Washington, D.C. Sights

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Renwick Gallery Review

The Renwick Gallery is a luscious French Second Empire–style building across the street from the White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. But even with such lofty neighbors, it is still the most appealing architecture on the block. This was the first purpose-built museum in Washington, D.C., and it was known at the time as "the American Louvre." The words "dedicated to art" are engraved above the entrance. Designed by James Renwick in 1859 to hold the art collection of Washington merchant and banker William Wilson Corcoran, the National Historic Landmark building today is a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, housing the museum's collection of decorative art and crafts. The building's interior matches the architecture—much red velvet and gold trim—but the exquisitely crafted works on display have a modern and witty edge. Larry Fuente's 1988 sculpture Game Fish is a marlin fashioned entirely out of vintage toys—Superman and Gumby are represented, as well as dice, yo-yos, and dominoes. Best of all is Kim Schahmann's 1993–99 Bureau of Bureaucracy: a beautifully crafted wooden cabinet full of cupboards to nowhere, bottomless drawers, drawers within drawers, hidden compartments, and more, a wonderful metaphor for the labyrinthine workings of government. The Grand Salon houses a display of landscapes, portraits, and allegorical works. At this writing the gallery was scheduled to close temporarily for renovations in early 2014.

Updated: 06-05-2013

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