The Renwick Gallery, the Smithsonian Institution’s decorative arts and crafts museum in Washington, DC, is due to reopen to the public on 13 November after a two-year, $30m renovation. Built in 1859 across from the White House, the Renwick is the first American building designed specifically to showcase art.
The inaugural exhibition, “Wonder”, will take over the entire museum. The Renwick commissioned nine contemporary artists, including Chakaia Booker, Tara Donovan, Maya Lin and Leo Villareal, to create site-specific, room-size installations out of unorthodox materials such as insects, tires and glass marbles.
During the renovation, the architectural firm Westlake Reed Leskosky uncovered and restored original architectural details, including two long-concealed ceiling vaults. A state-of-the-art LED lighting system, in development since 2012, is expected to reduce the building’s energy use by 70%.
The Renwick was a favourite of the former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who successfully fought to save the building from demolition in the 1960s. The building was originally intended to house William Wilson Corcoran’s private art collection, but was taken over by the federal government during the Civil War. As a tribute to Corcoran, the Renwick will install a 3-D print of his favourite sculpture, Greek Slave (1873), by Hiram Powers.
“The Renwick Gallery is the first purpose-built art museum in America and an architectural masterpiece; we are delighted to renew this great historic building for the next half-century,” says Betsy Broun, the director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, in a statement.