For months friends have been raving about the amazing exhibition that reopened the Renwick Gallery after its renovations, and I finally experienced it for myself this week. Appropriately titled Wonder, the exhibit features nine artists who have created room-sized installations out of unusual materials. Each of them inspires awe—from Maya Lin’s “Folding the Chesapeake,” a recreation of the Chesapeake and its tributaries in green glass marbles, to Jennifer Angus’ “In the Midnight Garden,” walls painted cochineal pink on which fanciful patterns have been created with real (dead) insects. The materials aren’t always obvious—giant stalagmites rising from the floor are created with stacks of notecards, and curving walls that could be Medieval gates woven from rough thatch turn out to be made from intricately-pieced recycled rubber tires. A ceiling is draped with netting that picks up projected colors and moves and changes as the air is disturbed, and colored string stretched between floor and ceiling is perceived as a rainbow as you cross the room. A giant tree is recreated out of small pieces of wood, and willow saplings are bent and woven into fanciful huts. Every room holds a discovery that challenges our perceptions—of space, materials, and the creative process. In an unexpected way, I got to share the excitement with our small grandsons by placing a prearranged silent Face Time call. With their two faces staring through my phone camera, I pointed the lens at the exhibits and walked slowly through the galleries as if I was taking a video (walking with your smartphone held out in front of you is such a common practice, no one notices!). While they were looking at the art, I was watching their expressions. The wonder was clear in the wide-eyed delight of the 18 month old and the shape of his lips as they formed one of his only words, “Wow!”
Wonder at the Renwick Gallery—some of the exhibits will close on May 8, 2016, but others remain until July 10, 2016.