Smithsonian American Art Museum collection of folk and self-taught art opens

The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection of folk and self-taught art represents the powerful vision of America’s untrained and vernacular artists.  Recently, the museum reimagined its permanent collection galleries to feature 59 recent acquisitions, an expanded presentation of the beloved “Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly” by James Hampton, reopened historic windows and new oak floors. The galleries open to the public Friday, Oct. 21.

Smithsonian American Art Museum galleries
Installation views of Emery Blagdon’s Healing Machine (1955-86) and Charlie Willeto’s Female Navajo Figure and Male Navajo Figure (both 1962-64).

Recently acquired works by Consuelo Gonzalez Amezcua, Emery Blagdon, David Butler, Ulysses Davis, Ralph Fasanella, Clementine Hunter, Dan Miller, Joe Minter, Eddy Mumma, J.B. Murray, Achilles Rizzoli, Melvin Way, Charlie Willeto, Clarence and Grace Woolsey, Purvis Young and Albert Zahn join visitor favorites by Thornton Dial, Lonnie Holley, Martín Ramírez and Jon Serl. A striking presence in the galleries is a display of more than 60 sculptures and paintings by Blagdon that represents his constantly changing “Healing Machine.” It is the second-largest installation of his work on public view in the United States.

On public view for the first time in the new installation of the “Throne” are Hampton’s personal journal, written primarily in an asemic, or unreadable script, and a chalkboard showing some plans for the “Throne” sketched by Hampton. The journal will be on display for a limited time. While the “Throne” may have been viewed as idiosyncratic visionary art when it was first acquired, it has become increasingly understood as a seminal representation of African American cultural and artistic heritage, a complex piece that embodies not just the artist’s personal vision but also a cultural tradition of giving visual testimony to spiritual beliefs.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrates the vision and creativity of Americans with artworks in all media spanning more than four centuries. Its National Historic Landmark building is located at Eighth and F streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station. Museum hours are 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free.


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