, made from a mold of a 150-year-old hemlock.
The age of the tree is a nod to the Renwick Gallery, which was built 150 years ago. The tree suspends from the ceiling and, again, takes up the entire space in which it is displayed.
Heading toward the next exhibit, you’ll pass the stunning Seafoam and Amber-Tipped Chandelier by Dave Chihuly. (Aside: If you like Chihuly, I highly recommend the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.)
After several larger than life installations, the next piece was a quite a departure.
Maya Lin’s piece is done entirely in blue-green marbles that form the shape of the Chesapeake Bay, which seems to slither along the floor and up the walls.
The next room is smelled before it is seen, has used hundreds of discarded rubber tires to create a brutal maze-like structure that, to be fully cliché, reminded me of something from a Game of Thrones set. I found myself unable to take a photograph that did it justice, but would be remiss not to mention the weight that it had on the exhibition as a whole. What is ‘wonder’ful is not always beautiful in a straight forward way, but that doesn’t diminish the impact it has on the senses.
Leaving that space you enter the brightest room yet, with hot pink walls and gem-like adornments.
Yet, if you look closer, you notice that those adornments are not ordinary – they’re bugs.
Slightly creepy, but without a doubt beautiful to behold, these unusual tapestries threaten to come to life and swarm the room at any moment.
How often do we overlook bugs as ugly and annoying, without recognizing what Jennifer Angus reveals in this work? Bugs, even the “gross” ones, are beautiful here, not just the lauded butterfly.
It was strange to stumble back down the stairs and outside real life, but we left with a renewed sense of ‘Wonder’ captured right in our own backyard, as exhilarating as a day of travel but without the hassle of packing a bag.
Preach, Mr. Emerson, preach. We kept the wondrous day going with a walk around President’s Park and silly selfies among the tulips.
Have you been to the Renwick Gallery’s Wonder yet? What is your favorite local museum?
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