Though billed as a renovation, I like to think of the reopening of the Renwick Gallery as a reimagining as well. The newly spiffed up Renwick is in mint condition, ready for the next fifty years, or more. In addition to the physical updates that include preserving numerous historical elements with new state-of-the-art infrastructure, the gallery reopens on November 13 with it's inaugural exhibition in our new space, Wonder. In this age of selfies and cell phones and so many things to distract the eye, it's refreshing to return to the life of the imagination and become reacquainted with a sense of magic moments—the marvelous and the wonderment that gives the opening exhibition its title.
But the Renwick has always been a place of wonder, enjoyment, and transformation. In 1874, the Renwick Gallery opened its doors, becoming America's first building specifically designed to display works of art to the public. More than a century later, in 1972, the Smithsonian American Art Museum began using the Renwick to host programs of traditional and modern crafts, decorative arts and architectural design.
Did you know that the Renwick Gallery was once known as the "American Louvre," in honor of the great museum in Paris? When architect James Renwick, Jr., traveled to France he was inspired by the new pavilions of the Louvre. When the building first opened a decade after the Civil War to display William Wilson Corcoran's art collection, it was hailed as the "American Louvre."
When the Renwick reopens its doors this November, the museum will be seen in a whole new light—LED lights to be more precise. Since 2012, the museum has been working to develop LED lights specifically for the Renwick that equal or exceed the aesthetics of halogen and incandescent lighting used in most museums. The new lighting system is a landmark advance in museum energy efficiency and, combined with other infrastructure improvements, will reduce the building's energy usage by 70 percent and significantly shrink the building's environmental footprint.
Another new feature of the museum harkening back to its American Louvre nomiker, will be a dramatic new carpet for the Grand Stair, designed by French architect Odile Decq in her signature red color. The carpet will appear to flow down the staircase and pool in the entrance near the lobby. The red carpet awaits your visit!
Though changes abound, so does the sense of history and artistic integrity that has always been a hallmark of the building. When you enter the building, the first words you'll encounter are etched in stone above the front door: "Dedicated to Art."
Wonder and the Renwick open its doors to the public Friday, November 13, beginning at 10 a.m.