This museum’s aim is monumental: to provide a full record of the American experience over 300 years. It is known for its pioneering collections of art dating from the New Deal period, contemporary craft, folk art, and art from the Gilded Age.
Collecting began in 1829 by John Varden, who eventually declared himself the institution’s first curator. But the collection experience fits and starts until it began to significantly grow during the 1900s. Recently, it has focused on building its contemporary collection through acquisitions and commissioning works. It also organizes exhibitions that travel to museums across the country.
More than 7,000 artists are represented in the museum’s permanent collection, including John Singleton Copley, John Singer Sargent, Edward Hopper, Lee Friedlander, Gilbert Stuart, and Robert Rauschenberg. Highlights of the collection include Georgia O’Keeffe’s Manhattan, Albert Bierstadt’s Among the Sierra Nevada, John Singer Sargent’s Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler, Jenny Holzer’s For SAAM, and John La Farge’s Peacocks and Peonies I and II.
Besides its traveling exhibitions, the museum hosts several special showings in its own galleries. They have included showcases of work by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, art from Japanese-American internment camps of the 1940s, and graphic arts masterworks.
Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) Information
- Public Transportation: Excellent (conveniently located on the Red, Yellow and Green lines off the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro station)
- Handicapped Accessibility: Good
- Hours: Open daily 11:30 a.m.–7 p.m.
- Admission: Free
- Membership: Associate membership is $50 annually and includes store discounts
- Other Benefits: Sponsor membership ($150/annually) gets you reciprocal benefits at other museums. Sustainer membership ($250/annually) entitles members to special visiting privileges and invitations to opening parties.