Raising a Glass to Change

SAAM prepares to temporarily say goodbye to some iconic works

Media - 1985.30.6 - SAAM-1985.30.6_1 - 52573
Rose Mary Gonnella-Butler, Lemon Slices, Glass and Cup, 1983, colored pencil and pencil on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1985.30.6

The third floor of SAAM’s main building is home to some of the nation’s most iconic pieces of American art including Nam June Paik’s Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii. For many visitors, a trip to SAAM would not be complete without an Instagram-worthy selfie illuminated by its colorful glow of neon. Electronic Superhighway literally outlines our nation and serves as a reminder that SAAM’s mission is to collect, understand, and enjoy American art.

Two people wearing masks and posing in front of Superhighway.

It is nearly impossible to resist the impulse to strike a pose in front of Nam June Paik’s Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii (1995). Photo by Jaspreet Nagra.

I hope you’re sitting down for this next part....ready? Beginning Monday, July 12, 2021, the third floor galleries of SAAM, home to the museum's modern and contemporary art collection,will close temporarily. This closure will allow the spaces to be refreshed and for new artworks and stories to be put on view.

I know this news may be unwelcome for visitors who have favorites in these galleries, making this post, in the words of Pitch Perfect’s Barden Bellas, incredibly “aca-awkward.” As the DC summer heat lingers, I’m encouraging everyone to raise a glass to the artworks that speak to us and to the special, light-filled Lincoln Gallery. We’re making lemonade out of lemons (thanks for the inspiration Rose Mary Gonnella-Butler) and belting out “When I’m gone/When I’m gone/You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone” in honor of our favorite artworks in the process.

Small child looking at Woman Eating

A young SAAM visitor encounters Duane Hanson’s Woman Eating (1971) during a recent visit to the museum. Photo by Aya Un.

Now, readers may be thinking “Aca-scuse me?!?!?” How can these incredible artworks like Mickalene Thomas’ Portrait of Mnonja, David Hockney’s Snails Space with Vari-Lites, "Painting as Performance," Harry Bertoia’s Sculpture Group Symbolizing World's Communication in the Atomic Age, and Jenny Holzer’s For SAAM suddenly not be on view? Well, SAAM is also in the business of museums, so we have to close our galleries to refresh them with Pitch Perfect, new stories our curators want to tell and new acquisitions we’re excited to share, including works by Tiffany Chung, Kay WalkingStick, Jeffrey Gibson, Miguel Luciano, and Hank Willis Thomas.

Friends, you’d better “aca-believe it”: modern and contemporary art will be back on view soon. Some artworks will return (like Electronic Superhighway) while new fabulous works from equally innovative artists will debut and it’s gonna be “aca-awesome.”

In the meantime...while we’re waiting, please share with us your favorite artworks from SAAM modern and contemporary art collection: What is a must-see when you visit? What objects speak to you? What special memories do you have of these galleries? How did SAAM “crush it”?

Three people sitting on a sofa looking at neon sign artwork "Pa-lan-te"

SAAM visitors sitting and looking at Miguel Luciano’s, Pa-lan-te (2017). Photo by Jeff Dahlander.

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