Musical Thinking: New Video Artists in the Smithsonian American Art Museum Collection

June 16, 2023 — January 29, 2024

Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and G Streets, NW)
Media - 2020.54.1 - SAAM-2020.54.1_2 - 139600
Cauleen Smith, Sojourner, 2018, digital video, color, sound, 22:41 minutes, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by the SJ Weiler Fund, 2020.54.1, © 2020, Cauleen Smith

Musical Thinking: New Video Artists in the Smithsonian American Art Museum Collection explores the powerful resonances between recent video art and popular music. The exhibition focuses on video art that employs the strategies of musical creation—scores, improvisation, and interpretation—as well as its styles, structures, and lyrics to speak to personal as well as shared aspects of American life. Rich with cultural references and emotionally evocative, the works in the exhibition use music to call up memories, capture attention, provoke insight, and invite visceral engagement. Rather than treating soundtracks as secondary, the musical choices in the featured videos are key to their meaning and impact.

The presentation celebrates major new acquisitions to SAAM’s media art collection. It pairs recently added video works by ADÁL, Raven Chacon, Mariam Ghani and Erin Ellen Kelly, Martine Gutierrez, Arthur Jafa, Simone Leigh, Cauleen Smith and Liz Magic Laser and Christine Sun Kim with related photographs, sculptures, prints and immersive installations by the same creators. The featured artists draw on the vast cultural influence of American music. Whether turning to early spirituals, jazz and mid-century musicals, or movie soundtracks and hip-hop, each artist deeply considers the traditions, methods, and purpose of music in daily life. Connecting innovative forms, past and present, to the American experience, they emphasize that our national story has always been complex, multivocal, and set to music.