“WONDER” Opens Nov. 13 at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Works by Nine Major Contemporary Artists Transform Nation’s First Art Museum in Celebration of Reopening
November 9, 2015
News Release

Link to media kit >>

“WONDER,” the debut exhibition at the newly renovated Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, celebrates the opening of the historic building with immersive installations by nine leading contemporary artists—Jennifer Angus, Chakaia Booker, Gabriel Dawe, Tara Donovan, Patrick Dougherty, Janet Echelman, John Grade, Maya Lin and Leo Villareal. “WONDER” will open Nov. 13 and will be on view for six months. The exhibition is organized by Nicholas R. Bell, The Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator-in-Charge of the Renwick Gallery.

The artists featured in “WONDER” were selected for their ability to transform spaces through installation and for their focus on process and materials. Each was invited to select a gallery in the Renwick while the building was closed for a major two-year renovation and then create an installation inspired by that space.

“The Renwick was the first purpose-built art museum in the United States, intended to exhibit American art and to celebrate American genius,” said Betsy Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “For the next chapter in its 156-year history, we will showcase exemplary artists like these nine who are dissolving the boundaries that once existed between craft, art and design. ‘WONDER’ rededicates this landmark museum to the future of art.”

While the nine artists work in strikingly different media, they are connected by a shared interest in materiality and the labor-intensive creation of objects by hand in a digital age. Their works are created by exploring the potential of unlikely materials and utilizing both traditional techniques and cutting-edge technology. The resulting installations are expressions of process, labor and materials that are grounded in the everyday world, but which combine to produce awe-inspiring results.

“The concept of ‘wonder’—that moment of astonishment in the face of something new and unknown that transports us out of the everyday—is deeply intertwined with how we experience art,” said Bell. “These nine artists are masters of constructing works that startle us, overwhelm us and invite us to marvel—to wonder—at their creation. These elements matter in the context of this museum, devoted for more than four decades to the skilled working of materials in extraordinary ways.”

On the first floor, visitors will encounter works by Dawe, Donovan and Dougherty. Dawe’s textile-based installation is made from thousands of strands of embroidery thread, all hung by hand, which appear as waves of color and light sweeping from floor to ceiling. Donovan’s towers are constructed from hundreds of thousands of index cards that have been individually glued together to form irregular, looming spires. Dougherty’s enormous pods of woven willow osiers seem to dance and sway through the rear gallery.

Works by Angus, Booker, Echelman, Grade, Lin and Villareal will be installed on the second floor. Angus covers gallery walls in spiraling, geometric designs reminiscent of wallpaper or textiles but made using specimens of brightly colored insects. Booker works with discarded rubber tires, splicing and weaving them into an enormous labyrinth. Echelman explores volumetric form without solid mass, overtaking the museum’s famed Grand Salon with a suspended, handwoven net surging across its 100-foot length. Grade uses 500,000 of pieces of reclaimed cedar to reconstruct a hemlock tree approximately the same age as the Renwick’s building, based on a complete plaster cast he made of the tree in situ in the Cascade Mountains. Lin’s deluge of green marbles flows across the floor and up walls, recalling the flow of the Chesapeake Bay as part of her investigation into changing natural forms in her artworks. Villareal’s installation—320 steel rods embedded with 23,000 LEDs programmed to display a code written and manipulated by the artist into endless variations, never repeating exactly the same display—will be mounted above the Renwick’s Grand Staircase.

The exhibition will close in two phases to allow for the reinstallation of the museum’s permanent collection. The second-floor galleries will close May 8, 2016, and the first-floor galleries will close July 10, 2016.

Public Programs and Events

A series of public programs and events will accompany the opening. Celebratory galas will be held Tuesday, Nov. 10, and Wednesday, Nov. 11 (tickets $75). A morning ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday, Nov. 13 (weather permitting), will precede a free open house where the public can explore the galleries, meet curators and enjoy live music. The Renwick will remain open after hours that evening to present a large-scale version of its DIY program, “Handi-hour,” featuring “all you can craft” activities inspired by artworks in “WONDER,” craft beer and live music. This event is ticketed ($25 in advance, $30 at the door) and available for ages 21 and up. A free festival Saturday, Nov. 14, for children, families, and visitors of all ages, will feature craft activities, artist demonstrations, musical performances and museum tours. Details are available in an advisory and at renwick.americanart.si.edu/opening-events.


The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog written by Bell, titled “WONDER” and published by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in association with D Giles, Ltd; 221 pages ($39.95/$59.95).


“WONDER” is organized by the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from Mr. and Mrs. J. Kevin Buchi, Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy, Suzi and David Cordish, Barney A. Ebsworth, Shelby and Frederick Gans, Deborah and Larry Gaslow, Nancy and Carl Gewirz, the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, Susan and Ken Hahn, Bannus and Cecily Hudson, Ann Kaplan and Robert Fippinger, Thomas S. Kenan III, Mirella and Dani Levinas, Marcia Mayo, Caroline Niemczyk, Debbie Frank Petersen in memory of James F. Petersen, The James Renwick Alliance, Dorothy Saxe, Lloyd and Betty Schermer, the Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation, and Mary Ann Tighe.

About the Renwick Gallery

The Renwick Gallery is the branch museum of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, featuring a wide range of contemporary craft and decorative art. The Renwick Gallery is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. Metrorail station: Farragut North (Red line) and Farragut West (Blue and orange lines). Follow the museum on Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, Pinterest, iTunes U and ArtBabble. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Website: renwick.americanart.si.edu.

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Note to editors: Selected high-resolution images from the exhibition may be downloaded from americanart.si.edu/pr. Email americanartpressoffice@si.edu for the password. Additional information about the exhibition is available in an online press kit and in the Renwick opening press kit.