Friday morning I was reminding June to get dressed so we could go to the Wonder exhibit at the Renwick Gallery. “If you don’t, everyone there will wonder why that girl is in her pajamas,” I told her. She was gracious enough to laugh at my joke. She usually does.
The Renwick was closed for two years for renovations to the building and when they re-opened in November, they celebrated with nine installations created specifically to showcase the building. I’ve been seeing people’s pictures of the exhibit for months and we finally got around to going on Friday, toward the end of the kids’ spring break.
Noah elected to stay home, but we invited Megan, and she was enthusiastic. We picked her up at her house at 9:30, drove to the Metro stop, took a train into the city and walked to the gallery. The first installation we saw was made of index cards set at different angles and piled into what looked like stalagmites or canyon rock formations. It was very cool, but the girls didn’t stay long in that room because they could see the rainbow in the next room and were drawn to it. From the pictures I’d seen online I thought this was made of projected light, but it’s actually colored threads.
The next room, filled with giant nests made of bent saplings, with doors to walk in and windows to look out, was also popular. The girls wanted to go back to that one once we had seen everything so they could go into more of them and pretend to be birds.
Some of the artists took the mission of fitting into the space literally. One artist took a mold of a living tree that was the same age as the Renwick building (about one hundred fifty years) and the rebuilt its exact shape with tiny cedar blocks that Megan said looked like Jenga blocks. The tree was hollow and laid on its side, suspended so you could stand by the roots and look into its interior. Another artist used the one hundred foot-long grand salon as the setting to explore the hundred foot-long waves of the 2011 Japanese tsunami by recreating the shape of the energy waves it produced in net-like fabric. This hung from the ceiling with different colors of light projected on it. The space was carpeted so a lot of people, including June and Megan, lay on the floor to look at it. They said they’d like to share a huge bedroom like that, with two beds.
Maya Lin took local inspiration in the Chesapeake Bay, creating a map of the bay and its tributaries in blue-green marbles on the floor, walls, and ceiling of a smaller room. There was also a room with large bugs all over the walls in decorative patterns, a maze made of strips of old tires woven into walls, and a group of rods studded with white LED lights twinkling in never-repeating patterns hanging above a staircase, like a chandelier. The gallery is going to keep this one permanently.
The text at the beginning of the exhibit said the art was meant to inspire awe and when we’d been through it the girls agreed it was “awesome,” so I guess it worked.
We visited the gift shop because Megan had some money burning a hole in her pocket and wanted a souvenir, but it turned out it was “the most expensive gift shop ever!” and both girls had to be satisfied with the free exhibit brochures. Megan was generous enough to leave some cash in the donation box and she thanked us twice for taking her.
After we left the museum we walked by the White House, because it was close, and then to Farragut Square, where we patronized the food trucks that line up there and ate on benches in the park, where red tulips are in bloom. The girls got pizza and tater tots and Beth and I got a mushroom sushi roll, edamame, and seaweed salad. There was a FroZenYo around the corner, so we got frozen yogurt, too.
We took Megan to our house to continue the play date. I’d originally said we’d keep her until three, but we extended it until four because as I told Megan’s mom, “They don’t seem to be tired of each other.” They rarely are. I am quite fond of Megan myself, in the special way you are of your children’s best friends. Friendship is a wonder, too, and it’s rewarding to see how it unfolds in your child’s life.
There was a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote on the wall of the exhibit that I think applies:
“Man is surprised to find that things near are not less beautiful and wondrous than things remote.” I think ten-year-old girls might find that to be true, as well.