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What's It All Mean?

William T. Wiley in Retrospect


Exhibition Slideshow

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ZOOMIFY In the Name of (Not to Worry It’s Juxtaposition)

In the Name of (Not to Worry It’s Juxtaposition), 1982, a: acrylic, felt-tipped pen, ink and charcoal on canvas; b: paper umbrella, plywood, sticks, cardboard roller, rubber ball, sheet metal, wire, etc., watercolor, pencil, felt-tipped pen, and ink on paper, a: 102 inches. x 127 inches.; b: 52 x 45 x 19 1/8 inches; c: sheet = 25 x 38 inches, © William T. Wiley, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Photograph by Gene Young




ZOOMIFY Meridian Moons Overwhatarewe

Meridian Moons Overwhatarewe, 2006, mixed media on canvas, 60 1/4 x 85 1/2 inches, © William T. Wiley, Anonymous San Francisco Collectors, Photography courtesy of John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, California, Photograph by John Wilson White






Interview with Artist William T. Wiley


Artist William T. Wiley sits down to discuss his retrospective and what it all means. He touches on his life's work, from the California art scene in the 1960s to the influence of Zen and keeping an open mind.

Films by Artist William T. Wiley

Films by William T. Wiley Artist William Wiley has given special permission to exhibit his film works here on the occasion of his retrospective.

    "I identify with Fellini's Character in 8 1/2 who says, 'I don't have anything to say but I want to say that."
    --William T. Wiley

The questions that Ludwig Wittgenstein asks about how we categorize and understand concepts point to the intricate web of associations that constitutes our attitudes and responses to objects we encounter in our daily lives. William Wiley's wanting "to say that" captures his playful treatment of language, performance, and the image, an approach that conveys the uncanny quality of a bricoleur who gathers into his artwork a free-assiciating mix of words, gestures, and figures. A body of films that Wiley created between 1963 and 1974, in particular, stands out for the way they employ image and sound to offer observations about the world around us. With a delicacy and sureness of touch, the films that Wiley either contributed to or directed, including Plastic Haircut, The Great Blondino, The Off Handed Jape ... & How to Pull It Off, and Man's Nature, playfully interrogate the fictions we create and how we pose ourselves within those fictions. These films explore how stories and attitudes that we knit together further reflect the myriad sources of information and experience that make up our daily existence and invade our dream worlds.

Original music by Artist William T. Wiley

It Was a Little Laughter the Our by William T. Wiley

The artist William T. Wiley has made music and musical references persistent features of his art, whether in performance or in visual references and titles. Selections of his lyrical works have been made available on the American Art Museum's Podcast page.


National Tour

After closing in Washington, D.C., the exhibition will travel to the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California (March 17, 2010 — July 18, 2010).


Berkeley Art Museum/
Pacific Film Archive
(March 17, 2010–
July 18, 2010)



Find links to this and other traveling American Art Exhibitions here on the Traveling Exhibitions Map.

What's It All Mean: William T. Wiley in Retrospect

The accompanying book, co-published by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and University of California Press, includes essays by Joann Moser; John Hanhardt, consulting senior curator for film and media arts; and John Yau, poet and critic. It is available in the Museum Store and online for $65 (hardcover) or $39.95 (paperback) (Member price, $52/$32).

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