Sculpture Down to Scale: Models for Public Art at Federal Buildings, 1974 – 1985

Media - 1979.159.44 - SAAM-1979.159.44_1 - 56988

Sol LeWitt, Maquette for One, Two, Three, 1979, assembled and painted balsa wood, Smithsonian American Art Museum © 2019 The LeWitt Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The idea itself … is as much a work of art as any finished product. All intervening steps — scribbles, sketches, drawings, failed work, models, studies, thoughts, conversations — are of interest. Those that show the thought process of the artist are sometimes more interesting than the final product.”

—Sol Lewitt, 1967

Public sculpture has shaped the American landscape. Since the country’s beginnings, monuments and memorials have conveyed history, morality, and civic pride. Its role as a primarily commemorative medium began to expand in the late twentieth century, when the U.S. government looked to promote American art as a symbol of freedom and creativity during the Cold War. Building on the arts patronage established during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, the Kennedy administration inaugurated the Fine Arts Program of the General Services Administration (GSA) in 1962 to commission work by living artists for federal buildings. In 1972, the program began to operate in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 1977 it became the Art in Architecture Program that exists today. The GSA projects reflect contemporary artists’ interests in issues including perception, social space, the natural environment, and cultural identity.


The nine maquettes in this exhibition—many of them considered by the artists to be completed works of art in their own right—were acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum between 1977 and 1990. The models offered a concrete vision of the artists’ ideas and served as a way to share them with selection committees, patrons, and communities. Varied in scale, format, and level of finish, these models are windows into the creative process. Sometimes, as with Claes Oldenburg’s Bat Column, they document the artist’s original intention for their work; in other cases, such as Jackie Ferrara’s Model for Carbondale Project, they are the only existing traces of projects that were destroyed or unrealized.

Sarah Newman, the James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art, organized the exhibition.

Note: Sculpture Down to Scale: Models for Public Art at Federal Buildings, 1974–1985 was scheduled to be on view from May 31, 2019 through March 28, 2021. Its run at SAAM was cut short when the Smithsonian closed its museums as a public health precaution to help contain the spread of COVID-19. The museum was closed from March 14 through September 17, 2020 and again from November 23, 2020 to the present.

Visiting Information

May 31, 2019 November 22, 2020
Open Daily, 11:30 a.m.–7:00 p.m
Free Admission


Sculpture Down to Scale: Models for Public Art at Federal Buildings, 1974–1985 is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Online Gallery

Media - 1979.159.16 - SAAM-1979.159.16_3 - 135781
Study for Bat Column
welded and painted steel on steel base
Not on view
Media - 1990.69A-B - SAAM-1990.69A-B_1 - 70049
Maquette for Bien Venida y Vaya Con Dios
ceramic, copper foil, wire, paint and plastic
On view
Media - 1980.54 - SAAM-1980.54_1 - 121294
M 206 Model for Carbondale Project
nailed, glued and pegged pine wood
Not on view
Media - 1977.47.14 - SAAM-1977.47.14_2 - 118322
Study for Richmond Cycle
soldered, bolted, and burnished copper with wood edging
Not on view
Media - 1979.159.44 - SAAM-1979.159.44_1 - 56988
Maquette for One, Two, Three
assembled and painted balsa wood
On view
Media - 1980.49.15 - SAAM-1980.49.15_1 - 74518
Maquette I for Joatinga
oil and lacquer on aluminum
Not on view
Media - 1979.159.49 - SAAM-1979.159.49A_1 - 56394
Preliminary Maquette for Motu Viget
welded steel
On view
Media - 1977.47.193 - SAAM-1977.47.193_1 - 75340
Maquette for Excalibur
welded steel
Not on view
Media - 1977.47.30 - SAAM-1977.47.30_1 - 60456
Maquette for Barking Sands
Dateca. 1977
hammered, welded and patinated bronze
On view


Media - portrait_image_113339.jpg - 89875
Maria Alquilar
born New York City 1928-died Sacramento, CA 2014

Born in New York. The daughter of a Russian Jewish mother and Spanish father. Her altarpieces seek to explore the mythic heritage of many cultures and expose their common threads.

Media - di_suvero_mark_in_situ.jpg - 89984
Mark di Suvero
born Shanghai, China 1933

Born in Shanghai to Venetian parents, Marco Polo di Suvero immigrated with his family to the United States when he was eight years old. After studying sculpture and philosophy at the University of California, di Suvero moved to New York City.

Jackie Ferrara
born Detroit, MI 1929
Media - portrait_image_113780.jpg - 90426
Richard Hunt
born Chicago, IL 1935

"In some works it is my intention to develop the kind of forms Nature might create if only heat and steel were available to her." — Richard Hunt quoted in Exhibition flier, Richard Hunt, (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Art G

Media - portrait_image_113298.jpg - 90214
Sol LeWitt
born Hartford, CT 1928-died New York City 2007

Sol LeWitt was a leader in the growth of conceptual art during the 1960s and 1970s. This was a reaction to the emotional qualities of abstract expressionism, and focused on the ideas behind the art as opposed to the actual objects.

Claes Oldenburg
born Stockholm, Sweden 1929-died New York City 2022
Media - pepper_beverly.jpg - 90110
Beverly Pepper
born New York City 1924-died Todi, Italy 2020

Beverly Pepper began her career as a painter, but turned to sculpture in 1960 after a trip to Angkor Wat, in Cambodia, where she was awed by the temple ruins surviving beneath the jungle growth.

Frank Stella
born Malden, MA 1936

Frank Stella studied at Princeton University and moved to New York in 1958. In his first exhibition in the late fifties, he exhibited black paintings with bands of bare canvas that paralleled the picture edges.

Media - portrait_image_113690.jpg - 90387
Peter Voulkos
born Bozeman, MT 1924-died Bowling Green, OH 2002

After serving in the U.S. Army Air Force from 1943 to 1946, he entered Montana State College, earning a B.S. degree in 1951 and, the following year, an M.F.A. degree at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland.