The Renwick Gallery's sprawling new exhibit works a little too hard to make a point about the universality of celebrations. A Christmas tree juxtaposed with a Pinata is one of the simpler analogies. A Poi Bowl from Hawaii, a beer calabash from Tanzania: cheers. A 1913 pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game shares a showcase with an 1850 to 1900 Seneca Iroquois gambling bowl: well, they're both games. But a 1980 New Year's Eve horn next to a necklace of flutes, used during girls' puberty rites, is stretching it. "Celebration, a World of Art and Ritual," the first of a two-part, 600-object extravaganza, is longer on ritual than art. A complicated hodgepodge, it is, as director Lloyd Herman says, "probably the most colossal craft show the Renwick's ever had." The exhibit is either a pretty collection of odd museum pieces or a summary of our collective unconscious, depending how much time is spent pondering the text. It's livelier than a master's thesis on cross-cultural partying; the accompanying $1 brochure is a must to draw subtle anthropological conclusions. Costumes, music, dance, sports and feasting are explored as means of taking celebrants out of time and place and to recall myths. Videotaped ritual dances complement the various musical devices. Ceremonial ballgames are seen in relation to agricultural rites: it's whether one wins or loses that's used for divination. It's beautifully displayed, even if it seems like a spring-cleaning exhibit. Other Smithsonian museums have lent such items as an Indian tattooing set, an Eastern Cherokee turtle leg rattle, Nigerian drums, Samoan kava bowls, Japanese poem cards and Javanese shadow-puppets. The section devoted to rites of passage is best defined. Stages of development are traced from circumcision implements to African masks used in initiation ceremonies, from a garter from a 1928 New Jersey wedding to an intricate installation on the Mexican Day of the Dead.
CELEBRATION: A WORLD OF ART AND RITUAL -- At the Renwick through June 26, 1983.