Sara Johnson "The Final Stop" by Rick Araluce

Below the soaring room in Washington, D.C.'s Renwick Gallery that housed Janet Echelman's "1.8" and now holds FreelandBuck's “Parallax Gap,” Seattle-based scenic designer Rick Araluce has constructed a very different installation: a model of an abandoned subway station, complete with hints of trains that do not appear.

"The Final Stop" is one of a pair of new exhibitions at the Renwick—the other is a series of miniature murder scenes by Frances Glessner Lee, who Araluce cites as an inspiration. Araluce's site-specific work at the Renwick is a follow-up to another installation, "The Great Northern," that opened last year. Displayed at MadArt Studio in Seattle, his first rail tunnel was based on the city's real-life rail tunnel of the same name.

"I didn’t want to create a specific tunnel like I did with the Great Northern, that was a very specific historic tunnel," Araluce says. "I wanted to make a mash-up, if you will, or a combination, an aggregation of the subway experience, hence these particular kind of coved ceilings which could be New York or a number of cities, and yet brick architecture which could reference London or European or older poured concrete sorts of forms, which could reference any kind of concrete structure from the turn of the century, the last century."

Sara Johnson
Sara Johnson A view into one of the scenes on the back of the installation

He called on his experience in set design for the project, and the building materials are not what they seem: bricks are painted installation foam and tiles are painted Masonite. Sounds and lights indicate an approaching train. But unlike with a stage set, here, his audience can get up close.

"The intention is for this to be something that you can look right at, and go, 'Oh, that’s wood,'" Araluce says. "That’s part of what I do is transform materials by handling, by painting."

Araluce's installation, while a human-scaled diorama on one side, is also an object in a gallery. The object's wood shell is positioned to allow visitors to walk around behind the set, and shadow-box dioramas in the shell itself further contort the installation's sense of scale.

"The Final Stop" runs through Jan. 28, 2018.