Wonder, Awe and a Great Escape at the Renwick
|Tara Donovan, Untitled, 2014|
One afternoon last month I suddenly arrived in Cappadocia, or least that’s what it seemed. I didn’t actually go there, nor have I ever been there except through pictures of that ancient Turkish landscape. However, I spent my time going to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery which had just re-opened with an exhibition entitled Wonder.
|Gabriel Dawe, Plexus 1A|
The works speak for themselves, as they’re huge installations that recall the wonders of the natural world in a beautiful 19th century building that recently underwent restoration.
Tara Donovan’s construction is made of styrene index cards, toothpicks and glue. As an artist, she may not have been thinking of the same aspects of nature that evoked a response in me. According to Donovan, “It’s not like I’m trying to simulate nature. It’s more of a mimicking of the way of nature.” On the nearby wall, a label quotes Albert Einstein: “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It’s the fundamental emotion in which starts the cradle of true art and true science.”
Then a rainbow of colors invited me into the next room. Plexus 1A is miles of strings that weave prisms of color into the monumental architecture. Gabriel Dawe is the artist. His design recalls the colors and embroideries of his early life in Mexico City and current home in East Texas. Viewers are invited to take their own photographs. It’s appropriate that the Renwick is a building dedicated to the contemporary crafts, since each of these works of art focuses on the materials and the tremendous time, skill and dedication required for fine art crafts.
Continuing back on the left side of the building, viewers come into a grandiose room with giant stick weavings by Patrick Daugherty. (A photo of Shindig is on bottom. See the previous blog about one of his interactive and impermanent environmental installations, in Reston, VA)
The Renwick invited nine well-known artists to celebrate the re-opening with works for this exhibition. Each artist was given an entire room for a comprehensive creation, many of them recreating the natural world in a way that helps us understand it better.
|John Grade, Middle Fork (interior view) Another view is directly below.|
As you might expect, visitors walk all around the giant tree perched on its side. When the exhibition is over, this “natural” model will be put back in nature, back to the area from which it comes. The artist says the impermanence makes it poignant, since it will eventually decompose.
|Maya Lin, Folding the Chesapeake|
|Jennifer Angus, detail of In the Midnight Garden|
|Jennifer Angus In the Midnight Garden|
One quote really hit me. Ranulf Higden of the 14th century said: “At the farthest reaches of the world often occur new marvels and wonders, as though Nature plays with greater freedom secretly at the edges of the world than she does openly and near us in the middle of it.” For a few short hours, I had escaped to the edges, to the edges of wonder. Locals and visitors in Washington, DC, please go to the Renwick and spend some time in Wonder. Second floor galleries close May 8, 2016, but the 1st floor galleries stay up until July 10, 2016. Leo Villareal, Janet Echelman and Chakaia Booker also have large installations in the show.
|Patrick Dougherty, Shindig|
While the art inside of the building continuously amazes, it’s ironic that the wonder and beauty of the building is marred on the outside by a neon sign: “Dedicated to Art.” There’s no need to be so banal since art speaks for itself. (When Philip Kennicott wrote a review for the the Washington Post, he said the neon sign had to go; I wonder if it has been taken down yet.)