Renwick Gallery

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Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
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Location1661 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C.
Coordinates 38°53′55.92″N77°2′22.01″W / 38.8988667°N 77.0394472°W / 38.8988667; -77.0394472 Coordinates: 38°53′55.92″N77°2′22.01″W / 38.8988667°N 77.0394472°W / 38.8988667; -77.0394472
Architect James Renwick, Jr.
Architectural style Second Empire [1]
NRHP reference No. 69000300 [2]
Added to NRHPMarch 24, 1969

The Renwick Gallery is a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, located in Washington, D.C., and focuses on American craft and decorative arts from the 19th to the 21st century. It is housed in a National Historic Landmark building that was begun in 1859 on Pennsylvania Avenue and originally housed the Corcoran Gallery of Art (now one block from the White House and across the street from the Old Executive Office Building). When it was built in 1859, it was known as "the American Louvre".



Image of the Corcoran Gallery from c. 1884-1888 showing the lost sculpture niches and historic first floor windows. CorcoranGalleryofArt 1884-88.jpg
Image of the Corcoran Gallery from c.1884–1888 showing the lost sculpture niches and historic first floor windows.

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. The building was designed by James Renwick, Jr. and finally completed in 1874. [3] [4] It is located at 1661 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. [5] Renwick designed it after the Louvre's Tuileries addition. [6] At the time of its construction, it was known as "the American Louvre". [7] [8]

The building was near completion when the Civil War broke out and was seized by the U.S. Army in August 1861 as a temporary military warehouse for the records and uniforms for the Quarter Master General's Corps. [9] In 1864, General Montgomery C. Meigs converted the building into his headquarters office. [9]

On May 10, 1869, the building was returned to Corcoran, and, on January 19, 1874, the Corcoran Gallery of Art opened to the public. [3] [9] The gallery quickly outgrew the space and relocated to a new building nearby in 1897. [10] Starting in 1899, the building housed the federal Court of Claims. [3] By the 1950s, in need of more space, the Court of Claims proposed to demolish the building, however, it was saved from demolition by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1963. [4] [6] [8] In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson and Secretary of the Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley, proposed that the building be turned over to the Smithsonian. [3] [9] [11]

In 1965, President Johnson signed an executive order transferring the Renwick building to the Smithsonian Institution for use as a "gallery of arts, craft and design." [3] After a renovation under the direction of Lloyd E. Herman [12] it opened in 1972 as the home of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's contemporary craft program. [3] [11] The Renwick Gallery is now a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, housing the museum's collection of decorative art and crafts. [4] [6]

Closure for 2013–2015 renovation

Renwick Gallery closed December 9, 2013, in order to permit a major renovation of the historic structure. The building was slightly damaged during the 2011 Washington D.C. earthquake, and the construction process required reworking of the original infrastructure. [13] The museum reopened on November 13, 2015 with an exhibition entitled Wonder featuring site-specific installation by nine artists. [14] [15] The architectural renovation was led by Westlake Reed Leskosky, a Cleveland, Ohio–based architecture and engineering firm [16] and construction was overseen by Consigli Construction Co. of Milford, Massachusetts. [16] Fundraising for the renovation began in 2013, and was completed in June 2014 when local financier and philanthropist David Rubenstein donated $5.4 million toward the project. Smithsonian officials renamed the gallery's Grand Salon in Rubenstein's honor. [16]

The renovation included replacing all HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and fire-suppression systems; upgrades to security, phone, and data systems (including Wi-Fi installation throughout the building); restoring the original window configuration; restoring two vaulted ceilings on the second floor; reconfiguring the basement for staff offices and workshops; [16] and adding LED lighting throughout the building. [14] The Renwick's Grand Salon was also renovated to create a more contemporary event space. [1] [7] [14] Applied Minds was chosen to create potential concepts for the Grand Salon. [17] The four other firms which competed for the renovation job and made it to the final round but were not selected were Marlon Blackwell Architect, Studio Odile Decq, Vinci Hamp Architects, and Westlake Reed Leskosky. [1]


The Renwick Gallery opened its doors after renovation on Friday, November 13, 2015. Admission is free. The gallery is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. [18]

The first-floor gallery typically featured temporary exhibits that rotated about twice a year. [19] One commentator said, the crafts displayed "are high art, not everyday objects." [19] Historically, the second floor Grand Salon has been one of the most famous art-filled rooms in Washington. For much of the museum's history, it was hung with 70 paintings by 51 American artists, most of them artworks created between 1840 and 1930, including landscapes, sentimental portraits, and classical themes, as well as portraits of tribal Native Americans by George Catlin. Since November 2015, the paintings are no longer on display, and the formal curtains, red carpeting, and red velvet furniture have all been removed. A number of the paintings were moved to the Smithsonian American Art Museum. [20]


In 2012, the Renwick Gallery hosted an exhibition called "40 Under 40: Craft Futures", which featured 40 artists in "boundary-pushing interpretations of glass, fiber, ceramic, wood and other materials challenge the traditional process-oriented notion of the craft medium by incorporating performance, interactivity and politics." [21] [22]

The gallery's visitors have almost doubled due to the popularity of the "Wonder" exhibition. [23] In November 2015, "Wonder" opened in celebration of the completion of a two-year renovation of the Renwick Gallery. The exhibition featured nine major contemporary artists invited to install site-specific works on the theme of wonder in the nine exhibition spaces of the gallery. The artists chosen were Jennifer Angus, Chakaia Booker, Gabriel Dawe, Tara Donovan, Patrick Dougherty, Janet Echelman, John Grade, Maya Lin, and Leo Villareal. [24]

The artists were given freedom to create their installations. [25] Angus' piece, "In the Midnight Garden," featured over 5,000 bugs – beetles, moths, and cicadas [25] – in various patterns in a pink room. [26] Booker's "Anonymous Donor" was made up of old tires and stainless steel. [27] Dawe's "Plexus A1" weaved a rainbow into the middle of one of the Renwick's rooms. [28] Donovan made her installation out of thousands of index cards. [28] Dougherty made his installation, "Shindig," out of willow branches. [29] Echelman based her piece off of images from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that showed the impact of waves during the 2011 Japan tsunami. [25] Grade reassembled a mold of a hemlock tree over a century year old. The piece is called "Middle Fork." [28] Lin chose to map out the Chesapeake Bay using marbles. [26] Villareal's LED chandelier hangs from the top of the Renwick ceiling. [29]

Since January 2016, over 176,000 people have visited the gallery. [28] The "Wonder" exhibition is popular on social media, [30] and the Renwick has been tagged over 20,000 times on Instagram by users. [28] Wonder closed after eight months and drew 732,000 viewers. [31] It was criticized for being inconsistent with the Renwick's commitment to American craft. [32]

The Renwick Craft Invitational is a biennial assessment of contemporary fine craft. [33] The 2016 exhibition featured works by Steven Young Lee, Kristen Morgin, Jennifer Trask, and Norwood Viviano. [34] Disrupting Craft: Renwick Invitational 2018 featured works by Tanya Aguiñiga, Sharif Bey, Dustin Farnsworth, and Stephanie Syjuco. [35]

Since 2011, the Renwick has hosted a quarterly "Handi-hour," a crafting-themed happy hour event, inspired by the DIY movement. In addition to craft activities for patrons, the 21+ event features craft beers selected by Greg Engert of the ChurchKey restaurant and pub in Washington, D.C. [36]

In 2019 the Renwick hosted an augmented reality exhibition by glass artist Ginny Ruffner and digital collaborator Grant Kirkpatrick titled Reforestation of the Imagination. [37]

Notable artists in the collection

A number of well-known, critically acclaimed artists had works in the Renwick Gallery's collection, as of the November 2015 reopening most are no longer on display. Among them are:

See also

Related Research Articles

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Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum in Washington, D.C., United States

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is a museum in Washington, D.C., part of the Smithsonian Institution. Together with its branch museum, the Renwick Gallery, SAAM holds one of the world's largest and most inclusive collections of art, from the colonial period to the present, made in the United States. The museum has more than 7,000 artists represented in the collection. Most exhibitions take place in the museum's main building, the old Patent Office Building, while craft-focused exhibitions are shown in the Renwick Gallery.

Corcoran School of the Arts and Design

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Sam Gilliam

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Janet Echelman American sculptor and artist

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Adrian Saxe is an American ceramic artist who was born in Glendale, California in 1943. He lives and works in Los Angeles, California.

Albert Paley

Albert Paley is an American modernist metal sculptor. Initially starting out as a jeweler, Paley has become one of the most distinguished and influential metalsmiths in the world. Within each of his works, three foundational elements stay true: the natural environment, the built environment, and the human presence. Paley is the first metal sculptor to have received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Institute of Architects. He lives and works in Rochester, New York with his wife, Frances.

Washington Project for the Arts, founded in 1975, is a non-profit organization dedicated to the support and aid of artists in the Washington, D.C. area.

Mary Lee Hu is an American artist, goldsmith, and college level educator known for using textile techniques to create intricate woven wire jewelry.

Joyce J. Scott

Joyce J. Scott is an African-American artist, sculptor, quilter, performance artist, installation artist, print-maker, lecturer and educator. Named a MacArthur Fellow in 2016, and a Smithsonian Visionary Artist in 2019, Scott is best known for her figurative sculptures and jewelry using free form, off-loom beadweaving techniques, similar to a peyote stitch. Each piece is often constructed using thousands of glass seed beads or pony beads, and sometimes other found objects or materials such as glass, quilting and leather. In 2018, she was hailed for working in new medium — a mixture of soil, clay, straw, and cement — for a sculpture meant to disintegrate and return to the earth. Scott is influenced by a variety of diverse cultures, including Native American and African traditions, Mexican, Czech, and Russian beadwork, illustration and comic books, and pop culture.

Elizabeth Broun

Elizabeth Broun was the director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. for 27 years, from 1989 until December 2016. At the time of her retirement, she set the record as the second longest–serving Smithsonian museum director, after Spencer Fullerton Baird, and as the longest-serving female museum director in Smithsonian history.

Kay Sekimachi is an American fiber artist and weaver, best known for her three-dimensional woven monofilament hangings as well as her intricate baskets and bowls.

Lauren Kalman is a contemporary American visual artist who uses photography, sculpture, jewelry, craft objects, performance, and installation. Kalman's works investigate ideas of beauty, body image, and consumer culture. Kalman has taught at institutions including Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Currently she is an associate professor at Wayne State University.

Edith T. Martin American artist and museum professional

Edith T. Martin is an American artist and museum professional.

Jack Earl is an American ceramic artist and former teacher, known for drawing inspiration from his home state of Ohio to create rural pieces “with meticulous craftsmanship and astute details… to where you could smell the air, hear the silence and swat the flies.” Although his works hint at highly personal, intellectual, and narrative themes in an almost unsettling manner, Earl is “a self-described anti-intellectual who shuns the art world." He is known particularly for using his trademark format, the dos-a-dos : “This art form is like a book with two stories… the two seemingly incongruent images prompt the viewer to fill in the conceptual gap through poetic speculation.” His work often involves dogs or the character “Bill”, who is said to be a combination of Earl’s father-in-law, himself, and others. The titles to his pieces are typically lengthy, stream-of-consciousness narratives that suggest the folk or rural lifestyle. These are intended to add another dimension to the artwork. His work has received a notable response over his decades-long career, especially since he is regarded as “a master at reminding us that within the events we take for granted are moments of never-ending mystery and wonder.” Earl continues to live in Lakeview, Ohio with his wife, Fairlie.

Melanie Bilenker is an American craft artist from New York City who lives and works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her work is primarily in contemporary hair jewelry. In 2010 she received a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. Bilenker uses her own hair to "draw" images of contemporary life and self-portraits. The use of hair is an attempt at showing the person, and the moments left or shed behind.

Consuelo Jimenez Underwood Mexican-American textile artist

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Lloyd Eldred Herman is an arts administrator, curator and museum planner who is an acknowledged expert on contemporary craft. He is best known for being the founding Director of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C..

Merry Renk

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Further reading