If you ever wondered…

These days  it’s not enough for art  to just sit around looking pretty. To be noticed in a world exploding with new  digital stimuli vying for our attention ever minute, art has to grab you by the short and curlies in order to gain a precious nano second’s attention. An exhibition that delivers just that and more, is the Wonder exhibit at the Smithsonian’s newly renovated Renwick Gallery in Washington DC.

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Tara Donovan’s monumental towers created from styrene index cards

The exhibition perfectly conveys the textbook definition of its title, Wonder: a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable. Each of the jaw-dropping, logic-defying, inspirational installations has one wondering a) how on earth the artists thought up and actually produced these creations and b) what on earth will artists think up next?

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Gabriel Dawe’s Plexus, recreates a stunning rainbow out of woven thread, wood, hooks and steel

My favorite installation was Patrick Dougherty’s Shindig, an installation made entirely out of willow saplings. The large gallery space was tansformed into a wondrous world of fantasy where for a fleeting instance, one could forget one’s human origins and imagine an alternate existence nestled in a natural world of inexpressible beauty.

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I am awed and diminished by the scale and intricacy of Dougherty’s masterful creation
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Wonder is the perfect art experience for all ages

Another dazzling spectacle was the room decorated by artist Jennifer Angus. But like all the works in this exhibition, the intricate design patterns on the walls are not what they seem at first glance….

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On closer inspection the wallpaper is made of thousands of bugs!!!!

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What all the works in this exhibition have in common is the immersive, experiential  and multi sensory adventure that they offer museum visitors. This is the new wave, the new frontier in art and the museum goes a step further by embracing our ubiquitous image sharing culture…

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The Renwick is experiencing an unanticipated flood of visitors. And no wonder (pun intended) – the lady at the information desk told us that this is the happiest museum exhibition she can ever recall!

Visit Wonder at the Renwick through July, 2016.

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Art brings out the best of DC

I have been known to bash the Washington DC art scene for its lack of verve, daring, general lackluster audience and unfriendly artists.  It’s nice to be proven wrong, even if it does only occur every two years. Last night I attended the final evening of Artomatic and was pleasantly surprised. Artomatic is a month-long art festival held every two years in DC that is free to the general public. It celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and featured over 1,000 visual artists and 600 performing artists.

Imagine an empty about-to-be-renovated office building being turned over to a multitude of artists before the construction crews start ripping it apart. It is quite an incredible concept not to mention a fabulous use of the space, bringing out the creative underbelly of the city. I participated several years ago (see an example of my Seated Narratives gouache series below, several of which sold at the event). Artomatic works because the concept is a win-win, and the rules are simple – register, pay a nominal fee, lay claim to a section of wall, schlep in your artwork (anything goes) and set up your own pop-up gallery. Voila! Now wait for the throngs to come and hopefully catch the eye of gallery owners, buyers, curators, media or even snag some prestigious awards from the Renwick Museum.

Starting on the 11th floor and working my way down, I came across a poetry slam, a headless paper mache deer, graffiti art, intricate pencil drawings, talking bicycles, blue grass fiddlers, doggie portraits, hundreds of photographs of pouty women, murals, a crushed soda can installation, wannabe Rothko painters, toilet-seat handbags and circuit board tapestries. You get the idea – the art ranges from downright ugly to unexpected treasures. Here are just some of my favorite picks:

Ellen Hill Clusters
Ellen Hill Clusters

Gregory Ferrand

Ellen Hill’s acrylic work on carved birch is really unique and had me standing there looking at the works for quite some time, while Ferrand’s paintings just grab you with their originality and execution. Both these artists had a number of those coveted red dots beneath their works. Congrats!

Emily Piccirillo
Donna McCullough
(A word about Donna – we have both recently been published in the coffee table book Humor in Craft available on Amazon)

I also identified with a very clever installation by Deb Jansen entitled Manifesto to Mom. Jansen has recreated her parents living room, and riffs on what is or is not art, while touching upon the early influences which shape the type of art artists end up creating.

There were quite a few more which I encourage you to check out – Zofie Lang whose dark interpretations of fairy tales were channeled into gorgeous box constructions (she snagged an award), and Mary Annella Frank’s oversized assemblages made from a variety of found and constructed objects.

I believe this type of art event is unique to Washington DC. Are there any other cities with similar events?? It would be great if this caught on nationwide. I even got myself a nice little art purchase – check out the very appealing way in which artist Christopher Grady manipulates photographs with collage and color bars. I like!!

Untitled #17 by Christopher Grady