About the Museum / American Art
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About the American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery

Lincoln Gallery

The museum's modern and contemporary art collection is on display in the historic Lincoln Gallery. Photo by Ken Rahaim

The Smithsonian American Art Museum, the nation's first collection of American art, is an unparalleled record of the American experience. The collection captures the aspirations, character and imagination of the American people throughout three centuries. The museum is the home to one of the largest and most inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal key aspects of America's rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today. More than 7,000 artists are represented in the collection, including major masters, such as John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, Mary Cassatt, Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence, Helen Frankenthaler, Christo, David Hockney, Jenny Holzer, Lee Friedlander, Roy Lichtenstein, Nam June Paik, Martin Puryear, and Robert Rauschenberg.

The American Art Museum's Mission

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is dedicated to collecting, understanding, and enjoying American art. The Museum celebrates the extraordinary creativity of artists whose works reflect the American experience and global connections.

The museum has been a leader in identifying and collecting significant aspects of American visual culture. American Art has the largest collection of New Deal art and the finest collections of contemporary craft, American impressionist paintings, and masterpieces from the Gilded Age. Other pioneering collections include photography, modern folk art, work by African American and Latino artists, images of western expansion, and realist art from the first half of the twentieth century. In recent years, the museum has focused on strengthening our contemporary art collection, and in particular media arts, through acquisitions and by commissioning new artworks.

The museum's main building, a National Historic Landmark located in the heart of Washington's downtown cultural district, has been meticulously renovated with expanded permanent-collection galleries and innovative public spaces. The Luce Foundation Center for American Art, the first visible art storage and study center in Washington, allows visitors to browse more than 3,300 works from the collection. It adjoins the Lunder Conservation Center, which is shared with the National Portrait Gallery, the first art conservation facility to allow the public permanent behind-the-scenes views of the preservation work of museums.

National Outreach

Early American Art

The museum's early American Art collection.

In addition to a robust exhibition program in Washington, D.C., the museum maintains a highly regarded traveling exhibition program. It has circulated hundreds of exhibitions since the program was established in 1951. During the renovation of the museum's main building, staff organized a series of exhibitions of more than 1,000 major artworks from American Art's permanent collection that traveled to 105 venues across the United States. More than 2.5 million visitors saw these exhibitions. Since 2006, the museum has toured an additional 13 exhibitions to more than 30 cities. We currently have several major exhibitions touring the United States.

The museum is a leader in providing electronic resources to schools and the public through its national education program. We offer an array of interactive activities online featuring rich media assets that can easily be used by anyone, as well as Artful Connections, real-time video conference tours. The museum offers several professional development programs for educators, including The Clarice Smith National Teacher Institutes in which interdisciplinary teams learn to integrate art across the curriculum using Web 2.0 applications, such as podcasts, wikis, and blogs.

Museum staff maintain six online research databases with more than 500,000 records, including the Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture that document more than 400,000 artworks in public and private collections worldwide. Each year, thousands of researchers contact the museum directly for assistance, and millions of virtual visitors from across the globe use the database resources available online. Save Outdoor Sculpture, a joint project between the museum and Heritage Preservation, is dedicated to the documentation and preservation of outdoor sculpture. We also produce American Art, a peer-reviewed periodical for new scholarship.

American Art has been engaging audiences online since 1993 when we launched one of the earliest museum websites through America Online; our stand-alone site, AmericanArt.si.edu, was launched in 1995. The museum now uses an array of social media sites to connect with online communities, including Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Flickr. American Art staff produces numerous videos, also available through iTunes U and Art Babble, which feature voices of artists, curators, museum staff, visiting lecturers and students. Through email notifications we provide updates on upcoming exhibitions, exciting programs, and behind-the-scenes looks at the museum.

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