Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian Institution provides some of the most wonderful and unique places to visit in Washington, D.C. Although it isn’t on The Mall, the Renwick is definitely worth a short visit (especially considering it’s free). 

As for some history, the Renwick Gallery building was originally built to be Washington, D.C.’s first art museum and to house William Wilson Corcoran’s collection of American and European art. It had a pretty turbulent existence in-between, but it was officially given to the Smithsonian in 1965.

One thing you need to know about the Renwick is it is a whole lot smaller than other Smithsonians you’re used to. It only takes about an hour and a half to get through the entire museum. To be honest, it can be a nice change of pace to spend 1-2 hours in a museum and then go about your day. One of the benefits of living in DC is that we have variety in the free activities we can do every weekend. If you’re feeling like popping into a museum this weekend, stop by the Renwick.

Because of its size, its galleries and exhibitions actually change with much more frequency than other museums. The main floor exhibits tend to renew themselves about 1-2 times per year. However, the second floor “Grand Salon” has been one of the most famous art-filled rooms in Washington, and many of these pieces do not change. The lower rooms/exhibitions like where the Instagram infamous “Wonder” (which was as beautiful and photogenic as it looked) was, also change every 9 months – 1 year. Although we’ve both been numerous times, there is always something new to see.

We were able to see one of the newer exhibits, which just began in March, by June Schwarcz (we posed about this in WW a few months back). We particularly enjoyed this one because of her use of color and medium. The medium of making art with anti-bowls may seem strange, but looking at them you begin to understand contemporary art a little more. According to the exhibition and Renwick, “Her technical innovations combined with her inventive and unorthodox designs set new standards for enameling, establishing her as a leading voice in American art who influenced a new generation of artists.”

T’s favorite section is on the second floor and is called Connections: Contemporary Craft at the Renwick Gallery. I really like being immersed in a wide swath of contemporary art and there is so much to look at, I feel like every time I re-visit there is always a description I missed or something new to see. In particular, “Portal Gates”, which are in the middle room.

You may look at it and say – wow, what a pretty gate and move on. But, every time I pass it, it kind of grabs at me. Reading more about the artist, Albert Paley, I kind of figured out why. Within each of his works, Paley makes sure to include three foundational elements: the natural environment, the built environment, and the human presence. Previous to this piece, he mostly worked with jewlery and smaller pieces. However, he was growing frustrated and wanted to expand his work. The Smithsonian gave him this opportunity, by commissioning this gate.

E on the other hand, loves to lay on the floor in the Grand Salon, underneath Janet Echelman’s, 1.8 Renwick. It’s very calming to stare up and watch the colors change. I recently found out that the piece is titled “1.8 Renwick” which refers to the length of time a day in 2011 was shortened by 1.8 microseconds as a result of the Tsunami in the Pacific Ocean. Another interesting fact is that the floor echoes the topography of the art piece above  but in black and white (instead of color).

The thing I (E) like most about Renwick is that every exhibit has a completely different color scheme, vibe, feel and type of artwork. There is everything from ceramics to paintings to wood carvings which means that there is something for everyone. Do yourself a favor next time you’re near the mall, stop by!