Eye Level

Eye Level is the blog of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery. Publishing behind-the-scenes museum stories since 2005.

Donald Sultan's Disaster Paintings

Donald Sultan's industrial landscape series depict an array of catastrophes, including forest fires, railway accidents, arsons, and industrial plants exuding toxic plumes. Twelve of these large-scale paintings are now on display at SAAM in the exhibition Donald Sultan: The Disaster Paintings.

Movies at SAAM: The New York Latino Film Festival

On June 9 and June 10, Movies at SAAM is proud to co-host a two day film festival with the National Portrait Gallery's Taína Caragol, Curator of Latino Art and History, and SAAM's E. Carmen Ramos, Curator of Latino Art.
Ryan on June 1, 2017

Framing the City: Mean Streets and Urban Photography

The exhibition, Down These Mean Streets: Community and Place in Urban Photography, takes as its starting point, the response by Latino artists to the "urban crisis," a term that emerged in the 1960s to refer to the changes that were going on in many cities throughout the United States. The exhibition title is inspired by author Piri Thomas, who grew up in El Barrio (aka Spanish Harlem), and captured the decline of the urban environment in his memoir Down These Mean Streets, published in 1967.

Reading Into the Throne: On James Hampton's Notebook

An expanded presentation of the now iconic Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly (aka The Throne) by James Hampton is currently on view in the newly installed and reimagined galleries for folk and self-taught art at SAAM.

In This Case: 42nd Street Nocturne

As a visual for our film series Movies at SAAM, we've been using Xavier Barile's 42nd Street Nocturne. But did you know this painting hangs in the Luce Foundation Center? Situated in case 36B, Barile's small impressionistic painting shows New York City's 42nd Street Apollo Theatre aglow beneath a starry sky. Not only does this piece exemplify mid-20th-century American art, but it touches on key themes found within the history of film.
Ryan on May 10, 2017

JFK: American Visionary

Lawrence Schiller, a former Life magazine photojournalist (who ironically was assigned to Nixon's failed presidential campaign) organized the exhibition and reviewed 34,000 photographs, before choosing seventy-seven "images that told the story."

Q & Art: Who's That?

AAM's Photograph Archives hold more than a quarter million photographs, documenting American art and artists. Curators, conservators, art collectors, and historians have used the images to inform or illustrate their projects. The Archives' largest collection contains 127,000 negatives from the Peter A. Juley & Son photography firm.

Ella Fitzgerald Turns 100: Five Questions with Vocalist Sharón Clark

On April 25, 1917, one of the most iconic vocalists of our time was born—Ella Fitzgerald. This year, the world celebrates the centennial of the "First Lady of Song" and the legacy Ella left behind. For the eighth year in a row, the Smithsonian American Art Museum will fill its Kogod Courtyard with a celebration of her music on Saturday, April 29.
Katy on April 27, 2017

At SAAM, Deaf Guides Take the Lead With Art Signs

As Emily Blachly leads a group of adults in discussing a 19th-century landscape in SAAM’s galleries, several visitors passing through the second floor hallway pause with interest. Two people stop to join the conversation. This is not an unusual occurrence for anyone who gives tours at SAAM, but Blachly’s gallery talk is especially intriguing for a visitor to encounter — she was speaking with her hands.

Creative Disruption: June Schwarcz and Peter Voulkos at the Renwick

At first glance, the objects on display at SAAM's Renwick Gallery by June Schwarcz and Peter Voulkos couldn't be more different. Schwarcz's enamel work is precise and almost ethereal, while Voulkos's pots and sculptures are weighty and improvisational. But both artists had a powerful impact in the art world, defying convention and breaking all the rules of their traditional media.

District of Play: DC’s Vibrant Video Game Scene

Time's running out to submit your game to the Smithsonian American Art Museum's SAAM Arcade. The deadline for submission is April 15, 2017. Below, Dorothy Ann Phoenix of the International Game Developers Association's DC Chapter discusses the great opportunities available to gamers and game developers in DC.

Remembering James Rosenquist

Pop artist James Rosenquist, who died last week at the age of 83, created large canvases that were influenced by his early years as a sign painter in Minnesota and New York City. (A contemporaneous article referred to him as "the billboard Michelangelo who spills paint on tourists below").

Ryders on the Storm: Celebrating the Art of Albert Pinkham Ryder

Before Betsy Broun retired from the helm of the Smithsonian American Art Museum last fall, she gave a talk where she revealed her top ten works (ok, seventeen works) of art in the collection, beginning with Albert Pinkham Ryder's Jonah. Ryder, who died one hundred years ago today, was an artist close to Broun's heart and the subject of a book she published in 1989.

The Renwick Gallery and the Space in Between

For more than a year, Janet Echelman's woven sculpture 1.8 Renwick has beckoned people into the Grand Salon. Suspended high above, the billowing nets transform the space. At once an artwork and an experience, people walk around the room as colors projected on the hand-knotted nets shift, or stretch out on the floor for a new view and a moment of peace.
Amy on March 23, 2017

Art Conservation: Stretching a Very Large Gene Davis Painting

As often as art conservators do a standard treatment on a work of art in our collection, there is always an opportunity to learn a new approach to solving a challenging task. In the case of Gene Davis: Hot Beat (closing April 2, 2017), paintings conservator Amber Kerr coordinated with staff members from our design and registrar teams to manage the conservation treatments for several extremely large canvas paintings. Each had been rolled in storage for years.