Fresh from a $30 million makeover, the Renwick reopens November 13, 2015. © Ron Blunt
The renovation included repairs to architectural details above the front entrance. © Ron Blunt
A rosy wall patterned with real insects is part of the inaugural exhibit. © Ron Blunt
A Dale Chihuly chandelier hangs in the Octagon Room. © Ron Blunt
A depiction of the Chesapeake Bay in marbles by Maya Lin. © Ron Blunt
Artist John Grade used reclaimed cedar to recreate a tree as old as the Renwick building. © Ron Blunt

Cachet: A New Era

Spotlight on the Renwick’s $30 million makeover

After a two-year renovation, the Renwick Gallery reopens on November 13 with refreshed interiors and a contemporary craft exhibition sure to astonish and delight all ages.

Across from the White House at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, the majestic building has been completely renewed for the first time in 45 years. Its infrastructure has been updated and its elaborate plasterwork painstakingly restored and discreetly repainted in shades of gray with gilded highlights. Reopening the doors of this Smithsonian branch “marks the perfect moment,” notes Betsy Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, “to rededicate ourselves to understanding, collecting and exhibiting American craft in the 21st century.”

The inaugural exhibition takes an exhilarating leap in showcasing the dimensions of craft. Called “Wonder,” it fills the building with massive installations created from mundane objects: Index cards stacked like stalagmites. Sewing thread strung in floor-to-ceiling veils of color. And insects arrayed as a shimmering wallcovering.

Curator Nicholas Bell invited nine artists—Tara Donovan, Gabriel Dawe, Jennifer Angus, Chakaia Booker, Patrick Dougherty, Janet Echelman, John Grade, Maya Lin and Leo Villareal—to participate. “The many facets of wonder underpin the reasons they have elected to create art,” Bell writes in the exhibition catalogue, “to prompt reactions among viewers that hinge on surprise, awareness and, crucially, awe.”

A sense of awe was also intended when the building opened to the public in 1874 as Washington’s first art museum. Designed by architect James Renwick, Jr., for the collection of banker William Corcoran, it was the original Corcoran Gallery of Art. As a reference to that era and the structure’s French Second Empire style, Parisian architect Odile Decq was commissioned to design a new carpet for the grand staircase. That flowing, fiery-red rug now greets visitors entering the revamped Renwick Gallery.

Opening celebrations will include a ribbon cutting and open house on November 13, and a family festival on November 14. Tickets for an evening of craft beer, craft activities and more on November 13 cost $25 online. “Wonder” continues through July 10, 2016. americanart.si.edu/renwick