JEFF OLSON: Photo Gallery — Renwick Gallery

Alexandria, Va., photographer Jeff Olson recently visited the newly renovated Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., which had been closed for about 18 months. Home to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s craft and decorative arts program, Renwick is located across from the White House at the corner of 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest in downtown Washington, D.C. The renovation has carefully restored historic features and entirely new infrastructure, including LED lighting throughout the public spaces. Along with other upgrades, this will dramatically improve energy efficiency. The project marks the first comprehensive renovation to the building in 45 years. The Renwick Gallery, built in 1859, was the first structure in America created expressly for showcasing great works of art to the public; the original legislation states that the building is intended to “encourage American genius.” In keeping with this purpose, the Smithsonian American Art Museum has used the building since 1972 to present a program of traditional and modern crafts, decorative arts and architectural design. The focus has strongly emphasized contemporary artists’ work, and contemporary expressions will continue to inspire the collections, installations and public events presented there. When the building first opened a decade after the Civil War to display William Wilson Corcoran’s art collection, it was hailed as the ‘American Louvre,’ symbolizing the young nation’s aspirations for a distinctive culture.” The debut exhibition, “Wonder,” encompasses all the public galleries, with new room-size installations by nine artists, including Jennifer Angus, Chakaia Booker, Gabriel Dawe, Tara Donovan, Patrick Dougherty, Janet Echelman, John Grade, Maya Lin and Leo Villareal. Each artist works intensively with expressive materials — insects, tires, thread, paper, osiers, netting, woven wood, glass marbles  and LED light strips — to create installations that dazzle the eye and resonate with today’s environmental and social issues. Nicholas Bell, the Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator of Craft and Decorative Arts, selected the artists.

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