African American Artworks at SAAM

Splash Image - African American Artworks at SAAM
William H. Johnson's Going to Church
September 15, 2016

The Smithsonian American Art Museum boasts more than two thousand works of art in its collection by more than two-hundred African American artists. Covering centuries of creative expression, the artworks explore themes that reflect the African American experience in paintings, sculpture, prints, textiles and photographs. From an important grouping of recently acquired works by self-taught artist Bill Traylor to William H. Johnson's vibrant portrayals of faith and family, to Mickalene Thomas's contemporary exploration of black female identity, the museum's holdings reflect its long-standing commitment to black artists and the acquisition, preservation, and display of their works.

In honor of the opening of the Smithsonian's new National Museum of African American History and Culture, SAAM is showing 184 works from our collection by African American artists. The nearly two-hundred objects will remain on view on all three floors of the museum, including the Luce Foundation Center, through February 28, 2017. The artists included in SAAM's collection powerfully evoke themes both universal and specific to the African American experience. Many reflect the tremendous social and political change that occurred from the early Republic to the Civil War, rise of industry, the Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance, the post-war years, the Civil Rights movement and beyond up to the present day questions of self and society.

Beginning in the mid-1960s SAAM acquired significant works by African American artists including Sargent Johnson's Mask and James Hampton's visionary installation, The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly, as well as works by Romare Bearden and Alma Thomas. In 1980 the museum added works to its collection by 19th century artists Joshua Johnson, Robert Scott Duncanson, Edmonia Lewis, Edward Mitchell Bannister, and Henry Ossawa Tanner. Six years later, the museum acquired more than four-hundred works by folk and self-taught artists including paintings by Sister Gertrude Morgan and Bill Traylor.

In addition to the artists listed above, the museum contains key works by Loïs Mailou Jones, Jacob Lawrence, Benny Andrews, Martin Puryear, John Biggers, Thornton Dial, Sr., and Augusta Savage as well as Washington's own Alma Thomas, Sam Gilliam, and Felrath Hines. Contemporary artists in SAAM's collection include Mark Bradford, Faith Ringgold, and Kerry James Marshall, among others.

Download the brochure [PDF] to learn what's on view and where.

While you're at SAAM, don't forget to check out Harlem Heroes: Photographs by Carl Van Vechten for an insider's take on the greats of the Harlem Renaissance.

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