Sometime in December, my Instagram newsfeed started filling up with pictures of some very cool artwork from the Wonder exhibition at D.C’s recently reopened Renwick Gallery. I snuck away for a weekday morning visit with girlfriends, but knew immediately I would head back again to share the magic with the rest of the family.
Wonder takes the familiar and turns it into something remarkable. Nine contemporary artists have filled the airy rooms with large-scale art installations. These awe-inspiring installations were designed and crafted for the gallery from branches, string, piles of index cards, recycled tires, and, yes, even bugs. Real, ginormous dried bugs. Just when you think that you mind has been sufficiently blown, you turn a corner or walk up a flight of stairs for more artistic, well, wonders.
That said, I think that the Renwick’s Wonder should come with a no spoiler alert promise. It’s cool to know the basics, and a few pictures should pique your curiosity, but it’s best to leave an element of surprise. And we promise the surprises are all good, unless you’re entomophobic, that is, afraid of bugs like my 9-year-old. But even she admitted that the much-talked about “bug wallpaper” in “The Midnight Garden” was pretty incredible, even if best observed while peeking around the doorway from the hall.
insider tips: exploring wonder at the renwick gallery
The Renwick Gallery is near the White House. The two nearest metro stops are Farragut West (Orange line) and Farragut North (Red line). If you’re driving, you may luck out with metered street parking (generally free on Sunday, but check for yourself) or a nearby garage.
when to go
My first visit was on a Tuesday morning right when the museum opened for the day. It was heavenly. My friends and I practically had the place to ourselves, and could move freely around the rooms. If you can swing an early morning weekday visit, by all means do. If you can’t, don’t let that stop you from visiting the gallery. My second visit was a Sunday morning. We got there 10 minutes before the museum opened and joined the line outside, fairly close to the front. The line snaked down the street, but moved quickly enough. On weekends, you can expect to wait on some lines inside. The good news is there’s always something to look at or talk about.
what to expect
It’s probably a good idea to review museum manners, even with older kids who would consider the basics (don’t touch, don’t run) common sense. As an adult, I wanted to touch EVERYTHING at Wonder. It was hard enough to keep my own hands off in many of the rooms, so it’s good to prep the kids before you even get there to avoid frequent reminders from the security guards. The good news? You can’t touch, but you can get pretty darn close and appreciate the installations from many different angles. The experience differs from a standard walk through a gallery with lots of interaction. You can duck into willow pod nests, peek around towering spires, and snuggle up on a massive floor pillow beneath the colorful netting stretched across the ceiling in the Grand Salon.
Bring a camera or delete some pictures on your phone before you arrive to avoid the dreaded “memory full” phone storage pop-up. While you can’t touch the art, guests are encouraged to snap away and share your pictures on social media. My oldest brings along her Instax Polaroid on many excursions and she enjoyed taking in the sights through her own lens.
Be prepared to park your stroller at the door at the 17th Street entrance. Strollers aren’t permitted at all on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, or on holidays and other peak visiting times. It’s best to assume that you can’t bring your stroller in and bring along a baby carrier.
We all had a lot of questions— What is this one made out of? How did the artist do this? What was the inspiration? And, are all of those bugs real? All of these questions and more are covered in the videos and author interviews that are shown on a loop in a small sitting room on the first floor. If you can’t stop to watch during your visit, you can relive a bit of Wonder from home by visiting the museum’s website.
Location: Renwick Gallery, Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street NW
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Dates: The exhibit will be closing in 2 phases: May 8, 2016 and July 10, 2016.
Facilities: There are restrooms (including family restrooms and a changing table near the gift shop) and water fountains, as well as coat racks by the front door… though we’ll keep our fingers crossed that spring is making its way here and you won’t be needing one of those!
Photographs courtesy of The Smithsonian Institute’s Website.