American Voices and Visions: The Rebirth of Modern and Contemporary Art

Welcome to the reimagined world of modern and contemporary art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Step into a vibrant space where diverse voices and visions are celebrated, inviting you to explore the profound impact of installation art. In this collection, you'll encounter works by renowned artists like Barbra Kruger, Nick Cave, Allison Saar, and Mickalene Thomas, who redefine what it means to be an American artist. Join me, Jennifer Scott, on a journey through these newly installed galleries and discover the powerful stories that American art has to offer.

An Intersection of New Narratives

Discover the diverse and richer stories of American art

With the recent reopening of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's modern and contemporary galleries, a vibrant and diverse artistic narrative emerges. Through this reimagined collection, the curatorial team has sought to redefine what it means to be an American artist, exploring the narratives of women, LGBTQ, Black, Indigenous, Asian-American, Latinx, and immigrant artists. This new configuration opens the door to a broader representation of voices within American art, reflecting a world that embraces diversity and inclusion.

From Feminist Empowerment to Challenging Eurocentric Views

The gallery promotes feminist art through works by Audrey Flack and Judith Back, highlighting the strength and resilience of women throughout history. Additionally, artists like Carlos Villa and Kay WalkingStick push back on white, Eurocentric viewpoints, providing alternative perspectives that shape the American art discourse.

A Platform for Protest Art

Protest art plays a significant role within this collection, serving as a catalyst for social change. Artworks by dissenting voices like Consuelo Jimenez Underwood and Barbara Jones-Hogu of the activist collective AfriCOBRA invite viewers to reflect on confronting injustices and championing equity. Enter this space, and bear witness to art challenging the status quo.

Celebrating Medium Diversity and Recent Acquisitions

Immerse yourself in a multi-faceted art experience

This newly refreshed gallery harmonizes various artistic practices, demonstrating the breadth and scope of contemporary American art. Through photography, sculpture, works on paper, craft, and self-taught art, visitors are exposed to the richness of medium diversity and its capacity for powerful expression.

A significant highlight lies in the curated selection of recent acquisitions on display. This rotating blend of talent ensures that the voices of emerging artists find a platform to be seen and heard. Expect to encounter fresh perspectives that reflect the rapidly evolving cultural and social climate of our time.

Breathing Life into Historic Architecture

Revealing the union of history and modernity

The Smithsonian American Art Museum adeptly presents modern and contemporary art within the encompassing embrace of history. Highlighting the magnificent Lincoln Gallery, visitors witness the stunning juxtaposition of classic pale marble columns against provocative, contemporary works. Step into the grand space which was once host to President Lincoln's second inaugural ball, and immerse yourself in its rich historical ambiance.

The merger of past and present extends beyond a mere visual narrative. Collaborating with Selldorf Architects, the museum carefully balances the historic authenticity of the building, originally the U.S. Patent Office, with the contemporary needs demanded by modern museum practices. The result: An effortless blending of the past and present, wherein both stories ultimately find salvation.

Curating Connections: Making Art Accessible and Reflective

Navigating the new galleries and forging unexpected links

The reimagining of the modern and contemporary galleries creates a coherent and comprehensive connection between artworks, allowing visitors to embark on a uniquely personalized journey through American art. Pass through the halls and reveal the intentional juxtapositions—a bridge between different perspectives that prompts thoughtful contemplation and fascinating associations.

Experience influential works by Martin Puryear, Louise Nevelson, and Sam Gilliam, claiming their rightful place within the expansive space. Among these masterpieces, marvel at Nam June Paik's renowned installation, 'Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii' (1995), a monument to the era of infinite digital connection, alongside the mesmerizing 'Zen for TV' (1963) and captivating excerpts from the Nam June Paik Archive that illuminate the revolutionary nature of media art.


Through the reimagined modern and contemporary galleries at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, a new era of American art has emerged—one that celebrates diversity, amplifies underrepresented voices, and challenges conventional perspectives. This immersive experience encourages visitors to explore the transformative power of installation art, forging connections between past and present, personal and communal. It is an invitation to see ourselves reflected in the vibrant tapestry of American art.


What are the highlights of the new installation?

The new installation highlights the narratives of women, LGBTQ, Black, Indigenous, Asian-American, Latinx, and immigrant artists, emphasizing diverse and inclusive perspectives. Additionally, the galleries feature feminist art, artworks challenging Eurocentric views, protest art, and a platform for time-based media.

What can visitors expect to see in the refreshed galleries?

In the refreshed galleries, visitors can expect to see a diverse range of artistic mediums, including photography, sculpture, works on paper, craft, and self-taught art. A significant portion of the displayed works are recent acquisitions, allowing for fresh perspectives and reflections of our evolving society.

How does the museum incorporate its historic architecture with modern art?

The museum strikingly merges historic architecture with modern art, creating a visual and narrative union. The Lincoln Gallery, once host to President Lincoln's second inaugural ball, stands as a testament to history's resonance. Collaborating with Selldorf Architects, the museum balances historical authenticity with contemporary museum needs, resulting in a seamless blend of past and present narratives.

What is unique about the connection between artworks in the new galleries?

The new galleries prioritize the curation of connections between artworks, encouraging visitors to navigate the space and form unexpected links within the collection. This intentional arrangement prompts viewers to engage in thoughtful contemplation and discover fascinating associations, fostering a deeply personal and immersive artistic journey.

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