Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery

Looking for Light in American Art

View artworks from the collection that illuminate our world

On these short December days we’re all looking for a little extra light to break through the darkness. The idea of warmth, whether literal flame, spiritual comfort, or an intellectual spark, lends a distraction from seemingly endless cold, dark days. From a cozy lamp-lit scene to a lustrous pot that reflects the light to a shimmering, blinking display that never repeats itself, let’s take an art and light-filled break together.

Unexpected sparkle

James VanDerZee, GGG Photo Studio at Christmas, 1933, gelatin silver print with applied color, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment and the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program, 1994.57.4

Glittering found objects

Simon Sparrow, Assemblage with Found Objects, after 1960, carved and painted wood with collaged pieces of costume jewelry, keychains..., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr., 1998.84.33

Tranquil glow

Horatio Shaw, Barnyard in Winter, ca. 1885-1890, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1975.43

Cozy embrace

Loïs Mailou Jones, Greetings, ca. 1937-1948, pen and ink on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of the artist, 2006.24.15

Spiritual warmth

Abraham Rattner, God's Light, color lithograph, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Abraham Rattner, 1981.153.41

Light in the dark

Unidentified (American), (Untitled) (Village Street on a Winter Night), ca. 1933-1943, lithograph on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the General Services Administration, 1974.28.157

Endless digital dazzle

Leo Villareal, Volume (Renwick), 2015, white LEDs, mirror-finished stainless steel, custom software, and electrical hardware, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Janet and Jim Dicke, Tania and Tom Evans, Paula and Peter Lunder, and Debbie Petersen in honor of Elizabeth Broun, 2016.13, © Leo Villareal

Words light the way

Miguel Luciano, Pa-lan-te2017, neon, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by Marianna and Juan A. Sabater, 2020.25.2, © 2017, Miguel Luciano. photo: Jason Wyche

Radiant gleam

Beatrice Wood, Gold Lustre Teapot, 1988, earthenware with lustres, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1989.26A-B

Almost luminescent

Janet Echelman, 1.8 Renwick, 2015. Photo by Ron Blunt

May art and curiosity help everyone find new perspective in the new year.