Art Adventures in Wonder Washington, D.C.
November 16, 2015
Adventures always start with a journey. After a 3,000 mile, cross country, red-eye flight, I arrived in Washington D.C. exactly 6 hours before the fancy shindig opening at the Renwick Gallery.
My first goal for the day was to see my own artwork on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
In this gigantic museum (right), I was searching for an area called the Luce Art Center.
The artwork on display in the Luce Art Center is shown on shelves to offer insight into the depth of the permanent collection in paintings, sculptures, folk art, and crafts.Famous Selection from the series "The Deceiver and the Deceived"
My metalwork was surrounded by the excellent company of other metalsmiths.
The acquisition number next to each object allows the viewer to look up information online. There were computers nearby if you wanted immediate access to information. Information on my piece can be found at 1997.51. A little weird...at first their webpage showed only the back image of my work, so maybe they couldn't tell the front from the back. I'll have to write to them and correct this mistake.
FURTHER IRONY AND UPDATE: I wrote to the Smithsonian about the lack of a front image on the Luce Art Center website. They were very kind to write back and tried to correct the omission. It turns out the front image of "The Deceiver and The Deceived" is on the main website, but the artwork was photographed sideways. The wall piece should have been photographed with the word "famous" at the top. Usually, an artist wants their work photographed right side up, but since there is a keyhole on the back for hanging, I thought the photographer would have figured out the right way to photograph it. Oh well.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is amazing. The building is a dazzling combination of ornament and decoration that I never tire of admiring. The variety of collections and exhibitions is extensive. I highly recommend this as an art destination of the highest priority. Entrance is free.
Curators at the best museums have an incredible skill for the juxtaposition of artwork. In the portrait gallery, "Shimomura Crossing the Delaware" by Richard Shimomura hung directly across from a portrait of Bill and Melinda Gates by Jon R. Friedman on a painted blue wall. This conversation between two paintings was worthy of discussion, but I had no one to discuss this with at the time.
(I snuck these images for your review.)
The opening of "Wonder" at the Renwick Gallery started at 7:30pm. My amazing art adventure in Washington, D.C. was a marathon day.
This was a festive, celebratory event beyond the usual craft/art opening. This is the first time the Renwick was open after a major two year renovation.
The live woman "statue" (left) was in a central location near the decadent chocolate desserts.
It reminded me of the white busts I had seen earlier at the Luce Art Center (left) and the exhibition of Hiram Powers' The Greek Slave.
Moving through the Wonder exhibition, each large room of the Renwick had a different installation by one artist. Everything was of a monumental scale which was truly wonder - ful.
Shindig by Patrick Dougherty
I loved each room and the artwork for different reasons.
Installation by Gabriel Dawe. Photo from Wonder Gallery Renwick
The concept of craft and working with materials was expressed with radically different approaches by each artist/maker. This artwork looks like vibrating beams of light. It was far more intense than this photo reveals (from the Renwick website). In person, at night, after a very long day, and drinking a strong vodka and orange juice far too quickly (for medicinal relief of thirst), the colored thread seemed to vibrate!!!!!!!
Walking up the stairs....to see more installations.Stairs at the Renwick Gallery leading to the 2nd floor.
This light sculpture Volume by Leo Villareal (below) hung high up over the stairwell.
This light installation seemed the least hand made craft of all the rooms. The left photo was from the Renwick Gallery website by Ron Blunt.
The computer controlled lighting was dazzling like my rhinestone wallet, but it seemed a little glitzy without enough craft soul in this context. (Photo right taken at the opening with my phone.)
ANONYMOUS DONOR by Chakaia Booker Photo Ron Blunt
The tire sculpture by Chakaia Booker (above photo) had a demanding presence defining a completely different kind of implementation of hand made; it had a bold, gutsy, uncompromising strength. Made from radial tire detritus it invited the viewer to examine modern materials like tires that keep our society moving.
Now contrast the coarse and ugly tire material to a glass marbles installation by Maya Lin. (below)
I have seen many inspiring installations and artworks by Maya Lin, but for some unexplained reason, this room was not as successful. Perhaps it was too subtle in the excitement of the occasion. A portrayal of cracked wall (?) seemed ironic considering the two year renovation of the historic building.
Another problem was that some barricade ropes prevented people from walking among the marbles glued to the floor (probably out of concern that a careless step might ruin the installation or risk their lives slipping).
Move to another room...This installation by Tara Donovan is constructed from styrene index cards. I am still trying to decide what I think of this installation. The volume of new styrene plastic used to make these sculptures made me very uncomfortable, so uncomfortable that I could not appreciate the visual impact. I could not ignore the environmental impact of plastic, along with the production and disposal issues.
Saving the best for last. Two more rooms to mention...
Hand made "wallpaper" made entirely from insects. Even the red painted tint on the wall was made from crushed cochineal insects.
In the Midnight Garden by Jennifer Angus Photo by Ron Blunt from the Renwick Gallery Wonder website.
The initial impression of a highly, decorated, hand made wall paper (perhaps consistent with the era of the building) was created from insects. I was told that the insects were farmed in Indonesia. Definitely, this room had a new definition for hand made.
This installation by John Grade seemed the most "Wonder"ful of all. Middle Fork by John Grade Photos by Ron Blunt from the Renwick Gallery Wonder website.
An entire tree was recreated bit by bit into a gigantic installation that filled the room with awe. Each 1/4" rectangle of wood created a lattice resembling bark surface and tree silhouette. It was simultaneously powerful both close-up and far away.
Most of the photos in this post for the Wonder exhibition came from the Renwick website including the one to the left. At the exhibition, the tree filled the room so completely that I don't think an individual could look down the inside of the trunk like this....but it gives you a great idea of the scale of detail and form.
This was truly an example of the artist's vision combined with execution by hand to bring a grand inspiration to reality. Not everything can be fabricated by machine or created by computer. Sometimes it can only be hand made to create Wonder.
There was one more installation in WONDER by Janet Echelman that has no photo on the Renwick website. I can't say I know what to make of it. At the opening, the ceiling installation didn't leave me with a strong first impression. I've seen her work at the San Francisco Airport as well and had a similar experience. She's been selected for such prestigious exhibitions as the Renwick and the S.F. airport, but these two installations seemed to be lacking. The airport installation suggests that some computer programmed lighting is supposed to be involved. As is, the colored cord alone of these pieces look like scaled up versions of work by Ruth Asawa from 40 years ago. There is no surprise in how the materials themselves are used. The only wonder for me is why the work was selected, but tell me what you think.
Go the Washington, D.C. to see the show. Fill your heart and mind with inspiration on a grand and gutsy scale.
Go to see Wonder.
This post was updated on December 11th, 2021.