On a magical spring day, I had the good fortune to visit to the newly opened Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., to see an exhibition called Wonder. Luckily we arrived early enough on a Sunday morning to avoid the long line, however it is worth the wait to explore the exhibit and the see the newly restored galleries which are part of the Smithsonian.
First, about the Renwick: It was born to be an art gallery full of objects meant for admiration. The rooms, conceived by founder William Wilson Corcoran in 1859, evoke European grandeur with elaborate architectural moldings, a grand staircase, emphasis on tall ceilings and beautiful original marble floors. Its design is called Second Empire and was based on the drawings of the Louvre with a mansard roof, 12 columns lining the second floor and a rigid symmetry to the overall plan — plus an emphasis on skylights. Corcoran acquired and installed artworks to assure all visitors that America valued culture and beauty.
Today, it continues to show exquisite objects made by the best American artists working in wood, glass, clay and fiber, as well as architectural design and decorative arts. Wonder celebrates the reopening, as nine major contemporary artists transformed the entire museum into an immersive cabinet of wonders. Ordinary materials such as index cards, marbles, string, sticks, tires and thread were reimagined into unpredictable grand-scale artworks. It’s an intensive journey of production — for example, artist Maya Lin flooded a gallery with thousands of pitted marbles that cover the floor and move up the walls. Simply amazing.
Trust me, get thee to the Renwick — these works are unusual, tactile, and jaw dropping to enchant old and young alike.
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