Eye Level

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

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.

Martha Graham and Isamu Noguchi: Cave of the Heart Dance Performance

Over the course of half a century, Noguchi and Graham closely collaborated on numerous set designs for her groundbreaking modern dances. They held each other in the highest regard—Noguchi once said, "I felt that I was an extension of Martha and that she was an extension of me," while Graham described sharing "an unspoken language" with the sculptor.
Jeff on March 15, 2017

Movies at SAAM Continues This Spring

From March to May, "Movies at SAAM" will screen five eye-opening films about American art. All films will be shown on selected Saturdays at the museum's McEvoy Auditorium, beginning at 3 p.m.
Ryan on March 9, 2017

Luce Unplugged: Five Questions (+2) with The Galaxy Electric

On March 9 from 5:30-7 p.m, The Galaxy Electric, a psychedelic pop band filled with bossa nova and tribal rhythms, will play at the Luce Foundation Center's Luce Unplugged. In partnership with D.C. Music Download, this free, monthly concert series features the best of D.C.'s local music scene.

A Healing Machine for the Elementary School Classroom

If you have visited SAAM's folk and self-taught art galleries since they re-opened in October, you probably encountered Emery Blagdon's wondrous Healing Machine, an installation of individual paintings and found-material sculptures suspended from the ceiling. While many museum visitors are moved by The Healing Machine, Blagdon's work found a new life this winter in an elementary school about two miles from the SAAM.

Can You Name #5WomenArtists?

It all began with a challenge, exactly one year ago. The National Museum of Women in the Arts posed a question and the goal was simple: get people talking about women artists.
Amy on March 1, 2017