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The Renwick Gallery, home to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s craft and decorative program, presents a dynamic new installation of more than 80 objects from the permanent collection. The installation includes iconic favorites alongside new acquisitions that will be displayed at the museum for the first time. The galleries open to the public July 1 and will be on view indefinitely. Nora Atkinson, the Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft, selected the objects and conceived the innovative presentation.
“The opening of the permanent collection galleries at the Renwick marks the perfect moment to rededicate ourselves to understanding, collecting and exhibiting American craft in the 21st century,” said Betsy Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “This installation introduces fresh ideas and modes of expression that will resonate with a new generation of museum visitors and longtime craft enthusiasts alike.”
Atkinson’s arrangement breaks from typical display formats based on chronology or material to instead focus on the interconnectivity of objects and the overlapping stories they tell. The display does away with hierarchical distinctions and the idea of the curator’s voice as absolute authority, presenting works that engender ever-evolving associations and interpretations. Objects are loosely thematically organized to mimic an analog version of the Web, using an associative approach derived from the way we navigate today’s “hyperlinked” world. Visitors are encouraged to find their own path through a vast network of possibilities that highlight explicit connections as well as subtle, unexpected resonances among the artworks on view.
“Craft objects do not exist in a vacuum,” Atkinson said. “Each artwork tells many stories, and each is made even more interesting through relationships to other objects and ideas. As that object continues to develop meanings and spawn questions through contact with other artworks, it remains vital in a changing world.”
The artworks range from the 1930s through today and span numerous media. New acquisitions such as John Grade’s “Shoal (Bone Shoal Sonance),” Judith Schaechter’s “The Birth of Eve,” Marie Watt’s “Edson’s Flag” and Akio Takamori’s “Woman and Child” make their debut in the gallery while visitor favorites, including Wendell Castle’s “Ghost Clock,” Karen LaMonte’s “Reclining Dress Impression with Drapery,” Albert Paley’s “Portal Gates” and Lenore Tawney’s “Box of Falling Stars,” return to view.
In selecting both pioneering and contemporary pieces, Atkinson explores the underlying current of craft as a balancing, humanistic force in the face of an efficiency-driven, virtual world and disposable material culture. Her presentation particularly highlights the evolution of the craft field as it transitions into a new phase at the hands of contemporary artists who are untethered by the medium-based distinctions of the past and who effortlessly incorporate new ideas and technology into their work.
A number of living artists whose works are on view take part in the presentation through videos created to illuminate their own personal connections to different objects in the installation. The videos will be available to view in the galleries and in the museum’s YouTube channel.
Craft for a Modern World: The Renwick Gallery Collection, an illustrated catalog written by Atkinson and published by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in association with D. Giles Ltd., London, is available in the museum store and online. (Softcover, $39.95; hardcover, $54.95.)
The Henry Luce Foundation and the Windgate Charitable Foundation generously support the reinstallation of the Renwick’s permanent collection.
About the Renwick Gallery
The Renwick Gallery is the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s branch for contemporary craft and decorative arts. The Renwick is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. Follow the museum on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, Pinterest, Flickr, iTunes U and ArtBabble. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Website: americanart.si.edu.
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