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Exhibitions

Artworks by African Americans from the Collection

September 1, 2016 – February 28, 2017

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William H. Johnson, Man in a Vest, 1939-1940, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is home to an extraordinary collection of artworks by African Americans with more than 2,000 objects by more than 200 artists. In celebration of the 2016 Grand Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, SAAM will display 184 of its most important artworks by African Americans, adding 48 objects to the 136 currently on view in the galleries throughout the museum’s building and Luce Foundation Center. From William H. Johnson’s vibrant portrayals of faith and family to Mickalene Thomas’s contemporary exploration of black female identity, SAAM’s holdings reflect its long-standing commitment to black artists and the acquisition, preservation, and display of their works.

The featured artworks cover centuries of creative expression, powerfully evoking themes both universal and specific to the African American experience. They include painting, sculpture, and textiles, and represent numerous artistic styles, ranging from realism to neoclassicism, abstract expressionism and modernism. Many mirror the tremendous social and political change occurring during the Jazz Age and Harlem Renaissance, the post-war years and the civil rights movement into present day. A number of works, including James Hampton’s iconic The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly (1950–64), are included in the museum’s folk and self-taught art galleries, which reopened to the public October 21, 2016 following a major reinstallation.

Visitor favorites by Loïs Mailou Jones and Jacob Lawrence; abstractions by Washington’s own Sam Gilliam, Felrath Hines and Alma Thomas; contemporary works by Mark Bradford, Faith Ringgold and Mickalene Thomas; key pieces by self-taught artists such as Clementine Hunter and Purvis Young; and influential works by Benny Andrews, John Biggers, Edmonia Lewis and Augusta Savage are included in the installation. A selection from the museum’s in-depth collections of works by William H. Johnson and Henry Ossawa Tanner are displayed throughout the galleries and in the Luce Foundation Center.

The artworks will be arranged chronologically and thematically throughout the permanent collection galleries. A complete list of works on display is available through February in a brochure [PDF] at the information desks.