Smithsonian American Art Museum Reopens Modern and Contemporary Galleries With a New Installation

The Smithsonian American Art Museum reopens its modern and contemporary galleries on September 22 with a new installation that freshly examines the explosion of possibility in American art between the 1940s and today. The selected works on view highlight established strengths of the museum’s collection, such as its leading collections of work by Black and self-taught artists, while featuring new areas of collection growth since 2006, including post-World War II and contemporary art, time-based media, and Latinx art. The installation intends to acknowledge the multifaceted narratives, identities, and artistic practices that exist in the United States by including the often-overlooked histories and contributions by Asian American, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, women, and LGBTQ+ artists; part of a museum-wide effort to provide a more expansive view of American art. This is the first phase in a multi-year, comprehensive renewal and reinstallation of the museum’s permanent collection galleries titled American Voices and Visions.

Newly acquired artworks by Firelei Báez, Tiffany Chung, Thornton Dial Sr., Audrey Flack, Jeffrey Gibson (Mississippi Choctaw/Cherokee), Tseng Kwong Chi, Miguel Luciano, Ken Ohara, Martha Rosler, Alison Saar, Hank Willis Thomas, Carlos Villa, and Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee Nation) among others — many of which are being shown for the first time — are displayed alongside iconic works from the collection by Alexander Calder, Jenny Holzer, Morris Louis, Kerry James Marshall, Louise Nevelson, Nam June Paik, Martin Puryear, Sean Scully, Alma Thomas, and Mickalene Thomas.

SAAM’s modern and contemporary art galleries were elegantly redesigned in collaboration with Selldorf Architects. The new design creates a unified space that highlights the historical architectural elements of the building while offering improved conditions for viewing and displaying artworks. The new wall layout doubles the available area for installing art and allows for dynamic circulation patterns including some smaller more intimate gallery moments that reinforce the fluidity between artistic disciplines and historical narratives. An exciting addition is a 1,700-square-foot multimedia gallery specifically designed for time-based media artworks and installations.

An afternoon of in-person programming on Friday, September 22, from 12:30pm to 5:15pm (EDT), celebrates the reopening of American Voices and Visions: Modern and Contemporary Art with an Open House. SAAM’s curatorial and conservation staff will give a series of gallery talks exploring the reimagined and reinstalled galleries, as well as a look at the special exhibitions Many Wests: Artists Shape an American Idea and Musical Thinking: New Video Art and Sonic Strategies. The event is free, registration is encouraged.

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SAAM’s newly reopened modernism and contemporary galleries (photo by Ron Blunt)

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