NEW ACQUISITIONS WILL DEBUT AT THE RENWICK GALLERY IN THE EXHIBITION “THIS PRESENT MOMENT: CRAFTING A BETTER WORLD”

As part of an effort to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery as the nation’s premier museum for the enjoyment and study of American craft, the museum has acquired more than 200 artworks by leading craft artists. Launched in 2020, the Renwick Gallery 50th Anniversary Acquisition Campaign sought to increase the number of works by Black, Latinx, Asian American, LGBTQ+, Indigenous and women artists represented in the nation’s collection. These newly acquired artworks deepen the history of the studio craft movement while also introducing contemporary artworks that push the boundaries of what is considered handmade in the 21st century; reexamine the landscape of American craft; and highlight stories of persistence, models of resilience and models of activism that may be relevant to audiences today.

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Bisa Butler, “Don’t Tread On Me, God Damn, Let’s Go!— The Harlem Hellfighters,” 2021. Photo Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Notable additions to the Renwick Gallery’s permanent collection include Bisa Butler’s “Don’t Tread On Me, God Damn, Let’s Go!—The Harlem Hellfighters” (2021), one of Butler’s quilted portraits that brings to life a segregated unit of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I and catapults quilting into the field of fine art; Sonya Clark’s “Monumental” (2019), a large-scale,  fabric installation that celebrates Blackness while confronting historical imbalances and the roots of racial injustice; David Harper Clemon’s critique of unsustainable agricultural production and consumerism “The Weight of Deferred Gratification” (2019); Sharon Kerry-Harlan’s “Portrait of Resilience” (2020), a woven piece from Kerry-Harlan’s Flag Series that pieces together social issues exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic; a series of hip-hop influenced luxury porcelain objects made by Roberto Lugo; and “Safe Journey” (202) by Preston Singletary (Tlingit), part of his series of “Spirit Boxes” based on Northwest native communities’ traditional storage boxes.  

The Margaret and Terry Stent Director at the Smithsonian American Art Museum Stephanie Stebich shared the importance of the acquisition campaign, “For 50 years, SAAM’s Renwick Gallery has championed innovation in American craft. 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.”

The Renwick Gallery’s 50th Anniversary 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.

Longtime supporters of the museum supplemented the acquisition with gifts from their personal collections. Fleur Bresler, a longtime supporter of the museum’s craft program and member of the museum’s board of commissioners, donated 31 artworks to the museum as part of the campaign; eight objects from this gift will be featured in the Renwick Gallery’s exhibition “This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World.” Art collectors Judith Chernoff and Jeffrey Bernstein gave 43 works from their collection of sculptural wood art, all of which will be featured in a dedicated gallery as part of “This Present Moment.”

More than 130 of these artworks will be on display in the exhibition “This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World” opening May 13. The exhibition showcases the dynamic landscape of American craft today. Through this presentation, the Renwick Gallery aims to highlight the role that artists play in our world to spark essential conversations, stories of resilience, and methods of activism—showing us a more relational and empathetic world. “This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World” centers more expansive definitions and acknowledgments of often-overlooked histories and contributions of women, people of color, and other marginalized communities.

“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.”

A full list of the artists whose work was acquired for the museum’s collection as part of the Renwick Gallery 50th Anniversary Acquisitions Campaign and will appear in “This Present Moment” can be found on the exhibition’s webpage.

ABOUT THE SMITHSONIAN AMERICAN ART MUSEUM AND ITS RENWICK GALLERY

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is home to one of the most significant and inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal America’s rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today. The museum’s main building is located at Eighth and G streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station. Its Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft and decorative arts, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. The museums are open on a modified schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic; check for current hours and admission information. Admission is free.


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