Tag Archives: Renwick Gallery

Burning Man at the Renwick (1)

The Renwick Gallery, the branch of the Smithsonian Institution dedicated to American crafts and decorative arts, is currently presenting a knockout of an exhibition called “No Spectators: The Art Of Burning Man”.

Finally made my first visit a few weeks ago.


“Abandon All Inhibitions, Ye Who Enter Here.”

Admission to the Renwick is free. Tickets for this year’s Burning Man Festival in Black Rock Desert, Nevada, ranged from $190 to $1,200.

Burning Man Haute Couture

Last year, a group called Catharsis on the Mall asked for approval to install a 45-foot-tall sculpture of a nude woman on the National Mall, near the Washington Monument. For some reason, the National Park Service rejected the application.

What we did get was this artifact at the Renwick. She’s not 45-feet-tall, but she gradually changes colour.

The Dragonmobile

The Inevitability of VR

No contemporary art installation is complete without a sampling of Virtual Reality. The monitor at the top of the picture shows a flat-screen version of what the user is experiencing in VR.

We’ve been hearing that the big VR breakthrough is just around the corner since—Let’s see now, Neal Stephenson published Snow Crash in 1992, and 2018 minus 1992 equals 26—more than a quarter-century ago. Gotta say, Oculus Rift is looking really tempting these days.


“Murder Is Her Hobby” — Deadly Dioramas at the Renwick Gallery

It was a beautiful day in Washington, so I took a leisurely 20-minute walk to the Renwick Gallery, which houses the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection of contemporary craft and decorative art.

An exhibition of the works of Frances Glessner Lee opened at the Renwick over the weekend. You’ve probably never heard of her; I certainly hadn’t.

Lee was the first female police captain in the U.S. She’s known, by people who know that sort of thing, as “mother of forensic science,” for helping to found the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard. And beginning in the 1940s, she created the “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death”.

The Nutshell Studies are intricately-detailed miniature dioramas of crime scenes, used to train police how to find and evaluate evidence, and to determine what took place at the scene of the crime. The 19 surviving dioramas, of the original 20, are still in use at the Maryland Medical Examiner’s Office in Baltimore. They’ll be on display at the Renwick through 28 January 2018, and they’re quite wonderful.

Next to each miniature model is a summary of the basic facts of the case: Who found the body, the known history of the victim, etc. The viewer is invited to examine the diorama and attempt to determine what happened. Murder, suicide, or accident?

So whodunit? The Renwick provides no solutions to the cases, since Lee’s models are still used to test trainees. Except for this exhibition, in fact, the dioramas are not available for public viewing.

Frances Glessner Lee died in 1962, but her influence lives on. During her lifetime, Erle Stanley Gardner, the author of the Perry Mason novels, dedicated several of the books to Lee. Much more recently, the television series CSI and The Father Brown Mysteries have featured episodes that involved Lee-inspired crime dioramas.

It was a pleasant if ever-so-slightly morbid way to spend an afternoon.

Here’s the Renwick’s exhibition video:

All images came from the Renwick.