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The Waiting Room

1959 George Tooker Born: New York, New York 1920 Died: Hartland, Vermont 2011 egg tempera on wood 24 x 30 in. (61.0 x 76.2 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. 1969.47.43 Smithsonian American Art Museum
Luce Foundation Center, 4th Floor, 38B

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The Waiting Room
from American Art staff

Luce Center Quote

“The Waiting Room is a kind of purgatory---people just waiting---waiting to wait. It is not living. It is a matter of waiting---not being one’s self. Not enjoying life, not being happy, waiting, always waiting for something that might be better---which never comes. Why can’t they just enjoy the moment?” The artist, quoted in Garver, George Tooker, 1985

Luce Center Label

George Tooker grew frustrated with the bureaucracy while trying to obtain building permits for a house he bought in New York. He painted several images that show “faceless” government workers and run-down people getting nowhere (Garver, George Tooker, 1985). The clinical interior of The Waiting Room evokes the conformity of the 1950s and emphasizes the pale, drawn expressions on the figures. The people stand in numbered boxes, evoking ideas of standardization that force people into predefined categories. The man on the left appears to be in charge of the “sorting,” creating a sinister view of government scrutiny.


Architecture Interior - civic - railroad station

Figure group

Recreation - leisure - reading

State of being - other - sleep

State of being - other - waiting


paint - tempera