The Lincoln Gallery instantly invites visitors with its beautiful granite floor, concave ceilings letting in natural light and elegant views of the Courtyard Cafe located in the middle of the museum. However, the exhibit itself is anything but dainty — the powerful contemporary art found here explores intense social themes that cause visitors to question their values, knowledge of history and appreciation of art. The pleasant facade of the exhibit juxtaposed with intense artwork and motifs including racism, inequality and women’s rights, send visitors through a whirlwind of emotions. Textures and vibrant colors are projected along the length of the white room, reminding viewers that each element of the exhibit has an intentional effect on the atmosphere.

Located conveniently next to the Gallery Place Metro Station, the accessibility adds to the profound experience to be had at the American Art Museum. These pieces are unassuming at first glance, but their controversial undertones allow visitors to explore U.S. history and culture in a modern and novel way.

Picnic (Ledray)

B9_PicnicThis clay piece artwork is aptly named “Picnic,” as its trove of cute ceramic treats is instantly enticing from afar. However, it quickly becomes evident that there is a lot more to these clay treats. The simplicity of a picnic on a nice day captivates children and adults alike and the colorful, handmade foods are detailed with precision to represent real things. However, this sculpture’s meaning is both intriguing and confusing. The motifs of nostalgia and childhood are apparent, but the variety of potential themes makes this work of art both intriguing and speculative. The food groups could possibly allude to diversity in 20th-century America, since LeDray was born in 1960 but created this display from 2005 to 2013. The abstract meaning combined with the blatantly simple concept of a picnic makes this piece truly captivating.

For SAAM (Holzer)

B9_SAAMThe vast rooms of the Lincoln Gallery are symbolic and beautiful, but they also make way for one thing in particular: the giant 20-foot sculpture “For SAAM.” This cylindrical tower portrays several spiraling messages — known to artist Holzer as “altruisms” — that provide tidbits of powerful thoughts and intense ideals. The title, which can be read as “for the Smithsonian American Art Museum,” directly states that the tower is unique to the museum and the messages are directed at the audience. Why is it, then, that Holzer only seems to provide more questions? The ominous phrases and mysterious quotes both confuse and intrigue, but at the same time this makes it one of the best pieces. The intriguing nature of this piece and its LED lighting drawing viewers in the moment they step into the naturally lit room. Its staggering height amplifies this effect. Although not as colorful as other pieces in the exhibit, “For SAAM”’s seemingly endless messages provide a new element of dynamic entertainment, and it is a unique twist that makes the exhibit complete.

Money (Bochner)

B9_MoneyThe brightly colored words pop out against the gray background of this painting and the variety of words just beg to be read by anyone who passes by. This piece portrays several synonyms for money in an appealing font with inviting colors and it almost seems like something one could hang in his or her room. It is relatively easy to understand on a basic level, which makes it appealing to many viewers. Instantly, one can grasp that it was a play on the materialization of the world and our obsession with money, but it was not until further delving into the piece that I saw the juxtaposition of slang, such as “moolah,” with biblically rooted terms such as “the root of all evil.” In addition, the words are put together with those of the same letter to create alliteration that makes it fun to read aloud and roll of the tongue. The first half is one-word synonyms and the second half is phrases that also mean money. The three dollar signs at the end of the painting really pack a final punch and tie it together nicely. Seeing this from afar, it seems like it could be easy to understand, but the abstract notes that it contains are only evident after further exploration.

Electronic Superhighway (PAIK)

B5_ElectronicSuperhighway_GiannaPisanoKorean-born artist Nam June Paik really demonstrates his perception of America in this huge interactive sculpture, composed of 336 TVs, 50 DVD players, 3,750 feet of cable and 575 feet of multicolored neon tubing. Each state was portrayed by several TVs of its defining characteristics or other identifiable features. Kansas shows Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” while Alabama shows Martin Luther King Jr. marching in Birmingham. The unique perspective of a U.S. immigrant is portrayed by video footage and sound — sound that can be heard faintly throughout the exhibit, attracting viewers from everywhere. The alluring neon colors surrounding the display spill out of the room and draw people in with an electric intensity. Paik’s understanding of our diverse nation acknowledges its stereotypes while also showcasing the bold characteristics hat make the United States the dynamic nation it is today. People could sit and watch this display for hours, and it serves as the focal point of the entire exhibit. Even the smallest states as well as D.C. are represented, attesting to the acute effort Paik invested into this sculpture. This groundbreaking work of art gave him the title “father of video art.” His creation was the first of its kind, certainly making it a keystone in the creation of multimedia works and the inclusion of video and radio.

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