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William T. Wiley

Portrait of Radon
1982
watercolor, felt-tipped pen, and ink
22 1/4 x 29 7/8 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase

William Wiley's humorous and quirky parody of a map of the United States refers to darker meanings. The diagonal line stretching from New York to Los Angeles represents a virtual highway—twelve lanes wide and one foot deep—constructed of radioactive tailings from the country's nuclear power plants. These tailings exude radon, a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas.