Fact Sheet: Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Hour’ — Frederick Douglass”



Isaac Julien: ‘Lessons of the Hour’—Frederick Douglass
Dec. 8–Dec. 6, 2026  


Smithsonian American Art Museum
Eighth and G streets N.W.  


Sir Isaac Julien’s moving image installation “Lessons of the Hour” (2019) interweaves period reenactments across five screens to create a vivid picture of 19th-century activist, writer, orator and philosopher Frederick Douglass. Through critical research, fictional reconstruction and a marriage of poetic image and sound, Julien asserts Douglass’ enduring lessons of justice, abolition and freedom that remain just as relevant today. 

“Lessons of the Hour” was jointly acquired this year by SAAM and the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. The 28-minute work will remain on public view through the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States in 2026. 

The exhibition is organized by Saisha Grayson, curator of time-based media, and Charlotte Ickes, curator of time-based media art and special projects at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.  


This presentation received federal support from the Smithsonian Collections Care Initiative, administered by the National Collections Program, and from the Smithsonian Secretary and the Smithsonian National Board. 

Note to the Editors: Selected high-resolution images for publication only are available through the museum’s Dropbox account. Email AmericanArtPressOffice@si.edu to request the link. 

About the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the flagship museum in the United States for American art and craft. It is home to one of the most significant and inclusive collections of American art in the world. The museum’s main building, located at Eighth and G streets N.W., is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The museum’s Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Check online for current hours and admission information. Admission is free. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Website: americanart.si.edu.

Press Images

A dark gallery with 5 screens projecting images of nature.
Press - Lessons of the Hour, installation image

Installation view, Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Hour, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, September 24– December 15, 2019. Copyright Isaac Julien, Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro. Image Courtesy of SCAD