The new year brings a kaleidoscopic array of exhibitions to the various Smithsonian museums, where recent trends in curation have shows often running longer than before, in some cases for more than a year.

That means some of the most popular museums, such as the National Museum of Natural History, have no new exhibitions to announce this calendar year as they extend current offerings. Similarly, the National Air and Space Museum will wait until the extensive renovations to its downtown Washington facility are fully complete next year to unveil new exhibitions, although, with tickets still required for admission, it’s advisable to plan ahead for the current, highly sought-after offerings.

The Smithsonian’s many other museums along the National Mall and beyond still have a full roster of openings, with curators highlighting major anniversaries, new technologies, thought-provoking artists and the upcoming presidential election.

For the year 2024, here are 24 things to look forward to at the Smithsonian; all museums are located in Washington, D.C. unless otherwise specified.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech, National Museum of African American History and Culture

final draft of I Have a Dream speech at NMAAHC
The three-page mimeograph on rare display in the museum's "Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom" gallery is one of several drafts King and his advisors wrote. NMAAHC

To help celebrate the legacy and life of Martin Luther King Jr., a copy of the civil rights leader’s original “I Have a Dream” speech from the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom returned to public view on January 8. The early draft, written without the iconic phrase that made the speech famous, will be seen along with other items associated with King, including a Congressional Gold Medal issued posthumously in 2014, a 1956 handbill advertising a prayer meeting in Boston and a laundry pail used by King during the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. (On view through March 4, 2024)

“Star Power: Photographs From Hollywood’s Golden Age by George Hurrell,” National Portrait Gallery

Twenty-Four Smithsonian Shows to See in 2024
Clark Gable and Joan Crawford, Artist: George Hurrell, Gelatin Silver Print, 1936. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; acquired in part through the generosity of an anonymous donor

The go-to photographer for 1930s and ’40s glamour, George Hurrell helped shape how the public saw the world’s top film stars. Even today, decades after the apex of his influence, Hurrell’s photography, which will be highlighted in a new exhibition, defines the era when Hollywood stars became household names. Under contract first by MGM, later by Warner Bros., as well as operating his own studio on Sunset Boulevard, Hurrell captured glossy, dramatically lit shots of Greta Garbo, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and Joan Crawford, among others. Norma Shearer reportedly refused to allow herself to be photographed by anyone else, and he’d later help build the career of Rita Hayworth through still portraits alone. (March 1, 2024, through January 5, 2025)

“Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice,” Smithsonian American Art Museum

Twenty-Four Smithsonian Shows to See in 2024
William H. Johnson, Harriet Tubman, ca. 1945, oil on paperboard, 28 7⁄8 x 23 3⁄8 in. (73.5 x 59.3 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation

Born in the Deep South, William H. Johnson emerged as one of the greatest American artists of the 20th century. His influences drew from his education in New York, living in Europe, experiences with modern art and folk art, and time well spent with fellow Black artists during the Harlem Renaissance. In the 1940s, Johnson created his “Fighters for Freedom” series as a tribute to African American activists, scientists, teachers and performers including Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver and Marian Anderson. The series also featured some international leaders working to bring peace to the world, such as Mahatma Gandhi. This exhibition, which first traveled to five regional art museums across the country, is drawn from the more than 1,000 works by Johnson held in the Smithsonian’s collections. (March 8 through September 8, 2024)

“Change YOUR Game / Cambia TU Juego,” National Museum of American History

Twenty-Four Smithsonian Shows to See in 2024

A new family-friendly interactive exhibition at the American History Museum’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation will show how new technologies and innovations have improved athletic performance in sport over the years, including a Crash Cloud football helmet, cameras developed to automate line calls at professional tennis’ U.S. Open and prosthetics that make extreme sports possible for athletes with amputations. Visitors can become their own problem solvers by creating game-changers for their daily lives through hands-on activities. (March 15, 2024, through TBD)

“Becoming Visible,” Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum

In the three years since Congress passed a law establishing the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum, the Institution has been doing the hard work of building a museum from the ground up. This herculean effort involves hiring new staff, building a collection, finding a site for the new organization and beginning the educational outreach at the core of every museum’s mission. With a physical structure years away, the museum is launching its first digital exhibition, “Becoming Visible,” this March on its website. The ten-minute experience will highlight the stories of five women whose narratives haven’t been traditionally included in retellings of American history. (Launches March 2024)

“Staging the Supernatural: Ghosts and the Theater in Japanese Prints,” National Museum of Asian Art

The ghost of a fisherman
The ghost of a fisherman, Woodblock print, Artist: Tsukioka Kōgyo 月岡耕漁 (1869-1927) Meiji era, March 1, 1899, Japan Ink and color on paper, H x W: 22.9 x 33.2 cm (9 x 13 1/16 in) Ryūsai Shigeharu / National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution, The Anne van Biema Collection

Originally set to open just before Halloween last year, this show featuring 60 objects from the museum’s collections was delayed by a last-minute structural emergency. Whether it was caused by spectral beings was never determined, but “Staging the Supernatural” is now set to open in March, with works from the 18th to early 20th centuries exploring how spirits were projected onstage in the vibrant theater traditions of Kabuki and Noh. (March 23 through October 6, 2024)

“Zen and the Open Road,” National Museum of American History

Robert Persig motorcycle
Robert Pirsig's 1966 Honda CB77 Super Hawk motorcycle Jaclyn Nash/National Museum of American History

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Robert Pirsig’s unexpected philosophical bestseller Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, inspired by a real-life father-son road trip from Minneapolis to San Francisco. To celebrate the book and its legacy, the museum will be putting on view the very 1966 Honda CB77 Super Hawk motorcycle that was part of the literary trip. Also in the exhibition are both the manuscript it took Pirsig four years to write and a signed first edition, as well as the author’s typewriter and artifacts from the sailboat he bought with his royalties. (April 15, 2024, through TBD)

“Brilliant Exiles: American Women in Paris, 1900-1939,” National Portrait Gallery

Twenty-Four Smithsonian Shows to See in 2024
Josephine Baker by Stanislaus Waléry, gelatin silver print, 1926. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

At the start of the 20th century, the City of Light attracted scores of young creatives seeking inspiration in art, literature, design, publishing, music, fashion, theater and dance. What sets this exhibition apart from previous explorations of the movement is that curators have focused on the American women in Paris, from 1900 until the outbreak of World War II. It includes portraits of such leading cultural lights as Josephine Baker, Isadora Duncan, Zelda Fitzgerald, Anaïs Nin, Gertrude Stein and Ethel Waters. (April 26, 2024, through February 23, 2025)

“Do Ho Suh: Public Figures,” National Museum of Asian Art

Suh Do-Ho Public Figures
Suh Do-Ho (b. 1962, South Korea), Public Figures, 1998-2023, Jesmonite, aluminum, polyester resin. Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Seoul, and London

Last seen locally in 2018, when the Smithsonian American Art Museum showcased his large-scale fabric recreations of his former homes, the South Korean artist Do Ho Suh will return to Washington to help mark the continuing centennial celebrations at the Freer Gallery of Art, which opened in 1923. For this exhibition, Suh will present a new version of his outdoor public art piece, Public Figures. A seemingly empty base for a statue, the piece is held up by hundreds of tiny figures, all working together to lift the pedestal. The first new work installed outside the Freer in more than 30 years, Suh’s sculpture will be on view through 2029. (April 27, 2024, through 2029)

“Unbound: Narrative Art of the Plains,” National Museum of the American Indian

Twenty-Four Smithsonian Shows to See in 2024
Martin E. Red Bear (Oglala/Sicangu Lakota, b. 1947). Red Bear’s Winter Count, 2004. Canvas, acrylic paint; 116.5 x 116 cm. National Museum of the American Indian

More than 50 contemporary works commissioned by the museum will be juxtaposed with historical hides, muslins and ledger books to offer a full portrait of narrative art among the Native nations of the Great Plains between the 18th and 21st centuries. From 19th-century sketches by Cheyenne artist Bear’s Heart to adaptations of those designs on modern canvases by Martin E. Red Bear (Oglala/Sicangu Lakota) and Lauren Good Day (Arikara/Hidatsa/Blackfeet/Plains Cree), the exhibition—an expanded iteration of a show first held in New York in 2016will examine ceremonial events, wars, family life and Native identity. (May 18, 2024, through January 20, 2026)

“OSGEMEOS: Endless Story,” Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Twenty-Four Smithsonian Shows to See in 2024
Portrait of OSGEMEOS Felipe Berndt

The first U.S. museum survey of art by Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo, identical twins who collaborate under the name OSGEMEOS (Portuguese for “the twins”), “Endless Story” will bring together 1,000 artworks, photographs and archival materials reflecting the Brazilian duo’s hip-hop-inspired urban graffiti traditions. In addition to works from the brothers’ childhoods and large-scale paintings on wood and canvas, the show will include The Moon Room, a 2022 installation featuring sound, special architecture and custom wallpaper. (May 18, 2024, through July 6, 2025)

“Subversive, Skilled, Sublime: Fiber Art by Women,” Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Twenty-Four Smithsonian Shows to See in 2024
Emma Amos, Winning, 1982, acrylic on linen with hand-woven fabric, 75 × 64 in. (190.5 × 162.6 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by the Catherine Walden Myer Fund, 2019.15, © 1982, Ryan Lee Gallery, New York

A new exhibition at the Smithsonian gallery dedicated to contemporary craft and decorative art will make the case for fiber as an ideal medium for 20th-century women. Thirty-four selected artworks in cloth, thread and yarn reflect their creators’ personal experiences and ingenuity. Among the featured artists are Kay Sekimachi, who creates three-dimensional woven sculptures, boxes and bowls; Lia Cook, who uses the electronic Jacquard loom to create pieces in electrifying colors; and Consuelo J. Underwood, whose colorful pieces reference contemporary immigration, human rights and border politics. (May 31, 2024, through January 5, 2025)

“Bruce Onobrakpeya: The Mask and the Cross,” National Museum of African Art

The influential 91-year-old Nigerian printmaker, painter and sculptor held his first major U.S. exhibition at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art last year. Soon to be on view in Washington, the show concentrates on the years 1967 to 1978, when Onobrakpeya created works that combined Nigerian traditions, folklore and cosmology with motifs from the Bible and Christianity, beginning with a series commissioned by the Catholic Church, titled Fourteen Stations of the Cross. The exhibition is rounded out with other examples from the artist’s six-decade career. (Mid-June 2024 through January 2025)

“Forensic Science on Trial,” National Museum of American History

Arsenic poisoning tests
Arsenic poisoning tests conducted by George Frederick Barker on the internal organs of family members of Lydia Sherman, who was convicted of murder in 1872 and believed to have poisoned three husbands and eight children. National Museum of American History

Forensic science goes back a lot further than the “CSI” television franchise. A new exhibition in the American History Museum’s Albert H. Small Documents Gallery will trace the discipline’s roots to 1872, when Connecticut woman Lydia Sherman went on trial for poisoning three of her husbands and eight children in her care. The show will include a courtroom display of arsenic tests from Sherman’s trial, the first lie detector device and a vial of scopolamine marketed by early 20th-century doctor Robert House as “truth serum.” (June 2024 through June 2025)

“This Morning, This Evening, So Soon: James Baldwin and the Voices of Queer Resistance,” National Portrait Gallery

Twenty-Four Smithsonian Shows to See in 2024
James Baldwin by Beauford Delaney. Pastel on paper, 1963. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Copyright Estate of Beauford Delaney by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire, Court Appointed Administrator; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York

Named after a story by Baldwin, this exhibition—guest curated by Hilton Als, a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for the New Yorker—will explore the intersections between the acclaimed American writer and other Black civil rights icons who had to hide their sexuality, from organizer Bayard Rustin to playwright Lorraine Hansberry. Also represented are poet Essex Hemphill, filmmaker Marlon Riggs and former U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan. Portraits by such artists as Richard Avedon, Glenn Ligon, Faith Ringgold and Lorna Simpson will appear. (June 7, 2024, through April 27, 2025)

“Picturing the Presidents: Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes from the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection,” National Portrait Gallery

Twenty-Four Smithsonian Shows to See in 2024
Abraham Lincoln by George Clark. Photograph. Ambrotype campaign pin, 1860. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

To mark another presidential election year, the National Portrait Gallery will display an array of images of eight men who held the nation’s highest office during the heyday of the 19th-century photographic processes of daguerreotype and ambrotype—from the sixth president, John Quincy Adams, to the 21st, Chester A. Arthur. The show includes a rare ambrotype pin from Abraham Lincoln’s first presidential campaign in 1860. A few presidents outside of that era are even represented, with daguerreotypes of paintings depicting George Washington and Andrew Jackson on one end and a daguerreotype of the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama at the more recent end. (June 21, 2024, through June 8, 2025)

“Stanley: Toward a New Kind of War,” National Museum of American History

Twenty-Four Smithsonian Shows to See in 2024
“Stanley” is a driverless vehicle modified from a Volkswagen Touareg. Special Features include radar systems, stereo cameras, a “monocular vision system,” GPS receivers, and innovative computer software that enables “Stanley” to maneuver independently. Photo Courtesy of Stanford Racing

Not to be confused with the steam-powered car of the same name that debuted a century earlier, the Stanley was a self-driving robot vehicle created by a team from Stanford University and Volkswagen in 2004. The following year, it won an off-road, driverless car competition held by the Department of Defense to assess the feasibility of reducing American military casualties by sending out robots in place of soldiers. The blue Volkswagen Touareg also helped revolutionize the driverless car technology that’s slowly appearing on city streets. This year, come meet the original model. (July 2024 through Fall/Winter 2026)

“Shifting Boundaries: Perspectives on American Landscapes,” National Museum of Asian Art

The Hidden Pool by John Henry Twachtman
The Hidden Pool, Oil painting, Artist: John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902), ca. 1899, United States, Oil on canvas, H x W: 56 x 68.8 cm (22 1/16 x 27 1/16 in) John Henry Twachtman/National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution, Freer Collection, Gift of Charles Lang Freer

The oldest art museum on the National Mall, turning 101 this year, has usually interpreted works in its American galleries by James McNeill Whistler, Thomas Dewing and Abbott Thayer based on the taste and perspectives of its founding donor, Charles Lang Freer. In this new exhibition, the paintings will be interpreted by a variety of invited voices who had previously been underrepresented. That means new approaches to works by Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent and Willard Metcalf that reflect human relationships with the natural world. (July 13, 2024, through TBD)

“Voting by Mail,” National Postal Museum

The presidential election year is the perfect time to reflect on past examples of national voting by mail. An exhibition to this effect is in the works at the National Postal Museum, which already includes in its collection a mailed tally sheet from 1864 recording the votes of soldiers from Highland County, Ohio; an absentee ballot request postcard for an Alabama soldier during World War II; a 5-cent postage stamp reminding citizens to register and vote; and a complete absentee ballot kit and instruction sheet from the last presidential election in 2020. (August 2024 to TBD)

“Sublime Light: Tapestry Art of D.Y. Begay,” National Museum of the American Indian

Twenty-Four Smithsonian Shows to See in 2024
DY Begay (Diné [Navajo], b. 1953), Intended Vermillion, 2015. Denver Art Museum: Commissioned and funded by Kent and Elaine Olson for the Denver Art Museum, 2015.266. © DY Begay

A fourth-generation weaver who sold her first rug at age 12, the Diné artist D.Y. Begay incorporates colors derived from plants from the Navajo Nation into her works in order to reflect the colors of the vistas and masks of her reservation. She describes her craft as “painting with yarn.” “Sublime Light,” the first retrospective in her career, showcases 48 of her tapestries from more than three decades of work. (September 19, 2024, through TBD)

“An Epic of Kings: The Great Mongol Shahnama,” National Museum of Asian Art

An Epic of Kings
A folio from the Great Mongol Shahnama National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution, Freer Gallery of Art Collection, Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1935.23

Produced in 1335 by the Mongol rulers of Iran, the Ilkhanids, the Persian national epic known as the Great Mongol Shahnama, or Firdawsi’s Book of Kings, was celebrated for its boldly conceived, large-scale illustrations. In an upcoming exhibition at the Freer Gallery of Art, more than 20 folios from the manuscript—including nine depicting the story of Alexander the Great—show how the Mongols consciously inserted themselves into the history of Iran. The works will be juxtaposed with pieces from China and the Latin West to hint at the conversations happening globally in the 14th century. (August 31, 2024, through January 5, 2025)

“Making Home—Smithsonian Design Triennial,” Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York City

The seventh installment of the Cooper Hewitt’s Design Triennial, established in 2000 to address urgent contemporary issues through design, focuses on the concept of home. Together, a curator from the National Museum of African American History and Culture and curators at Cooper Hewitt, the New York museum in the Andrew Carnegie Mansion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, stage an exhibition that explores how design affects domestic life in the United States, including its territories and Tribal Nations. (Fall 2024)

“Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Always to Return,” National Portrait Gallery and Archives of American Art

Twenty-Four Smithsonian Shows to See in 2024
"Untitled" (Portrait of Dad) 1991. White mint candies in clear wrappers, endless supply. Overall dimensions vary with installation. Ideal weight: 175 lb. Photo: Laura Findlay Installation view: Material Tells. Oakville Galleries, Oakville, Ontario, Canada. 23 Jun. – 8 Sep. 2019. Cur. Daisy Desrosiers. © Estate Felix Gonzalez-Torres, courtesy Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation

This marks the first major presentation in Washington, D.C. in more than 30 years from Felix Gonzalez-Torres, an American (b. Cuba) visual artist who redefined portraiture in the 20th century. One of Gonzalez-Torres’ best known works, the 1991 "Untitled" (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) consists of an endless supply of candies in various colored wrappers (while the work's dimensions vary with installation, its ideal weight is listed as 175 pounds); it was previously exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in 2011 on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago. The upcoming exhibition will extend outside of the museum, with the artist’s "Untitled" (America) (1994), consisting of 12 strings of light, each with 42 bulbs, installed on the building’s facade, the first floor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library nearby, and outside along Eight Street between D and E Streets NW, in partnership with the Downtown DC Business Improvement District. (October 18, 2024, through June 22, 2025)

“Pictures of Belonging: Miki Hayakawa, Hisako Hibi and Miné Okubo,” Smithsonian American Art Museum

Twenty-Four Smithsonian Shows to See in 2024
Hisako Hibi, Floating Clouds, 1944, oil on canvas, 19 1/16 × 23 × 1 1/2 in. (48.4 × 58.4 × 3.8 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the American Women's History Initiative Acquisitions Pool, administered by the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative

Three acclaimed American artists of Japanese descent, who had previously been excluded from the country’s story of modernism, are the focus of a new exhibition featuring recent museum acquisitions. Miki Hayakawa, Hisako Hibi and Miné Okubo each had long and innovative careers despite lives that included mass incarceration and relocation as Japanese Americans during World War II. All three women were at the Topaz War Relocation Center in Delta, Utah, which held 9,000 prisoners from 1942 to 1945. Works by Hibi and Okubo were recently acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum as part of an initiative to expand and enrich representation of Asian American artists and perspectives. (November 15, 2024, through August 17, 2025)

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