the wonder of art

Some may say that the happiest place on earth is found in South Florida. I’d argue that it is wherever you happen to be standing when you see your child fall in love with art. We are a family of museum nerds. From the MoMA to roadside attractions, we’re game. When the Smithsonian American Art Museum recently reopened the Renwick Gallery we were more than willing to stand in the line stretching around the block to see the Wonder exhibit — and WOW!

Large crowds didn’t take away one iota of the amazement on the faces of my kids as they strolled through the Wonder exhibit.  Truth be told, they were even in awe of the Renwick Gallery building itself. 

Wonder Exhibit Built in 1859,  Renwick Gallery was the first purpose-built art museum in America. Over the front door the words, “Dedicated to Art,” are carved in stone. Which gives you some idea of what’s in store when you walk through the doors.

1.8 by Janet Echelman

On March 11, 2011 the earth moved, quite literally. The Tohoku earthquake and resulting tsunami were so powerful that the earth shifted on its axis. This resulted in a day  shortened by 1.8 millionths of a second.

Wonder Exhibit At first blush 1.8 looks like an artfully hung net with some really cool undulating lights. Then you look down at the floor, and – as my nine-year old daughter pointed out – even the carpet looks like art. We grabbed a spot on the floor, laying down with dozens of other gallery-goers, and watched the lights.  It was nice, but pretty much just that.

In a near frenzy the sixteen year old drug me over to a small plaque on the wall that changed everything. The sculpture corresponds to a map of the energy released across the Pacific Ocean during the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Talk about being moved by art. It was breath-taking. In a rush all the memories of the sights after the disaster came rolling back. 

Wonder Exhibit at the Renwick GalleryDid Termites Make These?

She was sure this was some natural formation, rather than the man-made work of artist Tara Donovan. These towers are made of everyday objects we tend to miss or toss out… index cards, scotch tape. Here they become a forest for the imagination. 

Touch the Rainbow

Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried to find the end of a rainbow. When in Ireland this past spring these refracted sunlight wonders were so vibrate you could almost convince me they were solid.  Standing in front of Plexus A1 by Gabriel Dawe the illusion is nearly as complete. The difference being that this piece is an architecturally scaled weaving rather than light dancing on particles of water. 

Wonder exhibit rainbow

Folding the Chesapeake
One of our favorite pastimes is tossing together a picnic and heading into D.C. for a few hours. Nothing beats free museums and monuments. There even worth dealing with parking – most days.
 
Among my personal favorites is the Vietnam War Memorial designed by Maya Lin.  The power of names simply carved into a reflective stone surface is moving beyond any words I have. It drives home the stark reality of loss and the impact on what is left behind. Yet, there is a peace in this place like few other places.
 
Lin has a way of taking the monumental and transforming it into moving simplicity. She did that again with her piece Folding the Chesapeake. 
Wonder Exhibit Folding the Chesapeake
Glass marbles are laid out on the floor and walks of the exhibit room. At first blush you think, ‘well this is neat… but…’ Then the docent hands you an aerial photograph of the Chesapeake Bay and you stand in awed wonder at the detail. It stretches all the way down to the small river behind our house. 
 
Like 1.8, Folding The Chesapeake has a way of humbling you. Making you feel the smallness of your humanity when standing next to nature. 
Into the Trees
Middle Fork by John Grade has been dubbed, The Tree Matrix by my kids. I sort of get that. Grade made a plaster cast of a 150 year old hemlock tree from Cascade Mountains to create this sculpture that is assembled of half a million segments of reclaimed cedar, and is nothing short of mind-blowing.   
Wonder Exhibit
If you’ve the chance to come to Washington, D.C. don’t let the long lines outside The Renwick deter you. You’ll leave with a whole new sense of wonder.

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