Photograph of Karen Lemmey by Bruce Schwarz

Karen Lemmey

The Lucy S. Rhame Curator of Sculpture

Karen Lemmey is the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s curator of sculpture; she joined the museum’s staff in 2012. Lemmey is responsible for research, exhibitions and acquisitions related to the museum’s extensive sculpture collection, which is the largest collection of American sculpture in the world. Her research interests include public art and monuments, the history of materials and methods, American artist colonies in 19th-century Italy, the depiction of race in American sculpture, the history of sculpture conservation, and direct carving. See full staff bio.


  • Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/Modern

    November 11, 2016 – March 19, 2017
    Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and G Streets, NW)
    Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) was among the most innovative American sculptors of the twentieth century, creating works that were far ahead of his time. His design for Sculpture to Be Seen from Mars (1947) anticipates the space age by several decades. Yet Noguchi frequently found inspiration in ancient art and architecture, from Egyptian pyramids, to Buddhist temples and Zen gardens, to American Indian burial mounds. The exhibition Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/Modern explores how the ancient world shaped this artist’s innovative vision for the future.
  • Martin Puryear: Multiple Dimensions

    May 26, 2016 — September 4, 2016
    Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and G Streets, NW)
    Martin Puryear (b. 1941) is widely celebrated for his elegant but playful sculptures and his devotion to craft. His drawings and prints are less well known, but they are equally essential to the artist’s studio practice. Martin Puryear: Multiple Dimensions is the first exhibition to draw back the curtain on that practice and offers an unprecedented look into Puryear’s inspirations, methods, and transformative process.
  • Direct Carving

    February 1, 2015 — July 12, 2020
    Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and G Streets, NW)
    Spontaneous! Truthful! Liberating! Direct carvers often used such words to describe their unconventional method of sculpting, in which an artist works directly on a piece of stone or wood as opposed to with a model, cast, or preconceived design. Direct Carving includes twenty-four sculptures from across the twentieth century, nearly all of which are drawn from the museum's permanent collection, that showcase this method.