The Nature of WONDER

May 02, 2016 by Julie Walker

After two years of renovations the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery reopened with their newest exhibit WONDER this fall. These supersized art installations definitely not only live up to the promised WONDER of their name, but also impart a flare of nature’s wonder. Through the use of natural materials, stated and unstated themes, the gallery left me WONDERing more about the connections between nature and art.

marble chesbay

By far my favorite exhibit was the artist Maya Lin’s Folding the Chesapeake. Obviously this bias is based on the fact that this piece calls for the conservation of the Chesapeake by showcasing its beauty, filling a room with is outline in glass marbles.  Accompanying the piece is a timeline of environmental change in Chesapeake Bay, as a part of Maya’s newest project What is Missing a website dedicated documenting the current mass extinction of species by developing a collective ecological history of the planet through personal stories.


Another testament to natural wonders is John Grade’s Middle Fork, a model of an actual hemlock tree in the Cascade Mountains. This piece was made using a plaster cast of the tree which was then rebuilt in the trees likeness from half a million hand carved segments of recycled cedar. Furthering the environmental message around this piece, the artist has decided that after the exhibit closes the Middle Fork will be placed in the forest floor under the hemlock that it is modeled after where it will be left to decay returning it to nature.


One of the more emotionally evocative pieces is an unnamed sculpture by Janet Echelman. This piece is a woven net hung from the ceiling with projected lighting to map the energy released across the Pacific Ocean during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  Visitors are encouraged to lie on the floor to view the sculpture and be reminded that what is wondrous can equally be dangerous.

rewick rainbow

By just glancing at Gabriel Dawe’s Plexus A1 you may think that you have stumbled upon an indoor rainbow instead of an art exhibit. Gabriel, inspired by the skies of Mexico City and East Texas his hometown and current home, created this life like rainbows out of colored thread creating a very natural looking allusion.


Jennifer Angus’s In the Midnight Garden decorates an entire room with real (non-endangered) insects from Malaysia, Thailand, Papa New Guinea. The purpose of which is to change the context in which the visitor interacts with natural word, calling attention to what has always been around us but kept out of mind by walls and doors.
To see more of the WONDER in this exhibit check out the Renwick Gallery online or in person in DC.


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