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About SAAM and Renwick

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Painting by Thomas Moran

The Smithsonian American Art Museum, the nation's first collection of American art, is an unparalleled record of the American experience. The collection captures the aspirations, character and imagination of the American people throughout three centuries. The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the home to one of the largest and most inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal key aspects of America's rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today. More than 7,000 artists are represented in the collection, including major masters, such as John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, Mary Cassatt, Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence, Helen Frankenthaler, Christo, David Hockney, Jenny Holzer, Lee Friedlander, Nam June Paik, Martin Puryear and Robert Rauschenberg.

The museum has been a leader in identifying significant aspects of American visual culture and actively collecting and exhibiting works of art before many other major public collections. The museum has the largest collection of New Deal art and the finest collections of contemporary craft, and American impressionist paintings and masterpieces from the Gilded Age. Other pioneering collections include historic and contemporary folk art; work by African American and Latino artists; photography from its origins in the 19th century to contemporary works; images of western expansion; and realist art from the first half of the 20th century. In recent years, the museum has strengthened its commitment to contemporary art through curatorial appointments, endowments, acquisitions, commissions and an annual artist award.

A recent renovation of the museum's historic main building expanded the permanent collection galleries and created innovative new public spaces. The Luce Foundation Center for American Art, the first visible art storage and study center in Washington, allows visitors to browse more than 3,300 works from the collection. It adjoins the Lunder Conservation Center, which is shared with the National Portrait Gallery, the first art conservation facility to allow the public permanent behind-the-scenes views of the preservation work of museums.

National Outreach

In addition to a robust exhibition program in Washington, D.C., the museum maintains a highly regarded traveling exhibition program. It has circulated hundreds of exhibitions since the program was established in 1951. From 2000 to 2005, the museum organized 14 exhibitions of more than 1,000 major artworks from its permanent collection that traveled to 105 venues across the United States. More than 2.5 million visitors saw these exhibitions.

The museum is a leader in providing electronic resources to schools and the public through its national education program. The museum offers virtual tours via videoconferencing to classrooms, and has produced a series of podcasts that feature voices of artists, curators and students. In 2005, it debuted EyeLevel, the first blog at the Smithsonian, which has more than 7,000 readers each month. The museum maintains seven online research databases with more than 500,000 records. Each year, nearly 3 million virtual visitors from across the globe use these resources. Ask Joan of Art, the museum's online reference service, began in 1993 and is the longest running arts-based service of its kind in the United States.

Renwick Gallery

The Renwick Gallery, a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, features one of the finest collections of American craft in the United States. Its collections, exhibition program and publications highlight the best craft objects and decorative arts from the 19th century to the present. One-of-a-kind pieces created from clay, fiber, glass, metal, and wood from SAAM's permanent collection of contemporary craft are displayed on a rotating basis in the second-floor galleries. Popular works include Larry Fuente's Game Fish, Wendell Castle's Ghost Clock, and Beth Lipman's Bancketje (Banquet). Temporary exhibitions of American craft and decorative arts are shown on the Renwick Gallery's first floor. There special exhibitions highlighting contemporary artists as well as traditions in American craft open in the spring and fall. Several hundred paintings from the museum's permanent collection-hung salon style: one-atop-another and side-by-side-are featured in special installations in the Grand Salon. An interactive map to the Gallery is available online.

The Renwick Gallery is located steps from the White House in the heart of historic federal Washington. The Second Empire-style building, a National Historic Landmark, was designed by architect James Renwick Jr. in 1859 and completed in 1874. It became the home of SAAM's craft and decorative arts program in 1972.

The museum's modern and contemporary art collection is on display in the historic Lincoln Gallery.
Photo Credit: Ken Rahaim, Smithsonian Institution

Lecture Details
Luce Center for American Art

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