The New Renwick Gallery: Coming Soon

The Renwick Gallery, from the American Art Museum's Eye Level blog.

The Renwick Gallery, from the American Art Museum’s Eye Level blog.

I don’t know if it feels more ubiquitous in DC because of how small we are, but this city seems to be constantly under major construction. In addition to copious new condos, we’ve got road construction, unending work on our iconic skyline (Washington Monument, Capitol Building), and museum renovations galore—including the National Gallery’s East Wing and the American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery.

Though the renovation of the East Wing is relatively new, the renovation of the Renwick Gallery has been underway for two years. The Smithsonian has announced that it is now nearing completion and will reopen to the public on Friday, November 13, 2015. More on this in a moment… first, a little history.

Architect James Renwick Jr., who designed the Smithsonian’s “Castle” and St. Patrick’s Cathedral (in NYC), designed the Renwick Gallery in 1859—hence the old-school, Parisian flavor of this magical building. Renwick Jr. was inspired by the Louvre’s Tuileries and the French Empire style that was all the rage in the mid 1800s.

The Renwick gallery was also the first American building built explicitly to showcase works of art to the public. Respect. And even under all it’s scaffolding, you can still see the gallery’s dedication—“Dedicated to Art—inscribed over the front entrance.

An old photo of the Renwick Gallery, from the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

An old photo of the Renwick Gallery, from the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

The last time this building got a facelift was about 40 years ago. It needed lots of updates and upgrades, and apparently has gotten them. Here’s the short list of improvements:

  • A new all-LED lighting system;
  • The installation of wireless systems throughout the building (which improve visitor interpretation and are useful in artist installations);
  • The addition of a custom-designed rug by Parisian architect Odille Decq and metal works by artist Marc Maiorana;
  • The restoration of the building’s original vaulted ceilings;
  • The recreation of the building’s original window configuration;
  • The repair of original millwork, moldings and wainscoting;
  • And more.

The Renwick’s celebratory, opening exhibition will be called Wonder. The project includes nine installations, created expressly for the Renwick gallery, by nine major contemporary artists: Jennifer Angus, Chakaia Booker, Gabriel Dawe, Tara Donovan, Patrick Dougherty, Janet Echelman, John Grade, Maya Lin, and Leo Villareal.

The works will be a response to the now renovated, historic architectural space that is the Renwick, and they will be transformative. In the words of the Smithsonian:

“Each artist “takes over” one gallery in the building so that the museum as a whole becomes one immersive artwork[…] The featured artists were selected for their ability to transform spaces through installation, for their focus on how visitors experience that space, and especially for their abiding interest in process and materials, aligning them with the Renwick’s mission to showcase the best in American craft.”

November is still a little ways off. So, in the meantime, don’t forget to visit the American Art Museum’s Chinatown location, at 8th and F Streets NW. On Friday (4/24), the museum began showing Watch This! Revelations in Media Art, which showcases “pioneering and contemporary artworks that trace the evolution of a continuously emerging medium.”

And finally, don’t miss Mingering Mike’s Supersonic Greatest Hits, an exhibition (also at the 8th and F Streets location) showcasing the works of self-taught DC artist Mingering Mike. Read the description, here. It will inspire and tenderize your heart.

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