1934 by Hipchickindc

Millard Sheets: Tenement Flats, 1934, originally uploaded by americanartmuseum.

Of all of the amazing museums in DC, my undisputed favorite is the Smithsonian American Art Museum located at Gallery Place. Given that it is slightly north of the National Mall, I particularly like to show it off to out of town visitors who otherwise would have missed it. This past weekend, I had the pleasure of introducing the museum to an artist friend and we thoroughly enjoyed the current show titled, “1934: A New Deal for Artists”.

As the history of the Great Depression is being scrutinized for clues as to responses for our current economic turmoil, this exhibit is poignant. The show is comprised of fifty six paintings that resulted from the Public Works of Art Program, the first U.S. government support directly to individual artists. Recipients were tasked with expressing “The American Scene”. As such, the paintings present a variety of perspectives to a moment in time, ranging from urban and rural environments, to representations of leisure, labor, and industry. I was particularly intrigued that the program included minority artists who may have been denied other opportunities to present their work. Continues after the jump.

In addition to seeing a need to employ artists, it is profound to me that, in the midst of addressing serious financial and other practical needs, Franklin Roosevelt had the vision that Americans would benefit from cultural nourishment. The paintings were displayed in public venues such as libraries, schools, post offices, and government buildings, including the White House. At a time when arts funding is often disdainfully referred to as earmarks or pork spending, the success of this and subsequent programs, including the Works Progress Administration, speaks to the tremendous impact the fine arts have upon cultural identity.

As works of art, the paintings stand well on their own. This is one show, however, where the collateral information which tells the story of each artist and the artwork is especially interesting. I left the exhibit with a broader awareness of the experience of my father’s and grandparents’ generation.

The exhibit will be on view through January 3rd, 2010, after which it will tour as a traveling exhibition around the United States for three years. The Smithsonian American Art Museum is located at 8th and F Sts NW at the Gallery Place Metro. It is open daily from 11am to 7pm. More information can be found on their Web site.

16 Comment

  • This show looks fantastic, I’m really looking forward to seeing it – thanks for writing this up! This is a great museum – I vaguely remember the museum pre-renovation and thought it was just stuffy portraits of presidents. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s very eclectic and fun!

  • great post hipchick!

  • Wow, great write up. I’m definitely going to drag Chris down there, it will be an inexpensive outing.

  • Also one of my favorite off-the-radar spots.

    In terms of collateral benefits, it should be noted that the original of the Shepard Fairey Hope poster now hangs just to the left of the main entrance (more impressive than you’d think) and Proof, just across the street, is one of the city’s best wine bars which — in combination with the museum’s 7PM closing time — makes for the possibility of a very civilized happy hour.

  • Thanks for plugging one of the off the radar Museums. I have worked at American History, and frequently go to the aforementioned, The Freer and/or The Hirshorn
    in order to cool my nerves. We are more like a shopping mall with collections.

  • saf

    The building itself is also astoundingly cool. Go upstairs and see the Hall of Models.

  • Oh, phew! I showed up and saw six comments and was fully expecting to have been misunderstood to say that spending stimulus/bailout money on artists was the way to fix the Great Recession of 2009!

    One of my favorite interior spaces in DC is in this museum. I absolutely love the hall that houses most of the contemporary work. Check out the ceilings if you are up there. They are a very unique modern version of Cathedral vaults. Also, I love just hanging out in the courtyard, which is a very peaceful place, kind of like an indoor park in winter.

  • Actually, spending stimulus money on (public) art would be a great idea!

    Disagree about the courtyard though. Admittedly it was less practical when it was open but it was way cooler (in the warmer months).

  • Great Post! I’m going to drag my lazy butt down there to see this great art!

  • @Irving Streete: high five on the arts funding!

    I figure we have lots of other outdoor spaces in DC. However, there are some pics of the renovation hidden away in one of the side rooms and it shows the evolution of the courtyard over many years.

    I should also mention that these non-permanent shows are extremely hard to find in the building. We asked one of the guards where the show was and she had no idea what we were talking about. You have to actually go through the permanent collection of folk art (not a bad thing…love the tin foil church the guy built in his garage) and it’s at the very end through an obscure back door.

  • Thanks for the great press, Hipchick! Shall I send future tips/pitches on cool stuff at SAAM to the general Prince of Petworth e-mail account, or contact you directly?

    Mandy Young
    Public Affairs Assistant
    Smithsonian American Art Museum

  • Hi Mandy. Glad to be of service. Thanks for checking in. You can send to me at my screen name at yahoo.

  • Oh, and to comment on some of the previous posts:

    The Shepard Fairey collage belongs to the National Portrait Gallery, with which we share our historic landmark building.

    The “Hall of Models” is actually the Luce Foundation Center–our visible storage facility, which allows us to put about 10% of our collection on view in glass cases, rather than the mere 3% that fits on our regular gallery walls.

    The Lincoln Gallery on the 3rd floor is the space with contemporary art which you mention–those vaulted ceilings have been restored to their original grandeur.

    The courtyard ceiling, although transforming the space into something different than it was before, makes for a much more comfortable museum visit in August (I’m sure you’ll agree with me 5 months from now!) Its construction included recycled denim for acoustical purposes, 864 unique glass panes, and hollow aluminum pylons that allow snow and rain to drain directly down to the sewer. Perhaps most importantly, it allows us to use the space for public programs on rainy days. Check out one of our family days (one Saturday a month) or Take Five!, the museum’s monthly jazz event on Third Thursdays from 5 – 8 p.m.

    Okay, taking off my PR hat. Any questions, just email [email protected] and we’ll get back to you!

  • Mandy

    Recognizing that Hope belongs to the Portrait Gallery, on my last trip through the building it was actually physically hung in the American Art side. Has it been moved?

  • Do they still have the scavenger hunt at the Luce Center? My kids (4 & 6) really enjoy that. You get to run up and down throughout the collection, open drawers, do searches at the computer kiosks. A lot of fun.

Comments are closed.