This is a photograph of Virginia Mecklenburg in front of an Edward Hopper painting.

Virginia Mecklenburg

Senior Curator

Virginia Mecklenburg is senior curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She has been a curator of painting and sculpture at the museum since 1979. Her research interests include American art and culture, Ashcan art, New Deal art, American abstraction, pop art and Latinx art. See full staff bio

Exhibitions

  • Subversive, Skilled, Sublime: Fiber Art by Women
    The artists in Subversive, Skilled, Sublime: Fiber Art by Women mastered and subverted the everyday materials of cotton, felt, and wool to create deeply personal artworks. This exhibition presents an alternative history of twentieth-century American art by showcasing the work of artists such as Emma Amos, Sheila Hicks, and Faith Ringgold, who, stitch by stitch, utilized fiber materials to express their personal stories and create resonant and intricate artworks.
    May 31, 2024 January 5, 2025
  • Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice
    William H. Johnson's Fighters for Freedom series from the mid-1940s is a tribute to African American activists, scientists, teachers, and performers as well as international heads of state working to bring peace to the world. The exhibition Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice is drawn entirely from the collection of more than 1,000 works by William H. Johnson given to the Smithsonian American Art Museum by the Harmon Foundation in 1967 and reminds us that individual achievement and commitment to social justice are at the heart of the American story.
    October 13, 2023 February 25, 2024
  • Gene Davis: Hot Beat
    Brightly colored stripes multiply in rhythmic repetitions across the surface of a painting by Gene Davis. Remarkably original when they first appeared in the 1960s, these paintings became the signature expression for one of the leading Color Field painters. With no more than a rectangular canvas and multicolor stripes, Davis created a richly varied body of work that looks as fresh today as it did when it first was shown. The large size of most of his canvases from the 1960s requires a viewer to consider the relationships and rhythms over time, more like a musical composition than the dynamic, colorful, pop art images that emerged at the same time.
    November 18, 2016 April 1, 2017
  • Artworks by African Americans from the Collection
    The Smithsonian American Art Museum is home to an extraordinary collection of artworks by African Americans with more than 2,000 objects by more than 200 artists. From William H. Johnson’s vibrant portrayals of faith and family to Mickalene Thomas’s contemporary exploration of black female identity, SAAM’s holdings reflect its long-standing commitment to black artists and the acquisition, preservation, and display of their works.
    August 31, 2016 February 28, 2017
  • The Art of Romaine Brooks
    Romaine Brooks (1874–1970) lived most of her life in Paris where she was a leading figure of an artistic counterculture of upper-class Europeans and American expatriates, many of whom were creative, bohemian, and homosexual. Brooks crafted an androgynous appearance that challenged conventional ideas of how women should look and behave, and these ideas extended to many of the portraits she painted in the 1920s, which are some of her best known works.
    June 16, 2016 October 1, 2016
  • Crosscurrents: Modern Art from the Sam Rose and Julie Walters Collection
    American artists in the twentieth century were deeply influenced by European modernism. Crosscurrents: Modern Art from the Sam Rose and Julie Walters Collection features stellar paintings and sculpture by major American artists Alexander Calder, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Georgia O’Keeffe, Wayne Thiebaud and others alongside European giants such as Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. The exhibition examines what chief curator Virginia Mecklenburg describes as a “river of intellectual and artistic commerce that flowed both ways between America and Europe.” Crosscurrents is organized by Mecklenburg and features several gifts to the museum as well as artworks that are rarely seen by the public.
    October 29, 2015 April 9, 2016
  • Special Installation of Nineteen American Masterworks
    Integrated within the chronological flow of the museum’s permanent collection, these masterworks from Gilded Age, Impressionist, and Ashcan School painters will help to tell the story of the late 19th century and early 20th centuries in America, a “coming-of-age” period in American art. Mary Cassatt’s renowned Reading 'Le Figaro' is joined by major paintings by George Bellows, Martin Johnson Heade, John Singer Sargent, John Sloan, William Glackens, John La Farge, Everett Shinn and others.
    April 17, 2015 August 16, 2015
  • Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection
    Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection presents some of the most treasured artworks from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s permanent collection, including works by Will Barnet, Isabel Bishop, Paul Cadmus, Arthur Dove, Nancy Grossman, Edward Hopper, Wolf Kahn, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Jacob Lawrence, Reginald Marsh, Ben Shahn, and Honoré Sharrer, among others. The exhibition includes seventy paintings and sculpture from the 1910s to the 1980s that encompass the range of what can broadly be called modern realism, from socio-political to psychological, from satirical to surrealist. The artworks on display were selected by Virginia Mecklenburg, chief curator at the museum.
    February 28, 2014 August 16, 2014
  • African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond
    African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond presents a selection of paintings, sculpture, prints, and photographs by forty-three black artists who explored the African American experience from the Harlem Renaissance through the Civil Rights era and the decades beyond, which saw tremendous social and political changes. In response, these artists created an image of America that recognizes individuals and community and acknowledges the role of art in celebrating the multivalent nature of American society.
    April 26, 2012 September 2, 2012
  • 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, 2010 January 2, 2011
  • 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, 2008 December 15, 2011
  • Earl Cunningham’s America
    "Earl Cunningham's America" examines the paintings of Earl Cunningham (1893–1977), one of the premier folk artists of the 20th century. This retrospective presents the artist as a folk modernist who used the flat space and brilliant color typical of Matisse and Van Gogh to create sophisticated compositions with complex meanings about the nature of American life.
    August 9, 2007 November 3, 2007

Books

  • cunningham_500.jpg
    Earl Cunningham’s America
    Earl Cunningham (1893–1977) was one of the premier folk artists of the twentieth century. Earl Cunningham’s America presents Cunningham as a folk modernist who used the flat space and brilliant color typical of Matisse and Van Gogh to create sophisticated compositions. Wendell Garrett brings his broad knowledge of decorative arts and folk art to bear, placing Cunningham in the context of ideas and events. Virginia Mecklenburg, senior curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, traces Cunningham’s life and situates his work in the context of the folk art revival that brought Edward Hicks, Grandma Moses, and Horace Pippin to national attention. Carolyn Weekly, director of museums at Colonial Williamsburg, shows how Cunningham’s style developed over the course of his career.
  • rockwell_500.jpg
    Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg
    Norman Rockwell’s pictures tell stories—of children growing up and of couples growing old—that make us laugh with warmhearted recognition. Rockwell was a master humorist with an infallible sense of the dramatic moment. Like a movie director, he determined the pose and facial expression of each character, positioned each prop, and lighted his sets for maximum scenic effect. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg encountered Rockwell’s magazine covers as boys. The painter’s stories, and the ideals they reflect, fascinated these two friends and sometime collaborators and drew them to value, and collect, the work of Norman Rockwell. In this book, Virginia Mecklenburg traces Rockwell’s career using works from the collections of Lucas and Spielberg as guideposts. She also explores Rockwell’s fascination with Hollywood and his elaborate creative process wherein he assumed a role remarkably like that of a film director. In a separate essay, Todd McCarthy describes Rockwell’s cinematic techniques and draws parallels between Rockwell’s subjects and those of Hollywood directors, including Lucas and Spielberg.
  • AfAmBeyond_500.jpg
    African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, The Civil Rights Movement, and Beyond
    African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond offers a rich vision of twentieth-century visual culture. An essay by Richard Powell sets the stage: his analyses of works by Sargent Johnson, Renée Stout, Eldzier Cortor, and Alma Thomas give the reader a rubric for considering other works that range from the Harlem Renaissance to the decades beyond the civil rights era, a period that saw tremendous social and political change. The forty-three artists included here worked in every style current during those decades, from documentary realism to abstraction, from expressionism to postmodern assemblage. They consistently touch universal themes, but they also evoke specific aspects of the African American experience—the African Diaspora, jazz, and the persistent power of religion.
  • crosscurrents_500.jpg
    Crosscurrents: Modern Art from the Sam Rose and Julie Walters Collection
    In eighty-eight striking paintings and sculptures, Crosscurrents captures modernism as it moved from early abstractions by O’Keeffe, to Picasso and Pollock in midcentury, to pop riffs on contemporary culture by Roy Lichtenstein, Wayne Thiebaud, and Tom Wesselmann—all illustrating the complexity and energy of a distinctly American modernism.
  • hopper_500.jpg
    Edward Hopper: The Watercolors
    In the 1920s, inspired perhaps by the particular light and quality of Gloucester, Massachusetts, Edward Hopper began painting watercolors. He has been celebrated since then as one of the most eloquent of America’s realists. Text by Virginia Mecklenburg and Margaret Ausfeld accompanies over a hundred brilliant color images as well as seventy additional illustrations and a chronology of Hopper’s life and works.
  • modmast_500.jpg
    Modern Masters: American Abstraction at Midcentury
    Modern Masters: American Abstraction at Midcentury features more than thirty artists who transformed American art in the years after World War II. Seventy artworks from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, reproduced in full color, convey the dynamism and raw energy of the period. Photographs and biographical details provide intimate portraits of Richard Diebenkorn, Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell, Robert Motherwell, Louise Nevelson, and others who explored powerful color and the nuance of line.
  • metlives_500.jpg
    Metropolitan Lives: The Ashcan Artists and Their New York
    The six artists whose earthy, urban subjects led critics to call them the “Ashcan School” are featured in this book. The authors document how closely the work of these artists reflected current events and social concerns at the turn of the century. Newspaper clippings, postcards, and other ephemera of the period are reproduced.

Blog Posts

  • A drawing of over ten cakes lined up in a store front.
    Happy Birthday Wayne Thiebaud! 
    Reflecting on the artist’s “light and color and joy and humor,” and his nudge to look closer and think harder about the world that surrounds us