Museum Marathon: Somewhere Over the Renwick

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There are museum exhibitions–and then there are playgrounds for the mind, galleries where ideas germinate and grow and mutate. The Renwick Gallery’s Wonder exhibition is unlike no installation I’ve ever encountered before. Nine artists transformed its spaces into iridescent halls of rainbows, grand canyons of paper or tires, and glowing gossamer ceilings.

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The star of the show was undoubtedly Gabriel Dawe’s Plexus A1, which inspired visitor engagement in an entirely unique way. The gallery was packed with people of all ages laughing and smiling and glimpsing the work from all angles: it felt more like a friendly get-together than a silent exhibition hall!

The colorful illusions he created with nylon string, of course, are undeniably enchanting: and, like the real rainbows I used to see on a near-daily basis in Honolulu, Plexus A1 remains ethereal, ephemeral, and impossible to perfectly capture on camera.

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If Dawe’s piece felt like an incandescent being of light had descended from another planet, Chakaia Booker’s tire installation reminded me of some ancient, weathered serpent, fashioning itself a body from scraps and detritus so it could skulk around a forgotten sea.

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The first thing you see upon climbing the Renwick’s stairs to Janet Echelman’s gallery is not her incredible 1.8 itself, but people reacting to it: the museum encourages visitors to literally lie on the floor beneath her ceiling installation to appreciate it fully.

I was reluctant to join in on the experience, at first–though when I eventually worked up the courage to sit back and stare up into that impossible sky, I discovered that an unusual vantage point makes art come to life in an entirely different fashion.

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While Echelman’s installation was best observed from beneath, Maya Lin decided to take over the gallery floor itself, covering it with industrial fiberglass marbles. Ever since I saw Lin’s The Empty Room at the Johnson Museum, where I used to work, I’ve been in love with her creations and the deeper (and often environmental) messages they convey.

Plus, man, isn’t it just amazing to look at?

If you’re planning a trip to DC soon, please consider adding the Renwick to your itinerary! You don’t have to be a contemporary art critic or museum theorist to enjoy it; you just need a sense of playfulness and, maybe, a camera.

(Actually, I might just go ahead and say for sure that you need the camera.)

What’s the most amazing contemporary art installation you’ve ever seen?

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