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Two Craft Pieces Highlight Renwick Gallery's New Acquisitions

Contact: Emily Winetz winetze[at]
Tel: (202) 275-1594
American Art's Web site:
Recorded information: (202) 633-8998

"Bureau of Bureaucracy," Kim Schmahmann's monumental cabinet sculpture that explores both the positive and negative aspects of bureaucracy, and "Pair of Prickly Pears," Jon Eric Riis' tapestries that create a play on words about pairs found in nature, highlight recent acquisitions of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery.

"'Bureau of Bureaucracy' and 'Pair of Prickly Pears' are two of the most spectacular pieces that have entered the collection recently," said Kenneth Trapp, curator-in-charge of the Renwick. "Our acquisition of these works further demonstrates our commitment to collecting clay, fiber, glass, metal and wood."

Schmahmann's piece (1993–1999), an anonymous donation to the Renwick, uses the northern European cabinet of curiosities as an extended metaphor about bureaucracy. At first glance the piece appears to be a well-designed example of superb cabinetwork, but opening the piece reveals a puzzle of considerable complexity. Doors open to reveal rows of drawers that are hidden, solid, bottomless, or that open to hold a drawer-within-a-drawer-within-a-drawer. Books titled "Power," "Rationality" and "Humanity" push against one another on a shelf, with "Humanity" about to fall off.

As the European cabinet of curiosities was a showcase for a collector's treasures such as gems, porcelain, minerals, fossils and coins, "Bureau of Bureaucracy" contains documents important to the artist. Drawers at the bottom of the piece possess items such as birth certificates, graduation diplomas, financial statements and marriage certificates that result from bureaucracy and that have come to define an individual's life.

"I thought it fitting to create a contemporary cabinet of curiosities, which would be designed to display the precious objects of our time—documents—and invite reflection on one of the most important institutions of our modern age, the .bureaucracy," said Schmahmann, a resident of Cambridge, Mass.

The tapestries 'Pair of Prickly Pears' (1997), created for the American Tapestry Biannual II held in Jon Eric Riis' hometown of Atlanta, Ga., feature two pears as a play on words about pairs found in nature. Riis embellishes the surface of these textiles, as is his practice in many of his works, to produce a cactus like surface for these pieces of fruit. He shows the elegant aspect of textiles that cannot be achieved with wool, through the use of silk, metallic threads and glass seed beads to give a sheen to the surface. The piece was a gift to the Renwick from the Smithsonian Women's Committee.

"'Bureau of Bureaucracy' and 'Pair of Prickly Pears' embody the finest craftsmanship and at the same time each is imbued with profound content," said Trapp. "These two pieces epitomize the level of quality that we want to see represented in the museum's craft collection."

The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum is dedicated to exhibiting American crafts from the 19th to the 21st century. The Renwick is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street, N.W., near the Farragut North (Red line) and Farragut West (Blue and Orange lines) Metrorail stations. Museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is free. Public information: (202) 357-2700; (202) 786-2393 (TTY); (202) 633-9126 (Spanish). Recorded information: (202) 633-8998. Please visit the .museum's award-winning Web site at