Nature and art have the power to reframe perspectives and offer moments of release during times of uncertainty. The exhibition “Forces of Nature: Renwick Invitational 2020,” opening Oct. 16 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery, turns to nature for inspiration to help explain what it means to be human in a world that is increasingly chaotic and detached from the physical landscape. Featuring artists Lauren Fensterstock, Timothy Horn, Debora Moore and Rowland Ricketts, the exhibition presents works inextricably entangled in how art and nature relate to one another. On a macro and micro scale, they reflect a heightened ecological awareness that stems from a desire to commune with and advocate for the natural world. Working in a wide range of craft media, from fiber and mosaic to metal and glass, the artists examine the long history of art’s power to engage with the natural world through unconventional and highly personal perspectives.
“We are delighted to welcome again visitors in our galleries with new health and safety precautions as we continue to offer robust and lively online programming,” said Stephanie Stebich, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “This exhibition and these inspiring artists invite us to slow down and reflect on the natural world around us through the lens of American contemporary craft at a time when we seek solace and well-being.”
“Forces of Nature” is the ninth installment of the Renwick Invitational. Established in 2000, this biennial showcase highlights mid-career and emerging makers who are deserving of wider national recognition. The juried exhibition is curated by Emily Zilber, independent curator and director of curatorial affairs and strategic partnerships at the Wharton Esherick Museum in Malvern, Pennsylvania. It will be on view at the Renwick Gallery Oct. 16 through June 27, 2021.
The museum is limiting the number of visitors permitted in the galleries and has established new safety measures in the museum to accommodate safe crowd management and implement safe social distancing. Visitors to the Renwick Gallery are not required to obtain timed-entry passes at this time but may experience wait times outside if the galleries reach capacity. Visitors should review new safety measures online before arriving at the Renwick.
“The artists featured in this exhibition look to nature in a variety of ways, seeing it as a guide, partner, adversary, ward or inspiration for their diverse creative practices,” Zilber said. “Craft’s complex relationship with the natural world can help us understand our place in the order of things, which feels especially potent during these challenging times.”
The four featured artists were selected by Zilber; Nora Atkinson, the Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator-in-Charge for the Renwick Gallery; and Stefano Catalani, executive director of the Gage Academy of Art in Seattle.
Fensterstock (b. 1975, resides Portland, Maine) creates detailed, large-scale installation artworks using labor-intensive modes of making drawn from the decorative arts, including paper quilling and mosaic. For this exhibition, the Smithsonian American Art Museum has commissioned a site-specific work. It is the first in a new series for the artist inspired by sources like “The Book of Miracles,” a richly illustrated 16th-century German manuscript. This artwork transforms a gallery at the Renwick into an otherworldly landscape that captures the power and awe inherent in our celestial world.
Horn (b. 1964, resides Provincetown, Massachusetts) creates exaggerated large-scale adornments that combine the natural and the constructed worlds. He draws inspiration from objects steeped in a rich tradition of decorative arts, science and history with 17th-century jewelry patterns and 19th-century studies of lichen, coral and seaweed. He works in traditional mediums, such as bronze and glass, while also employing unconventional ones, like crystallized rock sugar. The works selected for “Forces of Nature” embody splendor, fragility and stillness and address the conflicted relationship between humanity and the natural environment, compelling the viewer to reflect upon expectations versus outcomes.
Moore (b. 1960, resides Seattle) is best known for capturing the expressive potential of flowers with her detailed glass sculptures of orchids, orchid trees and bamboo shoots. The works featured in this exhibition are Moore’s tour de force. The series “Arboria” (2018), four life-size glass renderings of flowering trees set in rugged terrain, conveys the strong yet fragile nature of not just the glass itself, but the trees they emulate and underscores the power of natural forces and the splendor that derives from persistence. With her work, Moore is interested less in realism and more in capturing an intensely personal experience of beauty and wonder.
Ricketts (b. 1971, resides Bloomington, Indiana) creates immersive installations using hand-woven and hand-dyed cloth. His holistic artistic practice begins on his farm, where he employs traditional Japanese farming methods to cultivate the indigo plant that he uses to color his artwork, fully linking process with product. “Forces of Nature” marks the American debut of the large-scale installation “Ai no Keshiki—Indigo Views,” a work developed in 2018 in rural Japan, where Ricketts apprenticed with indigo farmers and dyers to learn his craft. Reconfigured for the Renwick’s galleries, this new installation employed participatory engagement from 450 participants from 10 countries who volunteered to live with a length of dyed cloth for a period of time, emphasizing the relationship between nature, culture, the passage of time and everyday life.
Online Exhibition Resources
Throughout the run of the exhibition, the museum will release a suite of online resources that allow visitors to enjoy the exhibition and learn more about its featured artists in-gallery and at home. Video interviews with Zilber and the artists introduce the exhibition and outlines each artist’s unique process. An online gallery with high-resolution images and detailed descriptions offers the opportunity for closer examination of the artworks themselves. A series of blog posts goes behind the scenes and reveals the highly personal perspectives of each artist. These resources and more are available at AmericanArt.si.edu/exhibitions/invitational-2020.
An accompanying exhibition catalog, co-published with GILES, features essays by Zilber, Atkinson and Catalani that explore each featured artist’s work, process and how art intersects and reflects people’s relationship with the natural world. Copies are available for purchase online ($34.95).
To celebrate the opening of the exhibition, an online program is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 13, at 7 p.m. ET. Participants can enjoy a Q&A with curators and artists and receive a virtual preview of the exhibition before it opens to the public. On Tuesday, Dec. 8, at 6 p.m. ET, Ricketts and Zilber will engage in an online dialogue about the artist’s farm-to-gallery artistic practice and how his immersive site-specific indigo installations are created using natural dyes and historic techniques. In 2021, Fensterstock, Horn and Moore will also participate in online programming, including talks and workshops relating to their artwork featured in the exhibition. All programs are free and open to the public, but registration is required through Eventbrite. More information and updates are available at AmericanArt.si.edu/events.
Planning a Visit to the Museum
The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery has reopened with new health and safety measures and a reduced weekly schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The museum is open five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Visitors are not required to reserve timed-entry passes in advance; however, due to the Renwick’s capacity and recommended guidelines, the daily visitor count is limited, and social distancing is required. Masks are required while at the museum. The museum’s store is currently closed. Additional information is available on the museum’s website at AmericanArt.si.edu/visit.
The Ryna and Melvin Cohen Family Foundation Endowment provides support for the Renwick Invitational. The Cohen Family’s generosity in creating this endowment makes possible this biennial series highlighting outstanding craft artists who are deserving of wider national recognition. Additional support has been provided by the Carolyn Small Alper Exhibitions Fund, Ed and Kathy Fries, Cary J. Frieze, Bannus and Cecily Hudson, James Renwick Alliance, Klorfine Foundation, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, Eleanor T. Rosenfeld, and Myra and Harold Weiss. In-kind support has been provided by the Tokushima Prefectural Office.
About the Smithsonian American Art Museum
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the home to one of the most significant and most inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal America’s rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today. The museum’s main building is located at Eighth and G streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station, and is open 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Its Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft and decorative arts, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. and is open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is free. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Website: americanart.si.edu.
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