SAAM Stories

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

Westward Spiral

Easily one of the iconic visual artworks from the last few decades—and all the more so for having been seen by so few people—Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty (1970) has possibly never looked better.

In Stereo

Senior Art Historian Richard Murray estimates that the stereograph was taken in the late 1890s; the presence of stairs leading up to the building indicate that the image cannot have been taken more recently than the 1930s.

Pride or Prejudice?

A little background: In the 1830s George Catlin, a painter, traveled across the Great Plains in order to document the "manners, customs, and conditions" of the Native American Plains tribes. Catlin roughly followed the Missouri River, journeying nearly 2,000 miles, and in doing so produced his Indian Gallery, a body of work that catalogued individuals and activities of fifty different tribes.

Saving Outdoor Sculpture

The Heritage Emergency National Task Force is acting as a clearinghouse for information about cultural resources in the states affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Edward Winkleman wrote about Andrew Wyeth recently, commenting on the distinction between art we love for the pure visual pleasure it provides and the art we value conceptually. Winkleman observes, "In the end, this discussion seems to turn on whether we place more value on concept or pleasure in artwork. . . . [I]f we're honest, we'll admit we don't have as many qualms about celebrating concept sans pleasure . . . it's just the other way around that makes us squeamish."

The Scully Files

I don't think I'm alone when I say that, from time to time, an artist whose work I've always casually admired will—without warning—completely capture my attention. In my case, after some light research into the artist's background, I began devouring anything I could find about Sean Scully and his abstract work.


Consuelo "Chelo" González Amézcua called her works "filigree drawings" in reference to a delicate jewelrymaking style from her native Mexico.

Out for a Stroll

When you work in an office building, especially if you sit at a computer all day, you need to force yourself to get outside every once and a while. Fortunately a stroll around here often rewards one with something interesting to see. The museum is in a neighborhood full of change: new stores, restaurants, clubs, and dwellings open every day, not to mention the hubbub of the renovation of our building.

Eyes on Design

I don’t consider Dutch Design to be design generated in the Netherlands. I consider Dutch Design a kind of work, or an attitude about work, or even a brand of work, that could theoretically occur anywhere at anytime.

Katrina and the Arts

While focusing on providing material aid and relief to the thousands displaced by Hurricane Katrina, it's certainly the case that much in the way of charity will be required to rebuild the unique cultural capital that is New Orleans and to restore the many Gulf Coast arts institutions damaged by the storm and subsequent flood.

Art in America

In 1762, American painter John Singleton Copley wrote to Swiss miniaturist Jean-Etienne Liotard about the condition of the arts in the American colonies.

Introducing Eye Level

I sat down with a gloss of the history of the Smithsonian arts holdings (adapted from William Kloss's Treasures from the National Museum of American Art) thinking that I might highlight a few of the more interesting historical facts for this blog.