Smithsonian Roundup: The Renwick Gallery

The Renwick Gallery exploded on to the social media scene in late 2015 following a two year renovation.  To celebrate the reopening of the gallery, artists were invited to create art displays specifically for rooms in the gallery.  The artwork was collectively referred to as the Wonder exhibit. The results were stunning displays of color, light, and texture that dominated Instagram feeds and drew thousands of visitors. 

The truth is the Renwick Gallery has been sitting on Pennsylvanian Avenue right next to the White House for over 150 years. It was the first building in America built specifically to be a museum.  There were, of course, other museums in the country at the time but they were buildings that had been converted from something else.  It joined the Smithsonian in 1972 and continues to celebrate contemporary art. Exhibits change regularly but you can still catch two pieces from the original Wonder exhibit. Some of our favorite pieces of art from our recent visit include: 

The main staircase: The entrance of the Renwick Gallery features a beautiful grand staircase with a custom red carpet in the center.  The carpet visibility swerves a little which, in my opinion, immediately sets a quirky tone for the gallery and the art inside. A chandelier, digitally programmed with changing lights from the Wonder exhibit, sits at the top of the staircase.  The chandelier remains lit until about 10 pm to be enjoyed by folks on the street.  

The Colored Fishnets: I completely missed the formal name of this artwork from the Wonder exhibit but it is one of my favorites.  Giant fishnets cover the ceiling of the giant room at the top of the main staircase.  The fishnets, illuminated by changing colored lights, give the room a soft, moody feel.  The best part is laying on the floor, gazing up the art, and allowing the colors to wash over you. 

Ghost Clock: At first blush, the Ghost Clock appears to be a piece of art that has been temporarily covered by a tarp. However, after looking more closely, we realized nothing was under the tarp at all! In fact, the tarp isn’t even made of cloth – the entire piece of art is carved from one piece of wood. The “tarp” simply personifies the shape of a clock and causes you to assume there is something underneath. 

The 2008 Tapestry: One of the more somber pieces of art is a quilt that illustrates housing foreclosures in Washington, DC after the 2008 recession.  At first glace, the tapestry looks like a unique map of DC.  But when we realized the markings illustrated foreclosures, it became a very real and blunt view of the city.  

The Renwick Gallery is open daily from 10 am to 5:30 pm except December 25. Admission is free. You can wander the museum yourself or check out the Highlights Tour Monday to Saturday at 12 pm. The tour covers the building’s history and many of the main exhibits. Guests are encouraged to photograph and tag along the way! #RenwickGallery 

Plan Your Trip

Estimated time to see the entire museum: 1-1.5 hours including the Highlights Tour.

Where: 1661 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20006

Closest Metro Stop: Farragut North (red) or Farragut West (orange, blue, silver)

Food: CGDC Grilled Cheese Bar is about a block away.  It serves up adult grilled cheese, tomato soap, loaded tots, and has a full bar. Also check out our list of 10 Places to Eat Near the National Mall

While You’re in the Neighborhood: Selfies with the White House! 

About Kelley Smith 52 Articles
I'm Kelley Smith and I love sharing tips on how to best explore Washington, DC. I love pretty much anything I can eat plus really good beer and whiskey served by story telling bartenders. I also like sassy museum guides, photogenic architecture, and colorful urban gardens.

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