The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Luce Foundation Center for American Art is the first visible art storage and study center in Washington, D.C.
This innovative public space on SAAM's third and fourth floors offers visitors new ways to experience American art.
What can I see at the Luce Center?
Explore the Luce Foundation Center
Due to COVID-19, docent-led tours at the Luce Foundation Center are not currently available.
Visitors may explore the center via an audio tour using their smartphones, with accompanying object codes listed in the gallery space.
Visitors can use their smartphone to access a QR code using their smartphone via signage in the Center to access more information about the artworks.
Delve into the local arts scene! The Luce Local Artists Series invites bands and arts professionals from the DMV to showcase their talents. See upcoming Luce Local Artists Series programs on the events calendar.
We have over 200 audio tour stops that explore the scope of the collection. Listen to as many or as few tour stops as you like!
Download or print Luce Center scavenger hunts from home, and test your skills! Bring one of our hunts to the Luce Foundation Center and follow the clues to find specific artworks among the more than 3,000 objects on display. Find all of the correct answers and win a prize!
To arrange for a group hunt, please e-mail AmericanArtLuce@si.edu.
The Luce Foundation Center is often looking for enthusiastic volunteers to help at its information desk. E-mail AmericanArtLuce@si.edu for details.
Keep up to date with the Luce Foundation Center by becoming a fan on facebook.com/americanartluce.
Sign up to receive email updates about Luce Foundation Center activities.
Share your pics and thoughts on #LuceLocal
Contact The Staff
If you have a question or would like to schedule a tour, please contact the Luce Foundation Center information desk AmericanArtLuce@si.edu.
About the Historic Luce Center Space
The Luce Foundation Center occupies 24,000 square feet on the third and fourth floors of the historic Patent Office Building’s west wing. Built between 1836 and 1862, the Patent Office Building is one of the oldest public buildings in Washington, D.C. The west wing was built between 1852 and 1857 under the direction of Thomas U. Walter, architect of the Capitol. It was in this space that the patent models, which had been submitted and rejected for patent, were on view to the public. During the Civil War, the First Rhode Island Regiment camped here, bunking in between the patent model cases. President Abraham Lincoln hosted his second Inaugural Ball on the building’s third floor. Guests promenaded through the east wing to the south wing for dancing. Dinner took place in the west wing, where the 4,000 guests rushed en masse to the buffet tables, overcrowding them and causing quite a mess. In 1877, a fire destroyed the upper floors of the north and west wings and nearly 87,000 patent models. Adolf Cluss, who also designed the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building and Eastern Market, and his partner Paul Schulze oversaw the rebuilding of the damaged areas.
The Patent Office moved out of the building in 1932 and the Civil Service Commission occupied the building for the next 30 years. During the 1950s, the building avoided demolition with the help of D.C.’s budding historic preservation movement and in 1965 became a National Historic Landmark. Congress passed ownership of the building to the Smithsonian in 1958 and the American Art Museum (then called the National Collection of Fine Arts) and National Portrait Gallery opened in the space in 1968. The west wing housed the Archives of American Art and a branch of the Smithsonian Libraries until 2000, when the building closed for expansive renovations. In 2006, the building reopened with the groundbreaking Lunder Conservation Center and Luce Foundation Center occupying the west wing’s upper floors.
In 2001, the Henry Luce Foundation gave $10 million to establish the Luce Foundation Center for American Art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The center opened July 1, 2006, following an extensive renovation of the museum’s historic building.
Other centers supported by the Henry Luce Foundation include the Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Henry Luce III Center at the Historical Society, and the Luce Center for American Art at the Brooklyn Museum. The Henry Luce Foundation has funded these study centers out of a profound desire to acquaint more museum visitors with the diversity and excellence of American art.
Host an Event at SAAM
- Reception: 800
- Seated: 300
The Luce Center features three levels of Smithsonian American Art Museum’s painting, sculpture, folk art, and craft collections, on display in floor to ceiling glass cases. The Luce Center’s architectural elements such as the elaborate columns, bronze railings, multicolored marble floor, large windows and a city-block long skylight will make any gathering an event to remember.