The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Exhibitions
The Renwick Gallery was designed by architect James Renwick who also designed the Smithsonian Institution Building, known as the Castle. The gallery was commissioned by the wealthy banker William Wilson Corcoran (1798-1888) to house his personal art collection. Construction began in 1859 and was nearing completion as the Civil War began in 1861.
A confederate sympathizer, Corcoran bankrolled much of the confederacy’s activities and fled to France. The building was then commandeered by the Union Army for office space. Corcoran returned to the US after the war was over, but was not allowed to open his gallery until 1874, and only as a public art gallery. It was the first public museum built in the nation’s capital. Corcoran’s collection soon outgrew the small building across from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, and he built a much larger museum nearby on 17th Street.
Renwick’s building was sold to the US government in 1901 and served for many years as the home for the US Court of Claims. During the 1960s, Pennsylvania Avenue underwent a redevelopment that looked at the state and use of historic buildings. Jacqueline Kennedy was concerned about the Renwick-designed building (which had been altered significantly when its grand spaces were chopped up into offices) as she sought to also restore the Lafayette Square area across from the White House. Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley toured the building and envisioned it as a unique outpost of the on-Mall Smithsonian. The gallery sits next to Blair House, the guest house for distinguished White House visitors. Ripley’s initial plan for the building was to display temporary exhibits related to the current international visitor to Blair House, highlighting the art, history and culture of his or her nation.
This Court of Claims building was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1966 and underwent significant restoration before it opened as a museum in 1972. However, the State Department proved uninterested in the link to Blair House and Ripley’s plan never came to fruition. The first director, Lloyd Herman, developed it into a museum of American craft. As he noted, the beautiful Renwick-designed building was a major part of the gallery’s exhibit. The gallery thrived as a home to American crafts and decorative arts, and was made part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The Renwick gallery reopened this past week after an extensive renovation, which included the restoration of its original vaulted ceilings on the second floor, re-creation of the building’s original window configuration, salvage and repair of its original moldings and wainscoting, and preservation of historic finishes. The heating, air conditioning, electrical, plumbing and fire-suppression systems were replaced. The security, phone and data communication systems were upgraded. The building’s basement was renovated for curatorial and staff offices, as well as art storage facilities. In the interior, an all-LED lighting system was installed. Wireless systems were also installed throughout the building to be used for both artist installations and visitor interpretation. On the exterior, bricks were repointed, stucco was repaired, and the roof was replaced.
The museum’s debut exhibition is Wonder, an immersive artwork by nine leading contemporary artists. Jennifer Angus, Chakaia Booker, Gabriel Dawe, Tara Donovan, Patrick Dougherty, Janet Echelman, John Grade, Maya Lin, and Leo Villareal are each taking over a gallery, creating site-specific installations inspired by the Renwick.
- On Monday, October 19, David Skorton was installed at the Thirteenth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. [via The Torch, SI]
- Be proactive - Save web content now before it disappears. [via The Atlantic]
- The General Services Administration, which owns one of the nation's oldest and largest public art collections with over 26,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, new media, and more, lauunched a online gallery of public art. [via InfoDocket]
- Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty opens today at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and is the first museum retrospective of Penn's work in twenty years. [via Eye Level blog, SAAM]
- Unintended consequences - A drought in Mexico allows a 400 year old church to emerge in a resevoir. [via Colossal]
- You see them everyday, but did you know the history behind gylphs like the hashtag and slash? [via Wired]
- If were not able to make it to The Tate Modern to see the 130-foot art installation by Sara Fanelli that provided museumgoers with a sprawling roadmap showing the major artistic movements and important artists of the 20th century you can experience it in the video below. [via OpenCulture]
- Prepare to be wowed as the National Museum of Natural History prepares the Nation's T. Rex for the new National Fossil Hall. [via Washington Post]
- RIP library catalog cards, you will be missed - After nearly 2 billion printed, OCLC printed its last library catalog card. [via InfoDocket]
- List of digitization priorities at NARA. [via NARAtions blog, NARA]
- Congratulations to the Archives own Pamela Henson, Historian, who was awarded the Herbert Feis Award for distinguished contributions to public history from the American Historical Association. [via AHA Today blog, AHA]
- In acquisition news, the National Air and Space Museum acquired the Sally K. Ride Collection which is comprised of 182 items and 40 cubic feet of papers. [via SI Newsdesk]
- More images are available online this week: 170,000 Depression-era photos from Yale University, 226 Ansel Adams photos of American National Parks, and over 8400 photos from Apollo astronauts. [via Gizmodo, OpenCulture, and PetaPixel]
- The Archives' Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig, Electronic Records Archivist, answers questions about web archiving at the Smithsonian. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Planned for opening in Fall 2016, architect Phil Freelon, who is the leading the design team for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, talks about the design of the museum in the video below. [via NBC News]
- October is here and with it comes American Archives Month! [via Smithsonian Collections Blog]
- At the National Musem of American History - Three new collections that represent Latinas from Los Angeles, California. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- Aspiring artist? The National Portrait Gallery's Teen Portrait Contest runs through the end of October, so turn in your submissions today! [via NPG]
- You may have heard, but scientists have discovered the presence of water on Mars! [via AirSpace blog, NASM]
- Out this week - The Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Toolkit, a "tool that provides information and resources to help federal agencies use the power of public participation to help solve scientific and societal problems." [via NARAtions blog, NARA]
- A new exhibit at Throckmorton Fine Art in New York, Mexican Photography: Women Pioneers I, presents black-and-white images from some of Mexico’s most celebrated female photographers. [via Lens, NYT]
- For fans of DC - A video visualizing early Washington, DC. [via Ghosts of DC]