Browning: Wonder Field Trip

Upon visiting the Renwick, I was astounded at the sheer volume of people that the exhibit drew. In her article, Maura Judkis proclaims that the Renwick has received 3,176,000 visitors in its 3 months open since January 3rd, an incredible increase in number from the measly 150,000 that had been the yearly average between 2011 and 2013. This statistic was evident as simply approaching the building required me to weave in and out of two class field trips gathering just outside. However, upon entering, the diversity of the drawn crowd was what truly shocked me. Young kids ran through the exhibits with their parents in tow; elderly couples made their way cautiously through crowds with enormous digital, and probably film, cameras; and the District’s freshest young professionals posed for their new Linkedin profile pictures. Observing the observers of the Renwick became art for me in and of itself as the photos I took began to shift subject: from exhibit to those beholding it.


All walks of life take to the “Photography Encouraged” prompt in their own individual way. Older patrons tend to focus less, if not at all, on themselves when photographing the pieces. They also take more broad and zoomed out photos that encapsulate as much of each piece as they can fit into one frame. They are also incredibly wary of their environment and take to moving around the enormous art installations with care. This behavior grows less and less common, however, as age decreases. Young college students and those tech-savvy enough to post to Instagram take to the Renwick like a playground. I myself found it too easy as well as awe-inspiring to simply waltz in and out of the enormous pieces, noting their finer details and opening new sight lines from which to enjoy the art. The photos of the younger patrons also tend to focus more on themselves as pictures of the art slowly turn to pictures of themselves with, around, or in the art.


The only visitors who seemed to be enjoying the exhibit in the same way I was were parents. Obviously, a parent’s focus should be on their child, especially when entering a space as public as the Renwick. However, what I witnessed were parents photographing not the art or even their children with, around, or in the art; rather, parents were taking special care to record their children’s reactions. In Maura Judkis’ article, psychology professor Linda Henkel suggests that Renwick visitors save their photos for the end of their time in each room; in this way, the initial impact of the art, and what some believe is art’s most important message, will not be lost. This initial impact is what prompted most parents to take their photos upon entering each room, when their child’s awe was evident and their “wonder” had reached its peak.



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