Yesterday My friend Matt and I visited the Renwick Gallery in Washington DC. A Smithsonian gallery dedicated to contemporary art holding a collection of contemporary craft and decorative art, described as one of the finest and most extensive collections of its kind.
Currently, nine leading contemporary artist have each taken over different rooms in the building, to create site-specific installations inspired by the Renwick. Together, these artists have turned the building itself into a larger-than-life work of art. The exhibition is entitled Wonder, and I went in (for the same reasons as visiting the Rothko paintings, my friend James suggested I should go, so I thought I would give it a try. (See earlier blog))
The Renwick website describes the exhibition: “While the nine artists featured in WONDER create strikingly different works, they are connected by their interest in creating large-scale installations from unexpected materials. Index cards, marbles, strips of wood—all objects so commonplace and ordinary we often overlook them—are assembled, massed, and juxtaposed to utterly transform spaces and engage us in the most surprising ways. The works are expressions of process, labor, and materials that are grounded in our everyday world, but that combine to produce awe-inspiring results.” (http://renwick.americanart.si.edu/wonder)
Follow the link to explore the website and see some more pictures of the art:
Gabriel dawe, plexus A1 2015
Janet echelman, 1.8, 2015
Echelman’s woven sculpture corresponds to a map of the energy released across the Pacific Ocean during the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, one of the most devastating natural disasters in recorded history. The event was so powerful it shifted the Earth on its axis and shortened the day, March 11, 2011, by 1.8 millionths of a second, lending this work its title. Waves taller than the 100-foot length of this gallery ravaged the east coast of Japan, reminding us that what is wonderful can equally be dangerous.
The picture above is the digital visual representation of the Tsunami and earthquake. I did not think my picture of the art would encapsulate it fully (it is a very large piece) so I took a video of it to try to better give you an idea:
John grade, middle fork, 2015
Chakaia Booker, anonymous Donor, 2015. Rubber tyres and stainless steel.
Jennifer Angus, in the midnight garden, 2015.
Angus’ genius is the embrace of what is wholly natural, if unexpected. Yes, the insects are real, and no, she has not altered them except to position their wings and legs. The species in this gallery are not endangered, but in fact are quite abundant, primarily in Malaysia, Thailand and Papua New Guinea, a corner of the world where nature seems to play with greater freedom. The pink wash is derived from the cochineal insect living on cacti in Mexicl, where it has long been prized as the best source of the colour red. By altering the context in which we encounter such species, Angus startles us into recognition of what has always been part of our world.
The website explains: “Jennifer Angus covers gallery walls in spiraling, geometric designs reminiscent of wallpaper or textiles—but made using specimens of different species of shimmering, brightly-colored insects.”
Unobtrusively on the walls, as well as the descriptions of the artwork, were various quotes from a range of historical people. The first we came across was a quote from Albert Einstein: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” I am still exploring faith/theology/bible and art, and immediately these short few sentences screamed out God. ‘The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious [God]. It [God] is the source of all. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead [not fully alive] his eyes are closed.
The quotes fit perfectly with the art which stood before us, and as we went around, each quote and piece of art only furthered our reflections and discussions on theology and Wonder, especially as St Augustine and St Albertus Magnus are included among those chosen. Below are a few more of the quotes;
“The only reason for bringing together works of art in a public place is that…they produce in us a kind of exalted happiness. For a moment there is a clearing in the jungle: we pass on refreshed, with our capacity for life increased and with some memory of the sky” – Kenneth Clark, 1954 (British born author, museum director, broadcaster, and regarded as one of the best-known art historians of his generation) this quote struck me as it could very easily be discussing liturgy and worship ‘[one] reason for bringing together [people to worship] in a public place is that…they produce in us a kind of exalted happiness…’ Worship brings us clarity, a chance to slow down and have some peace in the jungle that is our world today.
“Man is surprised to find that things near are not less beautiful and wondrous than things remote” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1837 (an American poet and lecturer who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. He was also seen as a champion of individualism.)
“Wonder is defined as a constriction and suspension of the heart caused by amazement at the sensible appearance of something so portentous, great, and unusual, that the heart suffers a systole” – St Albertus Magnus, 13th century (regarded as one of the greatest German philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages)
“The mere knowledge that such a work could be created makes me twice the person I was” – Goethe, 1787 (a German writer and statesman) This definitely makes me think of Creation ‘The mere knowledge that such a work [us and creation] could be created [by God] makes me twice the person I was.’
“Men go forth to marvel at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, the broad flow of the rivers, the vastness of the ocean, the orbits of the star, and they neglect to marvel at themselves” – Saint Augustine, about 400 CE
“It is not understanding that destroys wonder, it is familiarity” – John Stuart Mill, 1865 (an English philosopher, political economist, feminist, and civil servant, regarded as one of the most influential English-speaking philosophers of the 19th cen.)
This quote has gotten me rather excited. Some would argue that this is true for liturgy, that through familiarity, we end up just going through the motions. I disagree, as I believe that through familiarity, we are able to get past the ‘trying to get it right’, and once familiar, can ‘switch off’ our consciousness and begin to deeper reflect on what it is we are doing. Not just look on the surface as to Why we pray, stand, sit, kneel, receive communion, share the peace and all the elements of our regular worship. But rather be fully immersed in all these elements and the worship as a whole. Be fully present with God. I am looking forward to more exploration of this quote and feel it will feed me for a long while yet. I would dearly love to give this quote to some professors (out here and in England) and follow it with ‘discuss’. Now that would be an exciting discussion.
It was a fantastic afternoon, and very thought provoking. Thank you Matt for once again joining me on an adventure.