Just by the White House amid the business of downtown Washington, D.C. sits an oasis of quiet, curiosity and color.
Inside the large golden doors of the Renwick Gallery, a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum that sits on the corner of 17th street and Pennsylvania Ave. NW, spectators can explore “Wonder,” an exhibition that features what the museum calls “immersive artwork.”
The museum is a quiet refuge next to the bustling 17th street, which is regularly occupied by Secret Service officers, office workers, tourists and more. On a recent Wednesday afternoon in January, a steady stream of patrons entered the museum, working their way out of heavy coats and scarves, turning to hushed voices as they made their way around the installations on the first floor of the building.
The din of the busy street outside disappeared after stepping into the Sheila Duignan Gallery, which is currently filled with 11 small mountain-like structures as part of the “Wonder” exhibition. The sound of winter coats swishing against themselves stands out amid the tapping of heels and boots on the wooden floor, the occasional click of an iPhone camera or DSLR, and the excited voices of patrons spending lunch hour soaking up art.
Marie Danielson-Young, an adjunct professor at Towson University, tucked herself into a corner of the room, taking a moment to dig her phone out of her purse and snap a photograph of a placard featuring an Albert Einstein quote. She traveled to D.C. to satisfy her own curiosity about “Wonder,” but said she would encourage those in her class on “Art and the Human Body” to check out the exhibit.
“This particular show is not exactly for my class, it’s more my own interests,” Danielson-Young said. “But I think art in general is very interesting and important for the students because a lot of the students I have might be first-generation college-bound, and many of them have never been to an art museum.”
Perhaps the most noticeable patrons of the Renwick on this Wednesday were children, who spoke in awed, excited whispers. Most tiptoed as close as possible to each piece of artwork without touching anything, occasionally stealing glances at the museum security guard, wondering how far they could bend the rules.
“Oh my gosh, how about that?” one mother said to her children as they shuffled their feet closer to the creations in the Sheila Duignan Gallery to get a peak at the office supplies making up the stalagmite-like objects.
“Turn around. Ready?” another mother said as she shuffled her children together, snapping a photo of them in front of the masses made of white and off-white index cards that were all too similar to the leftovers from one of the biggest blizzards D.C. has ever seen. “It kind of looks like the snow.”
One room over, Abby Cruikshank examined a rainbow installation with her kids, Owen and Charlotte.
“No, it’s not moving, we are moving,” Cruikshank said as her son twisted his body around to take in different angles of the multicolored wave, made up of around 60 miles of thread cascading from the ceiling.
Charlotte, the self-proclaimed artist of the family, shared a moment of reflection with her mother, recalling how she had recently made her own art out of seemingly ordinary objects.
“It’s a little like this, isn’t it?” Cruikshank said.
“Different materials,” Charlotte replied matter-of-factly.
Cruikshank said bringing her children to see “Wonder” was more than just an emotional experience.