If you remember the Renwick Gallery as looking like the picture above, it’s time for a trip to Washington, DC. On the outside the Renwick looks the same as ever, but inside it has been transformed.
James Renwick designed the building, and it opened as America’s 1st structure intended to be an art museum in 1858. Renwick was a top 19th century architect. Among his designs is New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The Renwick is no longer a museum of wall-covering 19th century paintings. It’s now one of the not-on-the-mall Smithsonian institutions and even more dedicated than before to exhibiting excellent, contemporary American craft objects. It’s still slightly northwest of the White House at 1661 Pennsylvania Avenue. As a result of this mission, it has, in my opinion, the best gift store among the Smithsonian’s 19 venues with lots of artisan-made items for sale. The only thing I remember seeing on previous visits is the over decorated flying fish in the gift store that Ruth still wants to buy.
I liked almost everything on view when we were there recently. However, Leo Villareal’s light sculpture is what I most remember. Placed over the truly grand staircase up to the 2nd floor, this eye-commanding sculpture contains 23,000 restless LED lights. Intended to be temporary when the Renwick reopened in 2015 after a 2-year, $30 million redo, this rectangular light show was so popular that it became a permanent, must-see fixture.
Originally known as the American Louvre, the Renwick has been so altered that thisisinsider.com includes it in its list of the 25 best museums in America, ranking it #22.
Some of what was on display when Ruth and I were there is sort of permanent, but a lot of it will have been replaced by other craft objects by the time you’ve looked at Villareal’s lights a 2nd time and repeated, “WOW!” I still hope you get to see Viktor Schreckengost’s witty “Apocalypse ’42” sculpture, Sabrina Gschwandtner’s sublime fiber design, and Silas Kopf’s funny “Bad Hare Day” cabinet. Hopefully, they’ll become permanent fixtures at the Renwick.