On a recent morning, artist Jennifer Angus puts the finishing touches on a new installation on the second floor of the historic Renwick Gallery. Her piece features 5,000 insect specimens pinned in ornate patterns that are both astonishing and beautiful. In an adjoining gallery, a craftsman accents the decorative molding with gold leaf while construction workers attend to the formal staircase just below.
“We’re reclaiming the building gallery by gallery,” says curator Nicholas R. Bell, wearing a hard hat and goggles as he observes the progress.
Just weeks before its reopening, the Renwick is a beehive of activity as work on the building’s restoration coincides with the installation of works by nine artists commissioned for the opening show, “Wonder.” Angus’s piece references familiar wallpaper designs but uses insects to create the patterns. Tension and surprise are created in the beauty of creatures that most people would rather not have in their homes.
“I do feel like I’m taking credit for Mother Nature,” the artist says with a grin, “but I’m okay with that.”
Home to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection of craft and decorative arts, the Renwick Gallery reopens Nov. 13 after a two-year, $30 million renovation. The opening exhibition of site-specific commissions will showcase the building’s new look.
Bell says the works in “Wonder” are intended to draw visitors’ attention to the architectural flourishes of the historic structure and spotlight the beauty of the restoration.
“This show is a celebration of the experience of walking into a museum and losing yourself,” he says. “We live such busy lives, we don’t have very many ‘wow’ moments.”