Visual Art and the American Experience is the only permanent art exhibition on the Smithsonian Mall dedicated to illustrating the critical role American artists of African descent played in shaping the history of American art. 

The exhibition contains various modes of fine art production, including painting, sculpture, work(s) on paper, art installations, mixed media, photography, and digital media.

About the Exhibition

  • Where: Level 4 (L4), The Rhimes Family Foundation Galleries
  • Curators: Tuliza Fleming and Jacquelyn Serwer

Main Messages:

  • The exhibition raises the profile of American artists of African descent from the periphery of the American art canon to its center and replaces the moniker, “African American art,” with the more appropriate designation of American art.
  • Galleries within the exhibition group artists by theme or approach, illustrating shared intellectual and aesthetic sensibilities. 
  • Visitors who may be unfamiliar with American art are provided ways to engage with objects in the exhibition through historical, social, and political interpretations that reference other exhibition themes throughout the Museum. Visitors are able to contextualize each work of art through multimedia platforms (including an intro video, multiple iPad kiosks, downloadable apps, and the NMAAHC website).
  • The exhibition is a place of collaboration, primarily with historically black institutions, through object loans. Using the multimedia platforms, the Museum highlights the critical role of each lending institution in supporting, collecting, exhibiting, and preserving art by African Americans.
Ethiopia, ca. 1921 by Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller. Gift of the Fuller Family, © Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller.

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1877-1967)
Ethiopia, ca. 1921
Paint on plaster
Gift of the Fuller Family, © Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller

Exhibition Experience

Visual Art and the American Experience is divided into seven thematic sections and one changing exhibition gallery. The thematic organization of the exhibition provides visitors with a more familiar point of entry, while topics within the exhibition complement subject areas explored throughout the Museum.

Exhibition Themes

  • The World Around Us
  • The Politics of Identity
  • The Struggle for Freedom
  • African Connections
  • Religion and Spirituality
  • The Beauty of Color and Form
  • New Materials, New Worlds
  • Changing Art Gallery

Media in the Exhibition

Visual Art and the American Experience has two media components. The first component is an introductory video to the gallery. The video introduces the visitor to the philosophical concept of the exhibition which, at its core, emphasizes the fact that artwork created by African American artists is American art. It also illustrates how this art represents various aesthetic styles, reflects national and world events, and establishes new artistic trends and theories.

The second element is the multi-media platform. The exhibition's multi-media platform is designed to give audience members the opportunity to delve deeper into the history and relevance of the artists and artworks on view. The platform is available in multiple incarnations, including 14 iPads that are dispersed on stanchions throughout the exhibition; portable tablet devices that can be rented from the museum; and downloadable applications for smartphones and personal tablets. This application will not only enhance the visitor experience, but will also enable those who are unable to visit the museum to virtually explore the exhibition. 

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