Telling an Inclusive History of American Art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum


The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) believes that consciously building a collection that presents a multiplicity of perspectives and experiences is one of the most visible ways a museum can tell important stories. At SAAM and its Renwick Gallery, curators have acquired artworks that showcase an inclusive history of American art, including the often overlooked stories and contributions of Black, Latinx, Asian American, LGBTQ+, Indigenous artists and women. SAAM brings together works of art made by a broadly representative and diverse group of American artists in all media – from painting and sculpture to time-based media, sound art, photographs, self-taught art and to contemporary craftsmanship.

Artists Laura Aguilar, Judith Baca, Dawoud Bey, James Castle, Tiffany Chung, David “Dave” Drake, Arthur Jafa, Christine Sun Kim, Simone Leigh, Ana Mendieta, Oree Originol, Alison Saar, Bill Traylor, Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee), Carrie Mae Weems, Fred Wilson and Wanxin Zhang, among others, are represented in SAAM’s collection. Additionally, the museum has transformed its photography collections with the LJ West Collection of Early American Photographs, including works by prominent black daguerreotypists James P. Ball, Glenalvin Goodridge, and Augustus Washington.

In 2020, SAAM launched the Renwick Gallery 50th Anniversary acquisition campaign. Through more than 200 objects by artists – including Bisa Butler, Sonya Clark, David Harper Clemons, Sharon Kerry-Harlan, Roberto Lugo and Preston Singletary (Tlingit) – the museum re-examines the landscape of American craftsmanship and highlights stories of perseverance, models of resilience and methods of activism relevant to today’s audiences. More than 130 of these newly acquired works will be exhibited in the exhibition This Now Moment: Creating a Better Worldopening May 13.

“These works of art define a bolder future that will help us better understand ourselves, each other and the world around us,” said Stephanie Stebich, director of Margaret and Terry Stent.

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