Sunday, January 17: Today, Mike and I go on an outing to see WONDER at the Renwick Gallery, which has just opened after a two-year renovation. He jokes that he’s taking the Yeti to Washington, because I’m wearing a fuzzy white vest I bought at Target. Sometimes I like to wear funky clothes, as some of you know. 🙂
In the WONDER exhibit, “nine contemporary artists created site-specific installations, each taking over a different gallery. The nine artists are connected by their interest in creating large-scale installations from unexpected materials like thread, tires, marbles, and blocks of wood — commonplace objects that are assembled, massed, and juxtaposed to transform the spaces and engage visitors in surprising ways.” (All descriptions are from Explore the New Renwick Gallery brochure. All photos are taken by me).
We arrive early and fall into place at the end of a long line that’s already formed outside the gallery. Luckily it moves fairly quickly; before long, we’re inside with hordes of people. I guess everyone is desperate to get out on this gray winter day.
The first installation is Shindig by Patrick Dougherty. He uses willow osiers and saplings to weave enormous pods that offer discovery and sanctuary to visitors and Yetis alike.
“Dougherty has crisscrossed the world weaving sticks into marvelous architectures. Each structure is unique, an improvised response to its surroundings, as reliant on the materials at hand as the artist’s wishes: the branches tell him which way they want to bend. Finding the right sticks remains a constant challenge, and part of the adventure of the art-making sends him scouring over the forgotten corners of land where plants grow wild and full of possibility” (plaque at the exhibit).
In the next gallery, Gabriel Dawe develops dazzling waves of colored light using miles of embroidery thread spanning floor to ceiling. His installation is called Plexus A1.
In Untitled, Tara Donovan glues thousands of styrene index cards to create ten towers — looming spires that seem like natural accretions.
“Employing mundane materials such as toothpicks, straws, Styrofoam cups, scotch tape, and index cards, Donovan gathers up the things we think we know, transforming the familiar into the unrecognizable through overwhelming accumulation. The resulting enigmatic landscapes force us to wonder just what it is we’re looking at and how to respond. The mystery, and the potential for any material in her hands to capture it, prompts us to pay better attention to our surroundings, permitting the everyday to catch us up again” (plaque at the gallery).
In a central hallway, Leo Villareal’s light sculpture, called Volume, evokes the movement of falling stars; 320 hanging rods are encrusted with 23,000 LED lights that shimmer and sparkle in endless non-repeating sequences.
One of my favorite installations is Janet Echelman’s 1.8. She explores volume without mass in a suspended net lit by colored lights; it surges across the Grand Salon in waves evoking a tsunami.
This exhibit is huge, covering the entire ceiling. Visitors line up around the periphery before moving into the next gallery.
Some people lie on the carpet and take pictures from the floor. I have a lie down as well. 🙂
In the next gallery, John Grade found a 150-year-old hemlock in the Cascade Mountains, made a plaster cast of it (without harming it), and then invited hundreds of volunteers to re-create the tree in recycled cedar strips – a tribute to the 150-year-old Renwick building. He titles his work Middle Fork (Cascades).
After the exhibition closes, Middle Fork (Cascades) will be carried back to the hemlock’s location and left on the forest floor, where it will gradually return to the earth.
In Folding the Chesapeake, Maya Lin’s deluge of glass marbles flows across walls and floor, creating a map of the Chesapeake Bay.
Not part of the WONDER exhibit, Dale Chihuly’s Seafoam and Amber Tipped Chandelier was commissioned in 1994 for an oceanfront residence on Long Island, with shimmering seafoam colors and fanciful shell shapes echoing the seascape outside. It is one of the first of a series of the artist’s “chandeliers” inspired in 1992 by a light fixture in a Spanish restaurant. This series consists of large-scale nonfunctional sculptures with a dramatic presence in the space surrounding them, each made of hundreds or thousands of repeated elements.
Chakaia Booker transforms hundreds of recycled rubber tires, splicing and weaving them into a mysterious labyrinth.
“Booker was inspired to explore tires as a material while walking the streets of New York in the 1980s, when retreads and melted pools of rubber from car fires littered the urban landscape. By massing, slashing, and reworking the material we see daily yet never fully consider, she jolts us out of complacency to grasp these materials for what they are: a natural resource marshaled through astonishingly complex channels into a product of great convenience and superabundance” (from a plaque at the gallery).
My other favorite in the gallery is Jennifer Angus’s In the Midnight Garden. This artist creates spiraling designs across the gallery walls from shimmering, brilliantly colored insects, a novel “wallpaper” that displays nature’s spectacular range of colors and shapes in small-life forms.
From a plaque at the gallery: “Angus’s genius is the embrace of what is wholly natural, if unexpected. Yes, the insects are real, and no, she has not altered them except to position their wings and legs. The species in this gallery are not endangered, but in fact are quite abundant, primarily in Malaysia, Thailand, and Papua New Guinea, a corner of the world where Nature seems to play with greater freedom. The pink wash is derived from the cochineal insect living on cacti in Mexico, where it has long been prized as the best source of the color red. By altering the context in which we encounter such species, Angus startles us into recognition of what has always been a part of our world.”
I’m amazed at this exhibit. First, I’m surprised and delighted that the insects are real. And the way they are displayed is amazing.
After exploring WONDER at the Renwick Gallery, we take a walk down to the White House, passing some interesting buildings along the way.
We stop to admire the White House, where I’m hoping a certain candidate will NOT be living come January of 2017.
We walk past the stately Executive Office Building.
We’re hungry for lunch by now, so we go to Cosi to grab some lunch.
We feel slightly more relaxed today than we’ve been over the last several months, having had to deal with the emotional upheaval and crash of our youngest son, Adam (23). Last week, on January 8, we moved him out of our house to a loft apartment in Richmond, VA. As of today, it doesn’t seem he has been looking for a job and we’re worried that he is just sleeping all day every day. He hasn’t really communicated much with us, so we don’t know anything for sure.
Two days after today’s outing, late on the night of Tuesday the 19th, Adam comes up from Richmond to visit, telling us he is giving a permaculture presentation to some people in Maryland on Wednesday. He spends all day sleeping in the basement on Wednesday. While I’m out running errands, he goes out and we don’t see him the rest of the night. I assume he has gone to give the presentation.
However, on Thursday morning the 21st, while I am still in bed, Mike comes up and turns on the light. Grumpy, I ask why he is turning on the light. He says, “You’re going to go crazy.” Then he proceeds to read me the following note, written by Adam:
We are both aghast. If he had already bought the ticket to go to Hawaii in December, as he claimed, why the heck didn’t he tell us BEFORE we got him an apartment in Richmond and committed to a 6-month lease? We feel duped, furious and hopeless. Not to mention totally baffled as to what to do.
The next 10 days are torture for us as we don’t know whether or not he’ll come back home at all (we half wish he’ll just stay in Hawaii as he’s been wanting to go there for some time and frankly, we’re sick of being stressed out about him); neither do we know how he plans to live or eat while there as we know he has no money; in addition, his credit cards, which several stupid banks gave him, are maxed out.
We never hear a word from him in the 10 days he was there. In some ways, I have to say it’s a welcome break, although I try hard to send positive thoughts his way.