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Smithsonian American Art Museum Acquires Significant Modern and Contemporary Works

Media only: Laura Baptiste (202) 275-1595

The Smithsonian American Art Museum continues a major acquisitions campaign focused on modern and contemporary artists. In the past year, the museum has purchased Oscar Bluemner's "Evening Tones" (1911–1917), Liz Larner's "Bird in Space" (1989) and H. C. Westermann's "Westermann's Table" (1966). David Hockney's "Snails Space with Vari-Lites, 'Painting as Performance' " (1995–1996) and Nam June Paik's "Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii" (1995) entered the collection as gifts.

"As we plan for reopening the museum July 4, 2006, one of the top priorities continues to be strengthening the modern and contemporary collections," said Elizabeth Broun, the museum's Margaret and Terry Stent Director. "We are thrilled to add these exceptional works by world-renowned artists to the collection, thanks to the generosity of museum supporters."

"Snails Space with Vari-Lites, 'Painting as Performance' " is the culmination of David Hockney's lifelong interest in the interaction of space, time, light and color. It builds on Hockney's experience as a theatrical set designer and is rooted in his conviction that space is relative, subjective and dynamic. This piece, a 22-foot wall painting with interlocking shapes that lie on the floor, is intended to be installed in a darkened gallery and illuminated by colored lights that change in a programmed sequence. As the lights change, the shapes appear to project and recede and the mood of the piece changes. "Snails Space with Vari-Lites," which was exhibited at the museum in 1997 to popular acclaim, is a gift of Nan Tucker McEvoy of San Francisco.

Nam June Paik's "Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii" features 343 television monitors showing state-related videos and classic films like "Oklahoma," "Showboat" and "The Wizard of Oz." Overlaid with a neon map outlining the 50 United States, this video wall celebrates the geographic and cultural richness of America and will be a signature piece when the museum reopens. This work complements two other video installations by Paik in the museum's collection, "Technology" (1991) and "Megatron/Matrix" (1995).

H. C. Westermann's place in modern American sculpture owes much to his tour-de-force craftsmanship and his ability to invent psychologically powerful images. His delight in puns is a hallmark of "Westermann's Table," in which a stack of antique books bolted to a table teases the viewer to read volumes that cannot be opened. "Westermann's Table" was featured in the recent nationally touring retrospective organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. This piece is a museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment.

In Liz Larner's "Bird in Space," two intersecting arcs of nylon cord soar across 40 feet. One arc recalls Constantin Brancusi's classically modern sculpture of the same title from 1928. Larner's "Bird in Space" epitomizes her interest in sculptural work that uses the formal roots of modernism to question traditional notions of space, mass and volume. Larner, who is based in Los Angeles, was the 2002 recipient of the museum's Lucelia Artist Award, established to recognize annually an American artist who has produced a significant body of artwork that demonstrates exceptional creativity. "Bird in Space" is a gift of Susan and Leonard Nimoy and museum purchase in part through the Gene Davis Memorial Fund.

Oscar Bluemner's brilliance as a colorist and his mastery of modernist vocabulary coalesce in his painting "Evening Tones," a rare early masterpiece from 1911–1917 that joins Matisse's intense palette with Picasso's geometric forms. Bluemner's background as an architect is revealed in the carefully constructed space that is filled with brilliant blues, yellows, green, and reds. This painting is a gift of James F. Dicke II and museum purchase made possible by the American Art Forum, the Julia D. Strong Endowment and the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment.

These acquisitions are the latest effort by the museum to strengthen its modern and contemporary collections and to support contemporary art and artists through acquisitions and awards. These works join other recent acquisitions including "Monekana" (2001) by Deborah Butterfield, "Honor Pythagoras, Per I–Per VI" (1964) by Alfred Jensen, "Sollie 17" (1979–1980) by Edward and Nancy Reddin Kienholz, "Bower" (1980) by Martin Puryear, a master set of prints (1982–2001) from Sean Scully and two box constructions and 40 collages (1932–1970) by Joseph Cornell.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum collection began with gifts of art donated to the federal government in 1829 and has evolved into the world's most important American art holdings with approximately 40,000 artworks in all media spanning more than three centuries.

While the renovation of the museum's historic building continues, American Art offers a full program of exhibitions at its Renwick Gallery (Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W.). For information about Renwick Gallery activities, call (202) 357-2700 or visit the museum's award-winning Web site at

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