WASHINGTON, D.C. – From November 2015 to July 10, the Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrated the post-renovation reopening of its Renwick Gallery with WONDER, an exhibition that invited artists to create a single immersive installation piece for each of the Renwick’s rooms. The result was a highly successful show that drew some 700,000 visitors.
Now three of the installations, by three major public artists, have been acquired for the SAAM’s permanent collection.
Maya Lin’s Folding the Chesapeake is an accurate map of the Chesapeake Bay watershed executed in industrial glass marbles. The small glass globes are intended to reference the many thousands of interdependent animal and plant species that inhabit the watershed, while at the same time paying homage to Lin’s father, an artist who took part in the early studio-glass movement of the 1960s.
Volume (Renwick) by Leo Villareal is a pulsating light sculpture made up of 23,000 LED bulbs embedded in mirrored steel rods. An algorithm written by Villareal creates never-repeated patterns of brightness and darkness over the Renwick’s grand staircase.
Janet Echelman’s 1.8 Renwick memorializes the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that pummeled northern Japan. In this textile work, a huge, hand-knotted net traces the explosive energy released by the tsunami. It’s suspended over a carpet that gives topographic information about the sea floor below.
The Echelman work will remain in place in the Renwick until early spring 2017, then reinstalled later; Lin’s piece, not currently on view, will also eventually be reinstalled. The museum plans to keep Villareal’s Volume (Renwick) on view indefinitely.
“When we asked these exemplary artists to create something transformative, to create installations that would be truly out of the ordinary, we could not have imagined how successful the results would be,” said Betsy Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
“The works by Lin, Echelman and Villareal captured the imagination of our visitors no matter their age or knowledge of contemporary art.”