Director’s Letter: Reopened and Reimagined

Transforming the museum’s modern and contemporary galleries into spaces for wonder and reflection

 Stephanie Stebich, SAAM's Margaret and Terry Stent Direction in the museum's Lincoln Gallery. Photo by Gene Young. 
Stephanie Stebich
The Margaret and Terry Stent Director, Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery
September 22, 2023
A photograph of a woman standing next to an artwork

SAAM's Director Stephanie Stebich in front of Louise Nevelson's Sky Cathedral. Photo by Libby Weiler

Reopened and Reimagined  

I invite you to join me in exploring American Voices and Visions: Modern and Contemporary Art, our renovated and reimagined galleries that transform the museum’s third floor into spaces for wonder and reflection. This opening is the first phase of a multiyear renewal and reinstallation of SAAM’s permanent collection galleries, which will be completed by 2026 to honor America’s semiquincentennial.  

The reinstallation invites essential conversations around who is included in the story of American art. It would be too simplistic to reduce the development of art in the United States to a linear series of artistic movements since it is a messy, dynamic, ever-evolving history that reflects the American experience through a multitude of perspectives and geographies. As the flagship museum for American art, this initial reinstallation of our collection is an important marker in revisiting dominant narratives to illuminate often-overlooked contributions, something that will echo throughout the reinstallation of all our galleries over the coming years.  

Our talented curatorial and education staff collaborated on an interpretative approach that emphasizes the individual voices of the artists represented through first-person quotes. The selected works on view highlight established strengths of the museum’s collection, such as its leading collections of work by Black and self-taught artists, while featuring new areas of collection growth since the last time the collection was rehung in 2006, including post-World War II and contemporary art, time-based media, and Latinx art. I am excited to see on view the newly acquired works for the collection by Firelei Báez, Tseng Kwong Chi, Audrey Flack, Alison Saar, Hank Willis Thomas, and Kay WalkingStick, among others.  

The galleries, redesigned by notable architect Annabelle Selldorf and the team at her eponymous firm Selldorf Architects, now feature larger and uninterrupted expanses of wall space for the display of art and a dedicated space for time-based media, which opens with the recently acquired major video installation by Carrie Mae Weems, Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me—A Story in Five Parts.   

Heartfelt thanks and deep appreciation to those who joined us and supported us on this transformative journey. 

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