I planned for this year to be an art-filled one. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been so. I’ve been to no plays or performances and have only visited one art gallery to see one exhibit.
In early May, I visited the Renwick Gallery to see its Wonder exhibit, which runs from November 2015 to July 10 (some of the pieces were removed earlier on May 8.). The gallery reopened last year, after being closed for a while for renovations, and presented a new exhibit featuring brilliant pieces by contemporary artists. The exhibits ranged from those featuring a spectrum of colors to others that presented aspects of nature in unique ways.
Below are photos of a description of the exhibit (which is blurry and probably hard to read), along with the first piece we see, which is a sculpture of a tree — a balsam poplar — that was created by plaster casting the tree. This piece was done by John Grade, who found the balsam poplar in northern Alaska. It’s approximately 150 years old.
The Wonder exhibit was one of the best I’ve seen. It was fun and I loved how immersive it was because patrons could engage with a few of the pieces either by touching them, or walking amongst them, or even laying on the floor to stare up at them, which would be calming if the museum wasn’t packed.
And that’s another amazing thing too — the museum was packed! There were long lines to get in. So long that it would seem that people were lining up to get into a night club, if it wasn’t daytime with kids and babies about. Once the word got out about how cool the exhibit is, people flocked to it, and as the climate got warmer, more people crowded into the museum to see what made it so great. It also helped that the gallery is located across from the White House, so naturally people would get curious if they see a long line while taking pictures of it.
Apart from the artwork, I also loved that patrons were encouraged to take pictures of exhibit. That was new. Often when I visit museums, I’m told photos are discouraged. But I think allowing photos helped to attract people. These days, with the prevalence of selfies, who wouldn’t want to visit a cool museum to take pictures?
And with that said, let me show you some of the pictures I took (they are also on my Instagram). My camera sucked so some pictures are shoddy. I’ll include a link here to the Renwick Gallery website to for more information and better quality pictures of the exhibit.
I’ll start with the first set of pieces we see when touring the museum and that’s these huge things by Patrick Dougherty called “Shindig.” Dougherty created these huge pods using willow osiers and saplings and weaving them together. I really like the shape of them and if they were made out of something softer and/or smoother, they would make great reading nooks.
Next is my favorite piece, which was created by Gabriel Dawe. It’s called “Plexus A1” and it’s inspired by memories of the skies above Mexico City and East Texas. Dawe used thread, wood, hooks, and steel to create this piece. I love it. The threads cross at a certain point. Visit the Renwick Gallery website to see a much clearer picture of this one. It’s so beautiful.
I then went into a room containing these huge mounds; well, they towered above me. It’s untitled, but the mounds were created by Tara Donovan and are made out of glued index cards. They all remind me of termite mounds. They may seem boring at first, but the second time I visited the exhibit I started to notice it’s contours caused by bumps and dips. They’re like mountains bunched together or a group of shrouded individuals in some sort of communion.
I then went upstairs and on my way up I saw this piece hanging from the ceiling like a chandelier. It’s called “Volume” and is by Leo Villareal. This twinkling creation is lighted by an algorithm Villareal created using the binary system of 1s and 0s to program each LED. The lighting sequences are different every time. The materials used for it are white LEDs, mirror-finished stainless steel, custom software, and electrical hardware. It’s beautiful. My camera doesn’t do it justice so visit the gallery’s website for crisp pictures of it.
Here’s my second favorite piece. This one is a woven sculpture that was specially placed to show “the energy released across the Pacific Ocean during the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami,” which occurred on March 11, 2011. The artist is Janet Echelman, whose work I love. I first learned of her when I watched her TED Talk “Taking Imagination Seriously.” It’s quite inspiring, so I’ll include it below. For this exhibit, there was a space cleared for patrons to lay on the floor and stare up at the nets, which change colors. Looking at it that way makes the reality of that earthquake and its effects even more jarring because that net is large.
After Echelman, I saw more of John Grade’s work. This time it’s the cast of a hemlock tree that Grade found and plaster casted in Seattle. It’s called “Middle Fork.” The tree is huge. It was as long as the room. Like the little balsam poplar, the hemlock is also approximately 150 years old. The sculpture was done to commemorate the Renwick Gallery; the building was 150 years old at the opening of the Wonder exhibit. (I love all the details in this entire exhibit.)
From Grade, I went on to a piece that maps the Chesapeake Bay — “Folding the Chesapeake” by Maya Lin. Lin used marbles and adhesive to create this piece, which spreads across the floor and crawls up the wall.
These pieces were not part of the Wonder exhibit, but they are just as interesting. The sculpture of the woman is called is called “Greek Slave” and was done by Hiram Powers in 1843. The story behind this sculpture is pretty interesting but basically the artist patented his creation because it was copied so often. This sculpture below is actually a copy of the original that was created in 2015 using 3-D printing. I highly suggest that you visit the museum to see it, if you can. But if you can’t, here’s the website.
I actually don’t know anything about the green hanging thing that looks like a chandelier of some sort. But I think it looks cool.
It’s the scent of rubber that led me to the next set of work in the Wonder exhibit. Chakaia Booker’s “Anonymous Donor” featured a room full of rubber, recycled rubber tires that she slashed and reworked to create a labyrinth to give us a closer look at the material. She used rubber tires and stainless steel. Despite the scent, I thought it was all leather at first.
And here’s the last but coolest part of the exhibit — “In the Midnight Garden” by Jennifer Angus, which is composed only of bugs. Yes, bugs. Bugs everywhere. All the designs and skulls on the walls were composed using bugs. And yes, those large ones are real too. The insects aren’t endangered and were not altered. The pink background was also made from insects — the cochineal insect that lives on cacti in Mexico, where it’s regarded as the best source of the color red. The materials used for this exhibit were cochineal, various insects, and mixed media. In the middle of the room were stacks of drawers that held even more bugs, but those ones made me think of jewelry pieces, like that beetle with the hand in the picture below.
And that’s it. It was a wonderful outing and I hope to visit at least one more museum before the year ends.