WONDER, the debut exhibition at the newly renovated Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, celebrates the opening of the historic building with immersive installations by nine leading contemporary artists—Jennifer Angus, Chakaia Booker, Gabriel Dawe, Tara Donovan, Patrick Dougherty, Janet Echelman, John Grade, Maya Lin and Leo Villareal. The exhibition is organized by Nicholas R. Bell, The Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator-in-Charge of the Renwick Gallery.

The artists featured in WONDER were selected for their ability to transform spaces through installation and for their focus on process and materials. Each was invited to select a gallery in the Renwick while the building was closed for a major two-year renovation and then create an installation inspired by that space. 

“The Renwick was the first purpose-built art museum in the United States, intended to exhibit American art and to celebrate American genius,” said Betsy Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “For the next chapter in its 156-year history, we will showcase exemplary artists like these nine who are dissolving the boundaries that once existed between craft, art and design. WONDER rededicates this landmark museum to the future of art.” 

While the nine artists work in strikingly different media, they are connected by a shared interest in materiality and the labor-intensive creation of objects by hand in a digital age. Their works are created by exploring the potential of unlikely materials and utilizing both traditional techniques and cutting-edge technology. The resulting installations are expressions of process, labor and materials that are grounded in our everyday world, but which combine to produce awe-inspiring results. 

“The concept of ‘wonder’—that moment of astonishment in the face of something new and unknown that transports us out of the everyday—is deeply intertwined with how we experience art,” said Bell. “These nine artists are masters of constructing works that startle us, overwhelm us and invite us to marvel—to wonder—at their creation. These elements matter in the context of this museum, devoted for more than four decades to the skilled working of materials in extraordinary ways.” 

The exhibition, which opened in November 2015, will close in two phases to allow for the reinstallation of the museum’s permanent collection. The second-floor galleries will close May 8, 2016, and the first-floor galleries will close July 10, 2016. Visit the website at www.renwick.americanart.si.edu. Photos by Ron Blunt.

—Text and captions courtesy of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum 

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Issues. “Wonder.” Issues in Science and Technology 32, no. 3 (Spring 2016).

Vol. XXXII, No. 3, Spring 2016