Smithsonian American Art Museum acquires more than 200 artworks for its craft collection

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Smithsonian American Art Museum acquires more than 200 artworks for its craft collection
Bisa Butler, Don’t Tread On Me, God Damn, Let’s Go!— The Harlem Hellfighters, 2021, pieced, appliquéd, and quilted cottons, silk, wool, and velvet, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of David Bonderman. Photo by Lee Stalsworth.

WASHINGTON, DC.- A recent campaign by the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery to acquire artworks by leading craft artists has brought more than 200 objects into its permanent collection. The Renwick Gallery 50th Anniversary Acquisition Campaign, begun in 2020, focused on artworks made by a broadly representative and diverse group of American artists and significantly increases the number of Black, Latinx, Asian American, LGBTQ+, Indigenous and women artists represented in the nation’s collection.

These newly acquired artworks are part of an effort to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the museum’s Renwick Gallery as the nation’s premier museum for the enjoyment and study of American craft. The artworks selected through this acquisitions campaign deepen the history of the studio craft movement while also introducing contemporary artworks that push the boundaries of what is considered to be handmade in the 21st century. More than 130 of these artworks will be on display in the exhibition “This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World” opening May 13.

“For 50 years, SAAM’s Renwick Gallery has championed innovation in American craft,” said Stephanie Stebich, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “As we take this opportunity to both look back and look ahead, these newly acquired artworks added through our 50th Anniversary Acquisitions Campaign define a bolder future that will help us better understand ourselves, each other and the world around us.”

By bringing into the collection artworks by Bisa Butler, Sonya Clark, David Harper Clemons, Sharon Kerry-Harlan, Roberto Lugo and Preston Singletary, among others, the museum is reexamining the landscape of American craft and highlighting stories of persistence, models of resilience and methods of activism that are relevant to audiences today. Selected artworks from the campaign can be browsed in an online gallery on the museum’s website.

This acquisition campaign was led by Nora Atkinson, the Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator-in-Charge for the Renwick Gallery with Mary Savig, the Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft; and Anya Montiel, curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (formerly the museum’s curator of American and Native American women’s art and craft). The artworks acquired, both through gifts and museum purchase, represent a range of craft mediums, including fiber, ceramics, glass, metal and wood. Curators worked closely with a volunteer Renwick Gallery 50th Anniversary Acquisitions Committee of more than 50 knowledgeable collectors, artists and craft enthusiasts from across the United States. The committee was co-chaired by Myra J. Weiss, a member of the museum’s board of commissioners, and Carolyn Mazloomi, artist, curator and scholar.

“When it comes to expanding the museum’s collection, our priority is to break barriers further,” says Atkinson. “At 50 years, we have an opportunity to look back at our history, see where we have succeeded and fallen short and recalibrate as we embark on the next 50 years. By including people of all genders, sexualities, ethnicities and abilities in our collection and examining all forms of craft practice with genuine curiosity, we are building a national collection that showcases a multiplicity of perspectives and experiences.”

Notable additions to the collection include Bisa Butler’s “Don’t Tread On Me, God Damn, Let’s Go!—The Harlem Hellfighters” (2021) that brings to life a segregated unit of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I; Sonya Clark’s “Monumental” (2019) that celebrates Blackness while confronting historical imbalances and the roots of racial injustice; David Harper Clemons’s critique of unsustainable agricultural production and consumerism “The Weight of Deferred Gratification” (2019); Sharon Kerry-Harlan’s “Portrait of Resilience” (2020) that pieces together social issues exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic; Roberto Lugo’s “Juicy” (2021) remixes luxury porcelain objects with a hip-hop twist; and “Safe Journey” (2021) by Preston Singletary (Tlingit), part of his series of “Spirit Boxes” based on traditional storage boxes of Northwest native communities.

Fleur Bresler, a longtime supporter of the museum’s craft program and member of the museum’s board of commissioners, has donated 31 artworks to the museum as part of the campaign; eight objects from this gift will be featured in the exhibition. Judith Chernoff and Jeffrey Bernstein have given 43 works from their collection of sculptural wood art, all of which will be featured in this exhibition in a dedicated gallery.

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