What's It All Mean: William T. Wiley in Retrospect

October 1, 2009 — January 24, 2010

Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, NW)

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.

This retrospective, which features eighty-eight works from the 1960s to the present, is the first full-scale look at Wiley’s long career and explores important themes and ideas expressed in his work. His work ranges from traditional drawing, watercolor, acrylic painting, sculpture, and printmaking to performances, constructions of assorted materials, and, more recently, printed pins, tapestries, and a pinball machine. Many artworks in the exhibition are on public display for the first time, and the installation includes several of Wiley’s avant-garde films of the 1970s, which are rarely screened.

Joann Moser, senior curator, organized the exhibition.


The accompanying book, co-published by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and University of California Press, includes essays by Joann Moser; John Hanhardt, consulting senior curator for film and media arts; and John Yau, poet and critic. 

Selected Reviews

Smithsonian magazine, October 1, "William Wiley Opens His Show at the American Art Museum with Pinball" by Abby Callard
The Washington Post, October 9, ""The Washington Post, October 9, " William Wiley: The Writing’s on the Walls" by Michael O'Sullivan  
The Wall Street Journal, December 9, "He’s Wiley, And Witty" by Sidney Lawrence 
The New York Times, December 29, "In Case You Missed the Revolution, Man" by Ken Johnson


Generous support for What’s It All Mean: William T. Wiley in Retrospect was provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the John and Maxine Belger Family Foundation, Gretchen and John Berggruen, Charles Cowles, the Cowles Charitable Trust, Sheila Duignan and Mike Wilkins, Electric Works, Sakurako and William Fisher, the Lipman Family Foundation, James and Marsha Mateyka, Arnold and Oriana McKinnon, Rita J. Pynoos, Betty and Jack Schafer, Laura and Joe Sweeney, Roselyne C. Swig, and the Tides Foundation: Art 4 Moore Fund. The exhibition is organized and circulated by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The C.F. Foundation in Atlanta supports the museum's traveling exhibition program, Treasures to Go.

William T. Wiley, Meridian Moons Overwhatarewe

William T. Wiley, Meridian Moons Overwhatarewe, 2006, mixed media on canvas, 60 1/4 x 85 1/2 inches, Anonymous San Francisco Collectors. © William T. Wiley. Photography courtesy of John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, California. Photograph by John Wilson White