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Wood Work

Grant Wood and "American Gothic" come to the Renwick.

7:00 AM, Mar 10, 2006 • By KATHERINE MANGU-WARD
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The exhibit ends with a fizzle. The display of a vase, a fabric pattern, and an armchair/chaise lounge barely manage to capture the visual appetite after the dynamic duo of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere and American Gothic.

The Renwick has to return American Gothic before the exhibit ends (Chicago wants it back for tourist season), so it's understandable that they had to devise another finale, but still: an armchair and a vase?

All told, the exhibit is quite spiffy, and the star painting is, as Paul Cantor notes, worth returning to after all the parodies. And even if regionalism isn't your thing, the building housing the Renwick is reason enough to visit the museum. Saved from destruction by Jackie Kennedy in the '50s, it sits on prime real estate, right across the "street"--or, as the closed-off section of Pennsylvania Ave. is now known, the roller hockey rink--from the White House. The old-fashioned, jammed, rose-colored Grand Salon alone is worth the trip.

Adopted by the Smithsonian in 1965, the Renwick now calls itself the "Smithsonian American Art Museum: Renwick Gallery." Perhaps the strange fondness for art ephemera that so galls me stems from the museum's original charter, to be a "gallery of art, crafts, and design." Its original purpose was to be something apart, something different from a plain ol' art museums. And in that, it succeeds.

Grant Wood's Studio: Birthplace of "American Gothic" at the Renwick Gallery. Showing March 10 through July 16, 2006.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a 2005 Phillips Foundation Fellow.