The Smithsonian’s ‘Wonder’ Exhibition Fills a Newly Renovated Gallery Floor-to-Ceiling with Artworks

WONDER, the first exhibition at the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum since its two-year renovation, brings together nine contemporary artists that each created room-sized installations inspired by the building in which they were produced. Jennifer Angus, Chakaia Booker, Gabriel Dawe, Tara Donovan, Patrick Dougherty, Janet Echelman, John Grade, Maya Lin, and Leo Villareal each work with objects that are often considered mundane, producing large-scale works from everyday objects like toothpicks and hoards of marbles. Each work in the exhibition demonstrates the labor that went into each piece, normalized elements that have been transformed into mind-bending arrangements.

John Grade created a plaster cast of a tree the same age as the Renwick building, rebuilding the tree’s form from 500,000 segments of reclaimed cedar. Tara Donovan also utilized wood in the form of toothpicks to build her mountainous works, building her towering heaps with other trash like straws and Styrofoam cups to prompt the audience to reexamine the daily detritus seen on city streets.

Other works like Gabriel Dawe’s “Plexus A1” and Janet Echelman’s “1.8” are much more colorful, Dawe’s rainbow weaving mistaken for a prismatic stream of light and Echelman’s red and orange sculptural waves brightly expressing the energetic power of one of the most devastating earthquakes in recorded history.

The Renwick Gallery was the very first building in the United States to be built specifically for the purpose of housing an art museum. You can see how WONDER transformed its newly renovated galleries through mid-2016, with a closing on July 10.

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