Wandering through Wonder at the Renwick Gallery

By Kayla Eisenberg

My knowledge of the Renwick Gallery came from seeing the plethora of Instagram posts and what feels like hours of Snapchat stories. If this gallery could grasp the attention of the majority of my social media friends, then clearly it was a destination that I needed to visit. I’m almost embarrassed that it took me so long to visit the gallery, considering I live a mere five minutes from the location. However, I finally made the time and begged my sorority sister, Lillianna, to visit the holy land of the Renwick Gallery.

Walking through the doors, I was giddy with excitement, as I yearned to capture the moments that my acquaintances had already done so before me. Immediately, I understood the photography aspect and the urge to capture each and every step you take throughout the gallery. Before even entering the first room, I recognized a reoccurring Instagram-worthy location of a red couch upon a black and white tiled floor. I wonder if Renwick knew that even their furniture was seen as a piece of artwork worth capturing and posting for others to admire—embarrassingly, I can count at least 15 girls in my sorority that have this couch in their Facebook or Instagram profile. Also, the glimmering chandelier piece above the staircase was a sight to see as the light scattered across the ceiling and left me staring for at least five minutes (it even made for a very mesmerizing Snapchat video).

Signs were scattered throughout the gallery encouraging its tourists to engage in photography. Ever since I was young, I have always been fascinated with photography. When Snapchat came to light, it was like my dreams were coming true. I am guilty of Snapchatting an entire concert and viewing the show through the lens of my iPhone. While some may say that photographs and videos last longer than what your eyes can view, I truly believe that it is the memory that will forever be engraved in your mind. With this idea in mind, I am still embarrassed to say that I walked through the entire Renwick Gallery with my iPhone leading the way.

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Moving from room to room, you are forced to dodge the lenses of onlookers’ cameras and hopefully avoid photobombing one too many pictures. While I was fortunate enough to tour Renwick at a fairly calm hour, it was still a struggle to make your way past the numerous iPhones and DSLRs. Also, Renwick Gallery deserves praise for banning selfie sticks—I can’t even imagine adding the pain of dodging the recklessness of “flying iPhone swords” throughout each room.

While I was familiar with the Wonder exhibit (thanks to the posts of my Instagram “friends”), it was truly a unique experience to see them in person as opposed to behind the screen of my phone. I did my best to appreciate the art and its aesthetic qualities both through the lens of my phone and with technology aside. Each piece of artwork captivated my mind to an overwhelming extent that it pushed me to do a second tour throughout the gallery.

I spent my first walk through the gallery capturing various angles and ensuring that I posted the “famous” photos to my Snapchat story—after all, I had to prove to my followers that I do in fact leave Gelman Library and I am aware of the trendy places to visit in DC. After a combination of aesthetically pleasing, artsy snapshots of the art, combined with one too many selfies with my sorority “big”, I shifted my focus to the actual elements of the artwork.

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On my second tour throughout the gallery, I attempted to shelter out the shuffle of other visitors and put my phone in my pocket. I wanted to truly examine and ponder about the overall meaning and creativity behind each piece. From the amazement of Janet Echelman’s 1.8 (inspired by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami) to the extremely Snapchat-worthy, reclaimed-cedar creation by John Grade (Middle Fork), each room left me more amazed than the last. I really do not understand how it took me so long to visit this gallery.

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I have never really been one to appreciate (or rather understand) abstract or contemporary art. However, after my trip to the Renwick Gallery, my outlook on art has drastically transformed. Without the influence of my Instagram obsession, I truly was left in awe of the pieces exhibited in the gallery. I exited the gallery with a sense of amazement, relaxation, and an utter obsession with each piece.

Ultimately, I think there is a necessary balance between the aspect of photography and merely absorbing one’s surroundings with the power of your eyes. While for many the purpose of photography is to view the artwork at a later time, for me it is the ability to capture a creative masterpiece in a varying light than that of the original creator. By also examining each piece sans iPhone, I was able to interpret and question the unique work of each creator. While Professor Troutman assigned this Renwick excursion, I am eternally grateful for the experience I gained with my best friend and my newfound appreciation for contemporary art. The Renwick Gallery exceeded my expectations and I am already thinking of another excuse to admire the exhibit.

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