The Smithsonian American Art Museum has been a leader in identifying and collecting significant aspects of American visual culture. American Art has the largest collection of New Deal art and the finest collections of contemporary craft, American impressionist paintings, and masterpieces from the Gilded Age. Other pioneering collections include photography, modern folk art, work by African American and Latino artists, images of western expansion, and realist art from the first half of the twentieth century. In recent years, the museum has focused on strengthening our contemporary art collection, and in particular media arts, through acquisitions and by commissioning new artworks.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum (commonly known as SAAM, and formerly the National Museum of American Art) is a museum in Washington, D.C.. It has one of the world’s largest and most inclusive collections of art, from the colonial period to the present, made in the United States. The museum has more than 7,000 artists represented in the collection, which contains the largest collection of New Deal art; a collection of contemporary craft, American impressionist paintings, and masterpieces from the Gilded Age; photography, modern folk art, works by African American and Latino artists, images of western expansion, and realist art from the first half of the twentieth century. Most exhibitions take place in the museum’s main building, the old Patent Office Building (shared with the National Portrait Gallery), while craft-focused exhibitions are shown in the museum’s Renwick Gallery.
The museum provides electronic resources to schools and the public through its national education program, including Artful Connections, real-time video conference tours. It maintains seven online research databases with more than 500,000 records, including the Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture that document more than 400,000 artworks in public and private collections worldwide. Since 1951, the museum has maintained a traveling exhibition program; as of 2013, more than 2.5 million visitors have seen the exhibitions.
Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the museum has a broad variety of American art, with more than 7,000 artists represented, that covers all regions and art movements found in the United States. Among the significant artists represented in its collection are Nam June Paik, Jenny Holzer, David Hockney, Georgia O’Keeffe, John Singer Sargent, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Albert Bierstadt, Edmonia Lewis, Thomas Moran, James Gill, Edward Hopper, John William “Uncle Jack” Dey, Karen LaMonte and Winslow Homer. The museum describes itself as being “dedicated to collecting, understanding, and enjoying American art. The museum celebrates the extraordinary creativity of artists whose works reflect the American experience and global connections.”
The Smithsonian American Art Museum first opened to the public in its current location in 1968 when the Smithsonian renovated the Old Patent Office Building in order to display its collection of fine art. Previously, the collection, which was begun in 1829, was on display in a Smithsonian building on the National Mall. The Smithsonian American Art Museum has had many names over the years—Smithsonian Art Collection, National Gallery of Art, National Collection of Fine Arts, and National Museum of American Art. The museum adopted its current name in October 2000.
The Smithsonian completed another renovation of the building in July 1, 2006. Washington D.C.-based Hartman-Cox Architects oversaw the project, which restored many of the building’s exceptional architectural features, such as the porticos, a curving double staircase, colonnades, vaulted galleries, large windows, and skylights as long as a city block. The renovation was funded by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, the Luce Family and other noteworthy patrons of the arts donated about US$117 million. The renovation lasted six and a half years and cost approximately US$283 million. On November 18, 2007, the central courtyard opened with a new, curved glass canopy designed by British architect Lord Norman Foster of the architectural firm Foster + Partners.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum shares its historic building with the National Portrait Gallery, another Smithsonian museum. Although the two museums’ names have not changed, they are collectively known as the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture.
The museum’s main building, a National Historic Landmark located in the heart of Washington’s downtown cultural district, has been meticulously renovated with expanded permanent-collection galleries and innovative 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.