Past Exhibitions

Revisit almost twenty years of the Archives’ past exhibitions covering various topics, projects, and events in art history.

  • This exhibition was organized by the Archives of American Art in collaboration with Smithsonian Gardens. The labels were written by archivists, horticulturalists, artists, curators, educators, and gardeners to articulate the many facets of flora. The various perspectives highlight the cross-pollination of ideas between the natural world and American art history, and more broadly, the generative intersection of art and science. All documents on view are from collections in the Archives of American Art.
  • Mail art (alternatively called “correspondence art” or “postal art”) emerged as a form of artistic practice in which an international network of participants use the mail to make art and share it with others regarding culture and communications, creatively sidestepping the art market and, in many instances, eluding government censors.
  • Join us on a road trip through the Archives of American Art. The photographs, sketches, diaries, correspondence, and video recordings on view reveal how artists have shaped and are shaped by their surroundings, from the 1830s to the 2000s. These materials lead us off the beaten track, offering unexpected insight into local and regional histories as well as personal stories of exploration, immigration, and migration. Together, documents from all 50 states and the District of Columbia represent the diversity and depth of art in the United States.
  • Alternatively expressive and aloof, the contradictory attitudes of cats make them compelling sources of inspiration. They are seen in numerous guises: playful subjects, humorous topics of conversation, independent studio companions, and beloved members of the family. 
  • In celebration of the 2016 Grand Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian Institution, the Archives of American Art presents selections from recently acquired collections, highlighting the cultural contributions and the personal stories of African Americans in the art world.
  • Artists find inspiration everywhere. Even the most ordinary circumstances can prompt new ways of thinking about and making art. The artists featured in this exhibition collected, organized, and transformed a wide variety of source materials as part of their creative process: comic strip panels, newspaper clippings, snapshots of mundane scenes. Yet the ways in which artists draw on them provides a glimpse into the twists and turns of their creative practices.
  • Robert Motherwell (1915–1991) helped forge a new vision of painting that established Abstract Expressionism at the vanguard of post-war painting and transformed New York into the epicenter of the art world in the second half of the twentieth century. 
  • n this era of digital communication, contacts can be quickly updated, shared, and even deleted at the click of a button. Before smartphones and computers, traditional address books stored important, and sometimes confidential, contact information and other details. The grimy, dog-eared pages of these pocket-sized books reveal webs of personal and professional connections. Often, the depth of each relationship remains a mystery—a name jotted down in tangled ink and pencil might be a close friend, a family member, a recent acquaintance, or a critic.
  • Included in this exhibition are letters, photographs, writings, and rare printed materials documenting Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s life and work. This exhibition was organized in conjunction with “The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi” exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
  • Reading an artist's diary is the next best thing to being there. Direct and private, diaries provide firsthand accounts of appointments made and met, places seen, and work in progress — all laced with personal ruminations, name-dropping, and the occa
  • The model has long been essential to the work of the artist. They often serve as artists’ muses—mortals who can sometimes be almost otherworldly in their ability to inspire creativity—yet a talent for holding still is often more important than beauty
  • During World War II, an unlikely team of soldiers was charged with identifying and protecting European cultural sites, monuments, and buildings from Allied bombing. Officially named the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) Section, this U.S. Arm
  • November 27, 2013 - January 5, 2014

    Handmade Holiday Cards from the Archives of American Art

    The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art holds in its collections hundreds of handmade holiday cards. The cards featured in this exhibition reveal how artists imagined the holidays through whimsical watercolors, quirky collages, and cheerful prints and drawings.
  • July 2 - November 6, 2013

    The Art of Handwriting

    Writing a letter in one’s own hand can be an artistic act. Handwriting animates paper. The bold flairs of calligraphic script shout for attention, while elegant flourishes of cursive sashay across the page. Free-spirited scribbled letters trip over e
  • January 11 - June 2, 2013

    A Day at the Museum

    A day at a museum might involve a whirlwind tour through a maze of galleries or hours looking at a single work of art. The experience is as varied as the museum visitor. The sight of a Renaissance masterpiece, the sounds echoing off vaulted ceilings,
  • June 27 - November 24, 2012

    Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

    Six degrees of separation is the theory that anyone in the world is no more than six relationships away from any other person. The idea stretches back to Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi and it was made famous in a 1967 Harvard study, but John Guar
  • Jackson Pollock (1912–1956) is an American icon. Creator of rhythmic and energetic "action painting," he is internationally hailed as a leading figure in Abstract Expressionism.Born in Wyoming and raised in Arizona and California, he moved to New Yor
  • October 31 - December 31, 2011

    Words Cannot Express: Death in the Archives

    Death.It is perhaps the only certainty in life. For those experiencing the death of a friend, family member, loved one, or an admired figure, words are often inadequate to give voice to the intense emotions involved.When an artist dies, his or her li
  • Snapshots—thousands of them—are tucked away among the letters, documents, and diaries of artists in the Archives of American Art. These little pictures give us a view into the intimate lives of “larger than life” people.Most of these images date from
  • The Archives of American Art continues to enrich its broad research holdings through a systematic collecting program. On view in "From Homer to Graffiti: Recent Notable Acquisitions" are selections from a diverse range of collections acquired within
  • What happens when one looks for what has been previously suppressed or overlooked: in this case the existence of lesbian and gay relationships and representations in the Archive?Lesbian and gay artists have made a strong imprint on American art for a