Eye Level

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

Folk and Self-Taught Art, Now in the Luce Center

SAAM's open storage Luce Foundation Center is by no means a static place. With a calendar full of public programs and one of the most Instagrammable spaces in the city (we may be biased), you can see how the space is constantly changing in our folk and self-taught art cases.

Gene Davis: The Cool Guy of Hot Beat

ene Davis, a journalist before he was a painter, knew the power of words. He spoke his wise and sometimes ornery mind, aware of the momentary impact and the eventual documentation of his life and career. This explains why his own bon mots (not the curators') flank most of the 15 paintings—all permutations of the stripe—in Gene Davis: Hot Beat, on view through April 2.

New Acquisitions: Self-Taught Art from the Margaret Z. Robson Collection

SAAM has acquired nearly one-hundred works of self-taught art from the collection of Margaret Z. Robson. The paintings, drawings, and sculptures were created by forty-eight artists including James Castle, Thornton Dial Sr., Judith Scott, and Bill Traylor. The Robson gift comprises the largest acquisition of self-taught artworks in 20 years and reaffirms the museum's deep and lasting commitment to this area of artistic endeavor.

Isamu Noguchi: Watering the Art

Objects conservators have a challenging job. On any given day Ariel O'Connor, an art object conservator at SAAM, might be asked to research, examine, document, and treat works of art made with bronze, wood, plastic, stone, plaster, glass, and many, many other types of materials. The recently-opened Isamu Noguchi exhibition Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/Modern perfectly exemplifies this material diversity, with sculptures ranging from heavy stone obelisks to feather-light delicate bamboo and paper lanterns. Even with years of training and experience, one sculpture is proving to be a unique challenge for Ariel: a 3,000 pound basalt stone fountain titled The Well.

Guest Curator Dakin Hart Speaks About the Work of Isamu Noguchi

On December 1, Dakin Hart, senior curator of The Noguchi Museum and co-curator of Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/Modern gave a talk at SAAM on the themes of the exhibition. As Hart navigates Noguchi's visionary work, he looks at the artist's ability to take inspiration from the ancient and the modern to create abstract and timeless works.
Amy on December 22, 2016

Betsy Broun’s Vision: An Appreciation

I have worked my entire professional life knowing only one boss, Betsy Broun. She retired yesterday after nearly 30 years at the helm of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. So I've been taking stock of her vision for the museum and how the ways we connect with people to tell stories of art in a citizen democracy are tied to her ideas about American art and contemporary society.
Laura on December 15, 2016

Director's Choice: Who Made the Cut, Part II

n honor of Elizabeth "Betsy" Broun's nearly thirty years at the helm of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and her imminent retirement, Broun spoke to a full house at the McEvoy Auditorium this past October, revealing insights and personal observations about her favorite works of art in SAAM's collection. And since she's the director, her Top Ten contains eighteen artworks. Last month, we posted the first part of her "Top Ten." Today, we are posting the rest on her list of favorites.

Conversation Piece: Martin Puryear's Vessel

Each month, visitors to SAAM are invited to participate in a discussion-based program called Conversation Pieces. Spending an hour with a single work of contemporary art, participants engage in an open-ended experience of guided looking and discussion facilitated by Joanna Marsh, Senior Curator of Contemporary Interpretation.

Movies at SAAM: Winter Edition

Please join us for "Movies at SAAM's" winter season of films about American art and artists. If you enjoy learning about the creative process, history of African American photography, and contemplating the nature of great art, then you're sure to enjoy what we have in store for you.
Ryan on December 7, 2016

Photography Encouraged: Noguchi Edition

Today, we begin a periodic series of photos visitors take in our galleries where, with many exhibitions, photography is encouraged. In my daily dive into our social media interactions, I take note of the unique ways you, our visitors, capture your experience in SAAM and the Renwick Gallery.
Amy on December 1, 2016

An Appreciation for Artist William Christenberry

SAAM mourns the loss of artist and friend, William Christenberry, who died this past Monday at 80. As a young man, Christenberry often traveled the back roads of the South with his father. He studied painting as a graduate student at the University of Alabama until he discovered James Agee‘s book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
Jeff on November 30, 2016

Director's Choice: Who Made the Cut?

In honor of Elizabeth "Betsy" Broun's thirty years at the helm of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and her imminent retirement, Broun spoke to a full house last month at the McEvoy Auditorium, revealing insights and personal observations about her favorite works of art in SAAM's collection.

Stepping Up to Gene Davis

To celebrate his philosophy and boldly declare that our new exhibition of his signature stripe paintings is now open, we have striped the museum's entrances.
Jeff on November 18, 2016

Conversation Piece: Mark Bradford's Amendment #8

Each month, visitors to SAAM are invited to participate in a discussion-based program called Conversation Pieces. Spending an hour with a single work of contemporary art, participants engage in an open-ended experience of guided looking and discussion facilitated by Joanna Marsh, Senior Curator of Contemporary Interpretation.

Best of Both Worlds: Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/Modern opens today, a celebration of the renowned sculptor who often found inspiration in ancient art and architecture, including Egyptian pyramids and Buddhist temples, Zen gardens and American Indian burial mounds.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Self-Taught Art

In honor of the renovation and reinstallation of SAAM’s galleries for folk and self-taught art on the first floor, four specialists in the field came together to address the perceptions and practice of folk and self-taught artists, each from a unique vantage point. The speakers joined Leslie Umberger, SAAM's curator of folk and self-taught art and emcee for the evening, in a discussion on the unique position of these out-of-the-ordinary makers of art.