When last we toured the Renwick Gallery, all the world's sporting equipment, musical instruments and rites-of-passage paraphernalia had been dusted off to illustrate the universality of partying. The African tribal masks, 1952 World Series program, Korean incense burner and New Jersey wedding garter are still on display. Comes now a sequel offering more of the similar.
"Celebration: A World of Art and Ritual, Part II" opened this week with a focus on religious, economic and political celebrations. The curiosities and frustrations remain in this second look at why the Smithsonian is called the nation's attic.
Part II opens with shrines and altars, then moves on to "celebrations of increase" -- with mementos of harvesting, hog butchering and the Brooklyn Bridge opening -- and ends with Masons' ceremonial garb, Indian potlach regalia and a 1936 Uncle Sam costume. Secretary of the Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley's silver and gold, diamond-and ruby-studded mace is also on view -- an in joke, perhaps, but it is a symbol of office. Generally, it seems the more feathers or whale teeth, the heavier the honcho.
Video on voodoo complements the altarpiece; taped segments on quilters and various political celebrants bring some exhibits to life (this time the videotapes have been professionally edited).
The shrine and altar displays form the most discrete section, ranging from such small household structures as the Puerto Rican Feast of the Three Kings, to objects from large temples and churches. But the overlap between sections is intentional. The Mayan Indians' Chamula Carnival, for instance, features a run through fire on Shrove Tuesday; it's a combination political/religious/military Mardi Gras. A star-spangled Torah cover made in America in 1914 honors the 100th anniversary of the national anthem.
Again, the $1 guidebook is essential to make sense of all this miscellany. An Eskimo winter celebration depicted in an artful walrus-tusk and wood model is mystifying unless you've seen the Museum of Natural History's current exhibition, which explains the bladder festival honoring the spirits of the hunters' prey. Likewise, several pieces from James Hampton's "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millenium General Assembly" are on view, but the glory of the assemblage is evident only when it's seen in its entirety at the Museum of American Art.
It took more than three years to arrange this show of 600 objects, pared from 800. Does another sequel lurk in the attic? Project manager Kristie Miller swears this is it. "CELEBRATION: A WORLD OF ART AND RITUAL" -- On extended exhibition at the Renwick.