Twenty Smithsonian Shows to See in 2020

Women inventors, baseball stamps and a new Kusama Infinity Room are among the offerings

Photo collage of 2020 exhibitions
Spectacular offerings include (clockwise from top left): John Singer Sargent; art in response to the Age of Humans; Preston Singletary; Yayoi Kusama; and the mighty influence of Alexander von Humboldt. Photo collage by Meilan Solly

The new decade brings with it scores of new exhibitions at museums across the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and in New York City. Many continue to mark the centenary of women’s suffrage; others expand views from other cultures and traditions. The 150th anniversary of professional baseball brings a couple of shows examining its cultural impact. And there’s something of a sequel to a blockbuster—Yayoi Kusama’s record-breaking exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Here’s a preview look at 20 of the Smithsonian's new shows opening this year.

Baseball: America’s Homerun, National Postal Museum

Draper & Maynard, manufacturers of base ball mitts advertising cover
Draper & Maynard, manufacturers of base ball mitts advertising cover, c. 1893 National Postal Museum

At the National Postal Museum, the first of two big Smithsonian exhibitions this year that will embrace the national pastime will feature hundreds of U.S. and international stamps commemorating the sport’s finest players, augmented by dozens of objects loaned by other Smithsonian museums and the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Organized in celebration of the 150th anniversary of professional baseball, this exhibition "Baseball: America's Home Run" features historic objects, some of which have never before been on public display. (June 27, 2020 through January 8, 2023)

Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists, Renwick Gallery

Valise, Nellie Two Bear Gates, 1880-1910
Valise by Nellie Two Bear Gates, Gathering of Clouds Woman, Iháƞktȟuƞwaƞna Dakhóta, Standing Rock Reservation Minneapolis Institute of Art, The Robert J. Ulrich Works of Art Purchase Fund

The first major exhibition to explore the artistic achievements of Native women, "Hearts of Our People" includes more than 80 works of textiles and decorative arts to photography, sculpture and time-based media, dating from ancient times to the present, and stressing the collaborative process. Organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Washington, D.C. stop at the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery is third on a tour that will also bring the show to Tulsa. (February 21 through May 17, 2020)

John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Charcoal, National Portrait Gallery

Double Self Portrait, John Singer Sargent, 1902
Double Self-Portrait by John Singer Sargent, 1902 Private collection, photo by Jim Cawthorne

The first exhibition in 50 years of John Singer Sargent’s drawings marks the time when he abandoned oil painting at the height of his success in 1907 to explore the possibilities of charcoal. He did so in part because he could more quickly meet the demands on him as a portraitist. Among the faces are the artistic—from William Butler Yeats to actress Ethel Barrymore. But there are also views of heiresses from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Sybil Sassoon. Billed as a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition, "Portraits in Charcoal" at the National Portrait Gallery in collaboration with the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, includes many works from private collections and those rarely exhibited. (February 28 through May 31, 2020)

Contemporary Muslim Fashions, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Dress, turban, earrings, rings and shoes by Melinda Looi,
Dress, turban, earrings, rings and shoes by Melinda Looi, Sunset in Africa Collection, 2012 Sebastian Kim

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco organized the first major exhibition, "Contemporary Muslim Fashions," which lands at the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City, to explore the complex worlds of Muslim dress codes across the globe. For those who cover and those who do not, the dress is much more diverse—and colorful—than some may think, reflecting the intersection of global fashion trends with local and regional styles. Among its high-end offerings from designers like Bernard Chandran and Wadha al Hajri are affordable designs from the London-based Sarah Elenany and sportswear such as the burkini. (February 28 through August 23, 2020)

Creating Icons: How We Remember Women’s Suffrage, National Museum of American History

19th amendment pen, August 26, 1920
Pen used by Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby to sign the certificate of ratification of the 19th amendment on August 26, 1920, giving women the right to vote. NMAH

Among the exhibitions celebrating the 100th anniversary of the women’s vote is one that highlights both the celebrated and the lesser known leaders in the struggle. On display at the National Museum of American History in "Creating Icons" are items from Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party and items donated more than a century ago by the National American Woman Suffrage Association—a group now known as the League of Women’s Voters. They range from campaign buttons to Bella Abzug’s famous hat. (March 6, 2020 through March 7, 2021)

Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature and Culture, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Mount Chimborazo Through Rising Mist and Clouds, Frederic Church, 1857
Mount Chimborazo Through Rising Mists and Clouds by Frederic Edwin Church, 1855 SAAM, gift of Mrs. Frank R. McCoy, 1965

The influential Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt visited the young United States for just six weeks in 1804, but his discussions there with artists, cultural leaders and elected officials including President Thomas Jefferson left a lasting legacy in the young county as far as its relation to the environment. It’s reflected in the work of painters from Albert Bierstadt and Karl Bodmer to Frederic Church and George Catlin. In all, more than 100 paintings, sculptures, maps and artifacts are included in the exhibition, "Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture" at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. (March 20 through August 16, 2020)

Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues, National Museum of American History

Anthony Rendon's YMCA baseball card, age 5
Major League Baseball Player Anthony Rendon pictured at age 5 on a Houston YMCA Giants T-ball league card. NMAH, gift of Rene and Bridget Rendon

Anthony Rendon’s first baseball card, Roberto Clemente’s batting helmet and Pedro Martinez’ jersey are among the more than 60 artifacts in the exhibition, Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues, celebrating Latin contributions to the national pastime. “The story we tell shows how Latino communities played, celebrated and changed the game,” says Margaret Salazar-Porzio, curator in the National Museum of American History’s division of cultural and community life. A traveling version of the show is also being planned for 15 other cities. (October 9, 2020 through October 2021.)

Meeting Tessai: Modern Japanese Art from the Mary and Cheney Cowles Collection, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Scroll painting Blind Man Appraising an Elephant, Tomioka Tessai, 1921
Blind Man Appraising an Elephant (detail) by Tomioka Tessai, 1921 The Mary and Cheney Cowles Collection; gift of Mary and Cheney Cowles

Tomioka Tessai was one of the first Japanese artists to have his works shown in the U.S. following World War II in a show organized by the Smithsonian Institution. Collector and museum founder Charles Lang Freer met the early 20th century painter three times while in Japan. Tessai’s work reflects both traditions of ancient Asian art as well as touches of modernism associated with Impressionists. The first Tessai exhibition in 50 years, "Meeting Tessai" at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Galler celebrates a significant gift of early modern Japanese paintings and calligraphy from a renowned collection. (March 28 through August 2, 2020)

Unsettled Nature: Artists Respond to the Age of Humans, National Museum of Natural History

<em>American Mine</em> by David Maisel, Carlin, Nevada 1, 2007
American Mine by David Maisel, Carlin, Nevada 1, 2007 David Maisel/Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery

What has been the role of humans in the shaping and change in the world in which we live? An array of works by contemporary artists take up this question in a rare art show at the National Museum of Natural History that is also meant to inspire visitors to create their own visions for a shared future. (March 18, 2020 through April 11, 2021)

One with Eternity: Yoyoi Kusama in the Hirshhorn Collection, The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Infinity Mirror Room, Phalli's Field, 1965/1917, Yayoi Kusama
Infinity Mirror Room—Pahlli's Field by Yayoi Kusama, 1965/2017 Ota Fine Arts ©Yayoi Kusama, photo by Cathy Carver

This reprise brings back one of the earliest Infinity Mirror Rooms that drew long lines of visitors in 2017 as well as the debut of the most recent rooms crafted by the hugely popular Japanese artist. Both are among the three new acquisitions to the Hirshhorn’s collection of Yayoi Kusama’s work, which will also be on display at "One with Eternity," from early paintings to iconic sculptures like the polka-dotted Pumpkin of 2016. Owing to Kusama’s draw, which doubled museum's average attendance to 1.2 million in 2017, free, same-day timed passes will be distributed throughout the run. (April 4 through September 20, 2020)

Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa, National Museum of African Art

Biconical gold bead, Fatimid dynasty, 10th to 11th century
Biconical gold bead, Fatimid dynasty artist; Egypt or Syria, 10th to 11th century C.E. Aga Khan Museum

The first major exhibition exploring the scope of the Saharan trade and shared history of West Africa, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe over five centuries centers on the element that fueled much of the action—gold. More than 250 artworks from a vast expanse were originally organized by the Block Museum at Northwestern University. Among them will be a number of unprecedented loans from partner institutions in Mali, Morocco and Nigeria, many of which will be seen for the first time at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art in "Caravans of Gold." (April 11, 2020 through November 29, 2020)

Steel and Sky: Views of New York City, Smithsonian American Art Museum

All That is Beautiful Ben Shahn, 1966
All That is Beautiful by Ben Shahn, 1966 SAAM

The rise of New York City as a world art capital in the early 20th century coincided with the literal rise of its mighty skyline. The energy of the metropolis in both fields fuels the Smithsonian American Art Museum's new exhibition "Steel and Sky: Views of New York City" of more than 50 prints and drawings chronicling the period, from artists that include John Sloan, Isabel Bishop, Peggy Bacon and William H. Johnson. (May 8 through October 25, 2020)

Suzie Zuzek for Lilly Pulitzer: The Prints that Made the Fashion Brand, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Grace's Garden, Suzie Zuzek, March 10, 1972
Grace's Garden by Suzie Zuzek for Key West Hand Print Fabrics, March 10, 1972 © The Original I.P. LLC, Matt Flynn

More than 35 of the excess of 1,500 designs Suzie Zuzek, created for Key West Hand Print Fabrics, many of which were used by fashion brand Lilly Pulitzer, are included in the Cooper Hewitt's exhibition, "Suzie Zuzek for Lilly Pulitzer: The Prints That Made the Fashion Brand," which makes the case for how the prolific watercolor and gouache designs for the Key West Hand Print helped define the Pulitzer brand. The first exhibition of Zuzek, who died in 2011,”will tell the important story of a talented American designer who worked anonymously in support of a larger brand,” says Cooper Hewitt director Caroline Baumann. (May 15 through December 7, 2020)

Picturing Women Inventors, National Museum of American History

The stories and pictures of a dozen historic and contemporary women inventors in "Picturing Women Inventors," by the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center at the National Museum of American History, will highlight their often unknown achievements. The exhibition will feature inventors from Kevlar inventor Stephanie Kwolek, and Folia Water filter creator Theresa Dankovich, to Patricia Bath, who made a cataract removal device in 1981 called the Laserphaco Probe. (May 22, 2020 through June 14, 2021)

Girlhood! (It’s Complicated), National Museum of American History

Twenty Smithsonian Shows to See in 2020
Professional skater Cindy Whitehead created the brand "Girl Is Not A 4 Letter Word" in support of young female skaters. NMAH

The splashy murals of illustrator Krystal Quiles will mark this survey of outspoken and inspiring young women from Helen Keller to young Washington D.C. activist Naomi Wadler. Divided into education, wellness, work and fashion, Girlhood! will be one of the longest running of the new 2020 exhibits—longer still when it tours the country as a part of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition through 2025. (June 12, 2020 through January 2, 2022)

Her Story: A Century of Women Writers, National Portrait Gallery

Lorraine Hansberry, David Attie, 1960
Lorraine Hansberry by David Attie, c. 1960 NPG, © David Attie

Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Anne Tyler, Alice Walker and Lorraine Hansberry are among the two dozen women writers celebrated in this exhibition that grew out of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, Because of Her Story. Portraits of the authors, who have collectively won every literary award, are drawn from the Portrait Gallery’s collection. (July 10, 2020 through January 10, 2021)

Forces of Nature: Renwick Invitational 2020, Renwick Gallery

Tree of Heaven 7, Timothy Horn, 2016
Tree of Heaven 7 by Timothy Horn, 2016 Courtesy of the artist

The quartet of artists asked by the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery to participate in the ninth invitational, "Forces of Nature," were asked to respond to “being human in a world increasingly chaotic and divorced from our physical landscape.” Of the four, Lauren Fensterstock of Maine, creates installations; Timothy Horn of Provincetown, Massachusetts, works from the traditions of jewelry; Debora Moore of Seattle, devises glass representations of flowering trees; and Rowland Ricketts of Indiana, works in fabric. (July 17, 2020 through February 7, 2021)

One Life: Will Rogers, National Portrait Gallery

Will Rogers, Radio KHJ, 1930
Will Rogers, at the mic of Radio KHJ in Hollywood, c. 1930 Will Rogers Memorial Museum

Born in Cherokee country, raised as a trick roper who succeeded first in vaudeville, then movies, newspaper writing, books and radio, Will Rogers became emblematic as a wise-cracking early 20th-century social commentator. While his statue continues to stand in the U.S. Capitol, a second Washington honor comes when he is honored with the latest One Life subject at the National Portrait Gallery, in an exhibition of painted portraits, sculpture, caricatures, movie paraphernalia photographs and film of the Oklahoman who said he has never met a man he didn’t like. (July 26, 2020 through May 16, 2021)

¡Printing the Revolution! The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now, Smithsonian American Art Museum

RIFA, from Méchicano, Leonard Castellanos, 1977
RIFA, from Méchicano by Leonard Castellanos, 1977 SAAM, Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, © Leonard Castellanos

The rise of activist Chicano artists at a time of many social movements in the 1960s created an innovative printmaking tradition that continues today. The exhibition of more than 120 works from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection, ¡Printing the Revolution!, goes beyond prints to installations, augmented reality and digital art, with work from Rupert Garcia, Ester Hernández, David Avalos and René Castro, among others. (September 11, 2020 through January 24, 2021)

Preston Singletary: Raven and the Box of Daylight, National Museum of the American Indian

Raven Birth, Preston Singletary, 1963
Raven Birth (Yéil Koowdzitee) by Preston Singletary (American Tlingit), 2018 NMAI, courtesy of the artist

Pacific Northwest soundscapes, music and projections accompany a major show at the National Museum of the American Indian by Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary, who tells the tribal story of Raven and his transformation of the world by bringing light to people from the stars, moon and sun. Organized by the artist with the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, it’s the latest multimedia show at the museum. (October 9, 2020 through October 3, 2021)

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