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Fodor's Washington, D.C. 2014
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Smithsonian American Art Museum Review
The world's biggest and most inclusive collection of American art houses a collection that spans three centuries, from the colonial period to today. Among the thousands of American artists represented are John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper, David Hockney, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Jenny Holzer, Kerry James Marshall, Cory Arcangel, and Robert Rauschenberg. This museum occupies a National Historic Landmark building it shares with the National Portrait Gallery.
The American folk-art galleries are filled with fabulous pieces from the ceramic Elvis Presley–shape jug and the enormous intricately crafted tinfoil altarpiece, to the Coke-bottle quilt sewn by a grandmother from Yakoo County, Mississippi.
The collection galleries on the second floor link artworks to major moments in America's past, from the American Colonies and the founding of the new republic, to western expansion and discovery, to the Civil War and late 19th-century America, to early modernism.
American art came into its own by the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The museum has the largest collection of New Deal art and the finest collection of American impressionist paintings, including the light-filled canvasses of Mary Cassatt and Childe Hassam, the sophisticated Gilded Age portraits by John Singer Sargent, and masterpieces by Winslow Homer and James McNeill Whistler.
An explosion of American innovation shifted the center of the 20th-century art world from Paris to New York. The museum's Lincoln Gallery on the third floor features modern and contemporary paintings and sculpture, including For SAAM by Jenny Holzer, Robert Indiana's seminal The Figure Five, David Hockney's Snails Space with Vari-Lites, "Painting as Performance," and Nam June Paik's Electronic Superhighway: Continental US, Alaska, Hawaii, a billboard size video wall of neon-and-television screens that forms a map.
Fans of video art can see recent examples of work acquired by the museum in a dedicated gallery on the third floor.
At any given time, much of the museum's holdings are in storage, but you can view more than 3,000 artworks in its Luce Foundation Center, a study center and visible storage space on the third and fourth floors. At computer kiosks set among the glass cases, you can look up any work in the center to find out more about the artist and the work. There's also a scavenger hunt that begins in the Luce Center; it's for kids and adults; the themes change monthly.
Adjacent to the Luce Foundation Center is the Lunder Conservation Center, where visitors can watch the museum's conservators at work in state-of-the-art labs and learn more about the preservation work of museums.
Free Wi-Fi is available in the museum's expansive Kogod Courtyard, enclosed by an elegant glass canopy designed by world-renowned architect Norman Foster.
Look out for 21st Century Consort, a series of ticketed concerts inspired by artworks on view with preconcert discussions.
The Courtyard Café offers a good rest stop, with casual dining, drinks, snacks, and views of lush interior landscaping.
Don't get caught by the later opening time of 11:30–7.
There are free docent-led tours every day at 12:30 and 2.
The museum regularly holds lectures, films, and evenings of live jazz in its auditorium and courtyard.
Check the website for what's on during your visit to the site.
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