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Take a Look Inside the Renwick Gallery’s Bewildering Reopening Exhibition

Here's a sneak peek of what you can expect on November 13.

Take a Look Inside the Renwick Gallery’s Bewildering Reopening Exhibition
Angus's installation is filled with brightly colored bugs. Photo by Ron Blunt.

Jennifer Angus’s immersive installation, “In the Midnight Garden,” looks like a kaleidoscope of dead bugs, with more than 5,000 ex-critters clinging to the room’s fuchsia walls. She scoured the world for these sci-fi-looking insects, painted the space with a natural dye produced by cochineals, and arranged them into the shapes of circles, octagons, and skulls.

Angus’s “In the Midnight Garden” uses bugs sourced primarily from Malaysia, Thailand, and Papua New Guinea in a bright, immersive installation. Photo by Ron Blunt.
Though these bugs look like supernatural creatures, the artist didn’t change their color or shape in any way. Photo by Ron Blunt.

Following a two-year renovation, the Renwick—the oldest structure built as an art museum in the US—reopens with “Wonder,” a bewildering exhibit that blurs the lines between new and old, fantasy and reality.

“How are we going to wow people?” That’s the question curator Nicholas R. Bell says he asked himself when planning the show. Angus joins eight other artists—including Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and Leo Villareal, whose starry sculpture fills the National Gallery of Art’s subterranean walkway—hand-picked by Bell to “react” to the 160-year-old building. Tara Donovan built towering stalagmites out of index cards; John Grade cast a living hemlock tree; and inside the Grand Salon, Janet Echelman hung a fluorescent net that floats 100 feet in the air.

Bell predicts people will want to interact with the art, likely by tiptoeing inside Patrick Dougherty’s massive sapling huts, which the curator calls “selfie heaven.” There are, of course, limits to the audience’s wonder: As this is a Smithso­nian museum, selfie sticks are still banned.

Chakaia Booker used rubber tires and stainless steel to create the installation “Anonymous Donor.” Photo by Ron Blunt.
Photo by Ron Blunt.
Tara Donovan’s untitled piece takes a very ordinary item–index cards–and transforms it into an extraordinary landscape. For this piece, the artist used 1,800 pounds of index cards. Photo by Ron Blunt.
In Patrick Dougherty’s “Shindig,” six tons of willow saplings morph into massive, swooping huts. Photo by Ron Blunt.
Photo by Ron Blunt.
John Grade used 500,000 individually shaped wood chips to cast a living, 150-year-old hemlock tree in the Cascade Mountains near Seattle. Photo by Ron Blunt.
Photo by Ron Blunt.
Leo Villareal’s “Volume” has 23,000 LED bulbs and employs an algorithm that tells each light when to turn on or off. Photo by Ron Blunt.
Maya Lin’s “Folding the Chesapeake” is made entirely of glass marbles and seeks to draw attention to the issue of conservation. Photo courtesy Renwick Gallery.