At the Renwick, architecture’s fabric.
A Renwick Gallery installation turns layers of fabric into depictions of nine ornate ceilings from landmark U.S. buildings
Ribbons of gray, coral and pink swirl overhead in the second-floor gallery at the Renwick Gallery before forming an intricate vaulted ceiling. Illusions of domes and boxes appear and then fall away as viewers move through the room. Realism turns abstract.
The overhead magic is created by “Parallax Gap,” a new installation that plays with perspective and illusion as it transforms the museum’s stately Grand Salon.
Commissioned by the museum for the large room where Janet Echelman’s woven sculpture, “1.8 Renwick,” was displayed, the work depicts nine ceilings from 19th- and 20th-century buildings, including designs from Philadelphia City Hall, the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco and the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building across Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.
Layers of fabric stretched on frames are hung in layers from above. The work spans 67 by 38 feet and takes up 10,000 square feet, but it still allows parts of the gallery’s own ornate ceiling and skylights to peek through. The individual ceilings overlap and collide with one another, depending on a visitor’s point of view. Its name plays on its jumpy perspective, as a kind of optical interaction.
Brennan Buck and David Freedland, partners at the architecture practice FreelandBuck, created the piece, which was selected by the museum in its “ABOVE the Renwick” competition in 2015. It will remain on view through Feb. 11.
“Parallax Gap,” which is the first architecturally focused work commissioned by the Renwick, pushes the definition of craft in the same way the nine site-specific works in “Wonder” did, says Abraham Thomas, curator-in-charge of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s satellite space for contemporary craft and decorative arts. “Wonder” was the blockbuster exhibition that celebrated the Renwick’s reopening in 2015 after a two-year, $30 million renovation.
Thomas said he wants to build on the experimental nature of that show, which pushed the boundaries of American craft to include large-scale works of contemporary art. This installation’s focus on architectural is the next step in defining craft as a process, he said.
“Craft is a verb, not just an object. It is an attitude,” he said.