Musical Thinking: New Video Art and Sonic Strategies

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 Art and Sonic Strategies 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, Martine Gutierrez, Arthur Jafa, Erin Ellen Kelly, Christine Sun Kim, Liz Magic Laser, Simone Leigh, and Cauleen Smith 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.

Visiting Information

June 16, 2023 January 29, 2024
Open daily, 11:30 a.m.–7 p.m.
Free Admission


Musical Thinking: New Video Art and Sonic Strategies is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Generous support has been provided by the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, the Smithsonian Accessibility Innovation Fund, Lucille and Richard Spagnuolo, and the SJ Weiler Fund.

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born Utuado, Puerto Rico 1948-died San Juan, Puerto Rico 2020
Raven Chacon
born Fort Defiance, AZ 1977
Mariam Ghani
born New York City 1978
Martine Gutierrez
born Berkeley, CA 1989
Media - portrait_image_114979.jpg - 138818
Arthur Jafa
born Tupelo, MS 1960

Arthur Jafa (b. 1960, Tupelo, Mississippi) is an artist, filmmaker and cinematographer.

Simone Leigh
born Chicago, IL 1968
Liz Magic Laser
born New York City 1981
Cauleen Smith
born Riverside, CA 1967
Christine Sun Kim
born Orange County, CA 1980