Past Exhibitions


Media - 2010.6.1 - SAAM-2010.6.1_1 - 73336
Close to Home: Photographers and Their Families
Close to Home presents photographs made during the past three decades by both established and emerging artists. It features thirty-two color and black-and-white photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum's permanent collection by nine contemporary photographers: Tina Barney, Virginia Beahan, Christopher Dawson, Muriel Hasbun, Martina Lopez, Elaine O’Neil, Larry Sultan, Margaret Strickland, and Carrie Will. The exhibition includes many new acquisitions, which will be on view at the museum for the first time. Toby Jurovics, formerly the museum's curator of photography, selected the photographs in the installation.
February 4, 2011July 23, 2011


Media - 2010.5 - SAAM-2010.5_1 - 73850
Watch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image (1.0)
Watch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image is a series of rotating exhibitions drawn from SAAM’s permanent collection. The works of art featured in this installation identify a complex relationship between still photography and moving images. These artistic engagements with captured and recorded pictures examine notions of storytelling and processes of interpretation, underscoring just how relative meaning can be, and urging viewers to question where the power of imagery might reside. Taken together, the arrangement traces a vibrant call and response between artists and pictures, narratives, and interpretation.
December 10, 2010March 2, 2012
oil on wood of an ocean scene with a bird in the foreground and a decaying cityscape in the background.
Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow
Alexis Rockman (b. 1962) has been depicting the natural world with virtuosity and wit for more than two decades. He was one of the first contemporary artists to build his career around exploring environmental issues, from evolutionary biology and genetic engineering to deforestation and climate change. Rockman has garnered attention for embracing these issues, as well as for the epic quality of his projects, including several monumentally scaled canvases.
November 19, 2010May 7, 2011
Media - 2003.60.2 - SAAM-2003.60.2_3 - 128176
A Revolution in Wood: The Bresler Collection
A Revolution in Wood: The Bresler Collection celebrates the magnificent gift of sixty-six pieces of turned and carved wood to the Smithsonian American Art Museum by the noted collectors, Fleur and Charles Bresler. Works by some of the best-known wood artists in the United States highlight the expressive capacity of craft's most organic material, and display wood turning's growing sophistication. Nearly half of the artworks in the exhibition are on public display for the first time.
September 23, 2010January 30, 2011
Media - 2007.40.1 - SAAM-2007.40.1_1 - 67870
John Gossage: The Pond
The installation of John Gossage: The Pond celebrates the recent gift to the museum of this remarkable photographic series and the re-issue of one of the most influential photography books of the past three decades. John Gossage (b. 1946) photographed a small, unnamed pond between Washington, D.C., and Queenstown, Maryland, between 1981 and 1985. The title was intended to recall Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, but Gossage advocated a more all-embracing view of the landscape, exploring the less idealized spaces that border America's cities and suburbs. Although many of the images in The Pond appear unruly or uncared for, Gossage found moments of grace and elegance in even the most mundane of places.
August 26, 2010January 17, 2011
An image of a man making shadow puppets on the wall in the background and three children watching in the foreground.
Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg
Telling Stories is the first major exhibition to explore in-depth the connections between Norman Rockwell's iconic images of American life and the movies. Two of America's best-known modern filmmakers—George Lucas and Steven Spielberg—recognized a kindred spirit in Rockwell and formed significant collections of his work. Rockwell's paintings and the films of Lucas and Spielberg evoke love of country, small town values, children growing up, unlikely heroes, acts of imagination and life’s ironies.
July 1, 2010January 2, 2011
Media - 2009.9.18 - SAAM-2009.9.18_1 - 70302
Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence
The exhibition presented the majority of individual items— more than 350 objects—from the collective archive of artworks and related materials. There were 46 original preparatory drawings and collages by Christo on display, including eight masterful, large-scale drawings, each 8 feet wide, and a 58-foot-long scale model. More than 240 photographs by Wolfgang Volz, Gianfranco Gorgoni and Harry Shunk reveal the complex process of constructing the Running Fence and the many personalities involved with the project. A sequence of 22-foot-wide high-definition images of Running Fence are projected at the exhibition entrance to convey to visitors the breadth and scale of the completed project. The exhibition also included components from the actual project, including a nylon fabric panel and steel pole that visitors can touch.
April 2, 2010September 26, 2010
Media - 2008.32.2 - SAAM-2008.32.2_1 - 72158
The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942 – 1946
The Art of Gaman showcases arts and crafts made by Japanese Americans in U.S. internment camps during World War II. Soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, all ethnic Japanese on the West Coast—more than two-thirds of whom were American citizens by birth—were ordered to leave their homes and move to ten inland internment camps for the duration of the war. While in these bleak camps, the internees used scraps and found materials to make furniture and other objects to beautify their surroundings. Arts and crafts became essential for simple creature comforts and emotional survival. These objects—tools, teapots, furniture, toys and games, musical instruments, pendants and pins, purses and ornamental displays—are physical manifestations of the art of gaman, a Japanese word that means to bear the seemingly unbearable with dignity and patience.
March 5, 2010January 30, 2011
This is an albumen print of a water fall by O'Sullivan
Framing the West: The Survey Photographs of Timothy H. O’Sullivan
Timothy H. O'Sullivan (1840–1882) was a photographer for two of the most ambitious geographical surveys of the nineteenth century. He traversed the mountain and desert regions of the western United States under the command of Clarence King and Lt. George M. Wheeler for six seasons between 1867 and 1874. O'Sullivan developed a forthright and rigorous style in response to the landscapes of the American West, and returned to Washington, D.C. with hundreds of photographs that revealed an artist whose reach far surpassed the demands of practical documentation. He created a body of work that was without precedent in its visual and emotional complexity, while simultaneously meeting the needs of scientific investigation and western expansion.
February 12, 2010May 8, 2010
Media - 1999.80 - SAAM-1999.80_1 - 52092
Graphic Masters III: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Graphic Masters III: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the third in a series of special installations, celebrates the extraordinary variety and accomplishment of American artists' works on paper. These twenty-eight exceptional watercolors, charcoals, and drawings from the 1960s to the 1990s reveal the central importance of works on paper for American artists, both as studies for creations in other media and as finished works of art. Traditionally a more intimate form of expression than painting or sculpture, drawings often reveal greater spontaneity and experimentation. Even as works on paper become larger and more finished, competing in scale with easel paintings, they retain a sense of the artist's hand, the immediacy of a thought made visible.
January 15, 2010August 7, 2010


An image of 16 different yellow moons with different reactions on their faces.
What’s It All Mean: William T. Wiley in Retrospect
Enter the world of artist William T. Wiley, who has created a distinctive body of work during a 50-year career that addresses critical issues of our time. Art, politics, war, global warming, foolishness, ambition, hypocrisy, and irony are summoned by Wiley’s fertile imagination and recorded in the personal vocabulary of symbols, puns and images that fill his objects. His wit and sense of the absurd make his art accessible to all with multiple layers of meaning revealed through careful examination.
October 1, 2009January 24, 2010
Staged Stories: Renwick Craft Invitational 2009
Staged Stories: Renwick Craft Invitational 2009 presents the work of ceramic artist Christyl Boger, fiber artist Mark Newport, glass artist Mary Van Cline, and ceramic artist SunKoo Yuh. These artists depart in significant ways from long-standing craft traditions by discarding the baseline rationale of crafts, their functionality, to create narrative artworks that confound old categories in the world of contemporary craft. As the exhibition title suggests, theatrical elements, including props, costumes, and narration, bind together these varied works.
August 6, 2009January 3, 2010
Media - 1995.27 - SAAM-1995.27_1 - 52089
Graphic Masters II: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Graphic Masters II: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the second in a series of special installations, celebrates the extraordinary variety and accomplishment of American artists' works on paper. These exceptional watercolors, pastels, and drawings from the 1920s to the 1960s reveal the central importance of works on paper for American artists, both as studies for creations in other media and as finished works of art. Rarely seen works from the museum's permanent collection by artists such as Stuart Davis, Sam Francis, Edward Hopper, Willem de Kooning, Joseph Stella, Grant Wood, and Andrew Wyeth will be featured in the exhibition. Joann Moser, senior curator for graphic arts, selected the artworks in Graphic Masters.
June 18, 2009January 10, 2010
Media - 1912.5.1 - SAAM-1912.5.1_1 - 45177
Grand Salon Installation-Paintings from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
This installation in the Renwick Gallery's Grand Salon displays seventy paintings from the Smithsonian American Art Museum's collection, including landscapes, portraits, and allegorical works by fifty-one American artists from the 1840s to the 1930s. Artists whose works are featured include Edward Mitchell Bannister, Romaine Brooks, Elliott Daingerfield, Daniel Garber, William Morris Hunt, George Inness, Homer Dodge Martin, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Abbott Handerson Thayer, John Henry Twachtman, and Irving R. Wiles. The room is installed salon style, with paintings hung one-atop-another and side by side. 
June 5, 2009November 11, 2013
An installation of scratch & win lottery tickets stacked on top of one another forming structures.
Jean Shin: Common Threads
Shin's most recent project, Everyday Monuments, debuts in the exhibition. The sprawling installation consists of nearly 2000 trophies donated by Washington, D.C.-area residents and projected images of the altered trophies. Inspired by the well-known historic monuments and heroic statuary displayed throughout Washington’s public spaces, Everyday Monuments venerates the accomplishments of ordinary Americans—stay-at-home moms, waitresses, janitors, postal carriers—whose everyday labors go unrecognized. Shin transformed each figurine to represent these tasks. The trophies are arranged according to a scale plan of the National Mall, symbolically filling the expanse of Washington's signature public space.
April 30, 2009July 25, 2009
A stained glass entry hall panel
The Art and Craft of Greene & Greene
The architecture and decorative arts designed by Charles Greene (1868-1957) and his brother Henry Greene (1870-1954) a century ago in California are recognized internationally as among the finest of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. The Greenes carefully considered every detail of the buildings and objects they designed, incorporating European, Asian and Native American influences. Like their contemporary Frank Lloyd Wright, they believed architecture to be no less than a design language for life, imbuing their projects with an expressive sensitivity for geography, climate, landscape and lifestyle. Their progressive ideas about design still influence California architecture today.
March 12, 2009June 6, 2009
Media - 1964.1.40 - SAAM-1964.1.40_1 - 89419
1934: A New Deal for Artists
In 1934, Americans grappled with an economic situation that feels all too familiar today. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration created the Public Works of Art Project—the first federal government program to support the arts nationally. Federal officials in the 1930s understood how essential art was to sustaining America's spirit. Artists from across the United States who participated in the program, which lasted only six months from mid-December 1933 to June 1934, were encouraged to depict "the American Scene." The Public Works of Art Project not only paid artists to embellish public buildings, but also provided them with a sense of pride in serving their country. They painted regional, recognizable subjects—ranging from portraits to cityscapes and images of city life to landscapes and depictions of rural life—that reminded the public of quintessential American values such as hard work, community and optimism.
February 27, 2009January 3, 2010


A photograph of a grain elevator in a lightning storm.
Accommodating Nature: The Photographs of Frank Gohlke
For more than 30 years, Frank Gohlke (b. 1942), a leading figure in American landscape photography, has explored the ways Americans build their lives in a natural world that rarely fits within a traditional pastoral ideal. This retrospective exhibition, which captures Gohlke's longstanding fascination with nature's proclivities for growth, destruction and unexpected change, features 79 photographs—both black-and-white and color prints—spanning the artist's career from the early 1970s through 2004.
November 27, 2008March 3, 2009
Media - 1929.6.70 - SAAM-1929.6.70_1 - 52029
Graphic Masters I: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Graphic Masters I: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum is the first in a series of special installations that celebrate the extraordinary variety and accomplishment of American artists' works on paper. These exceptional watercolors, pastels, and drawings from the early nineteenth century through the 1930s reveal the central importance of works on paper for American artists, both as studies for creations in other media and as finished works of art. Rarely seen works from the museum's permanent collection by masters such as John James Audubon, Romaine Brooks, Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, John La Farge, Man Ray, John Marin and Georgia O'Keeffe will be featured in the exhibition. Joann Moser, senior curator for graphic arts, selected the artworks in Graphic Masters.
November 21, 2008May 24, 2009
Media - 1999.17 - SAAM-1999.17_1 - 67483
Modern Masters from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Modern Masters from the Smithsonian American Art Museum features forty-three key paintings and sculptures by thirty-one of the most celebrated artists who came to maturity in the 1950s. Through three broadly-conceived themes that span two decades of creative genius —""Significant Gestures,"" ""Optics and Order"" and ""New Images of Man""—Modern Masters examines the complex and heterogeneous nature of American abstract art in the mid-twentieth century. Featured artists include Jim Dine, David Driskell, Sam Francis, Philip Guston, Grace Hartigan, Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline, Louise Nevelson, Anne Truitt and Esteban Vicente.
November 1, 2008December 15, 2011
This is a blown glass structure with multiple incalmi crisscrossed canes.
Lino Tagliapietra in Retrospect: A Modern Renaissance in Glass
Lino Tagliapietra in Retrospect: A Modern Renaissance in Glass is the first exhibition to thoroughly examine the art of Lino Tagliapietra (b. 1934), widely revered as a master of glass blowing and credited with changing the course of contemporary studio glass through his teaching. Tagliapietra, who was trained in traditional Venetian glass-blowing techniques, traveled between the glass centers of Venice, Italy, and the Pacific Northwest and brought with him the closely guarded techniques of the Murano glassworks. In 1979, he was invited to teach at the recently established Pilchuck Glass School near Seattle.
October 2, 2008January 11, 2009
This is a landscape panting of mountains in New Mexico.
Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities
Sunlight deserts, Taos churches, and Western skies are captured in the remarkable work of two iconic American artists. Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities examines the friendship of two artists who were attracted to the distinct landscape of the American southwest and were committed to depicting its essence with modernist sensibilities.
September 25, 2008January 4, 2009
Media - 1977.48.5 - SAAM-1977.48.5_1 - 59312
Local Color: Washington Painting at Midcentury
Explore the expressive possibilities of color in this special installation of twenty-seven large-scale paintings from the museum's permanent collection. Local Color: Washington Painting at Midcentury examines the cross influences of Washington, D.C.-based artists between the mid-1950s and mid-1970s when our nation's capital was home to one of the most dynamic artistic communities in the country. Looking beyond the Color School label, this exhibition explores the astonishing breadth of styles and techniques adopted by Washington artists Leon Berkowitz, Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, Sam Gilliam, Fel Hines, Jacob Kainen, Howard Mehring, Paul Reed, and Alma Thomas who were conducting innovative experiments with color and form.
July 3, 2008October 12, 2008
Media - 2008.2.8 - SAAM-2008.2.8_1 - 67821
Earth and Sky: Photographs by Barbara Bosworth
Nature's strength, endurance, and fragility are captured in the dynamic work of Barbara Bosworth (b. 1953). Best known for her photographs of National Champion trees—the largest identified example of each species in the United States—Bosworth creates panoramic images using a unique method that combines multiple large-format negatives in a single print.
June 19, 2008November 11, 2008
This is a oil painting of a hand coming from the sky and pointing to a smaller figure on the land.
Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist
Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist is the first nationally touring retrospective that brings together more than eighty rarely seen works by the artist Aaron Douglas (1899–1979), one of the most influential visual artists of the Harlem Renaissance. The exhibition includes paintings, prints, drawings and illustrations.
May 8, 2008August 2, 2008
This is a sterling silver and polyester resin neckpiece
Ornament as Art: Avant-Garde Jewelry from the Helen Williams Drutt Collection
Ornament as Art: Avant-Garde Jewelry from the Helen Williams Drutt Collection is a landmark exhibition that explores contemporary jewelry from a global perspective. The exhibition traces the development of artist-made jewelry and honors its craft roots while also placing the work within a larger framework of seminal movements in 20th century art.
March 13, 2008July 5, 2008
This is a drawing of President Lincoln's inaugural ball
The Honor of Your Company Is Requested: President Lincoln’s Inaugural Ball
Travel back 143 years to the revelry of Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural ball. This small, focused exhibition celebrates the president's second inaugural ball, held on March 6, 1865 in what is now the museum's historic home. The ball took place as Lincoln's second term began, with the Civil War in its final stages, and only six weeks before Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theater nearby. The exhibition, which relates the ball to the building and its history, features ephemera from the inaugural ball, including the invitation and menu as well as engravings illustrating the night's events and other artifacts. From pomp and politics to feasting and fights over food, this was one night destined for the history books. Charles Robertson, author of the recent book Temple of Invention: History of a National Landmark and a specialist in American decorative arts, is the guest curator of the exhibition.
March 8, 2008January 18, 2010
This is a painting of a large black circle and a smaller red circle surrounded by a blue mass.
Color as Field: American Painting, 1950 – 1975
Color as Field: American Painting, 1950–1975 is the first ever full-scale examination of the sources, meaning and impact of the Color Field movement. Color Field painting, which emerged in the United States in the 1950s, is characterized by pouring, staining, spraying or painting thinned paint onto raw canvas to create vast chromatic expanses. These works constitute one of the crowning achievements of postwar American abstract art. The exhibition includes 39 beautiful and impressively scaled paintings by such major figures as Gene Davis, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski. Color as Field presents a remarkable opportunity for viewers to fully comprehend the aims of these artists, view their finest works in close relation to each other and experience the beauty and visual magnetism of their pictorial handling of space and color.
February 29, 2008May 25, 2008
Media - 2000.76.7 - SAAM-2000.76.7_2 - 134714
Obata’s Yosemite
Chiura Obata (1885–1975), born in Okayama-ken, Japan, was one of the earliest Japanese artists to live and work in the United States. He moved to San Francisco in 1903, supporting himself as an illustrator for Japanese language newspapers and magazines, while painting in the moro-tai style of contemporary Japanese art. In 1927, he visited Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada, where he made approximately 100 drawings in pencil, watercolor, and sumi ink. He recalled his visit to Yosemite as “the greatest harvest for my whole life and future in painting.” The following year, he returned to Japan for a visit and brought thirty-five of the drawings to be translated into color woodcuts.
February 22, 2008May 31, 2008


This is a oil painting of swamp scene with birds in sunset blues and yellows.
John Alexander: A Retrospective
John Alexander (b. 1945) is internationally renowned for his paintings and drawings, which convey humor, rage and a robust appreciation of the human and natural world. John Alexander: A Retrospective is the first full-scale examination of the artist's three-decade career. The exhibition encompasses works from the late 1970s to the present. It includes powerful landscapes and intimate studies of birds and plants; it also presents many of his incisive, satirical commentaries on politics, religion and the human condition.
December 21, 2007March 15, 2008