The new year at the Smithsonian Museums looks bright on paper, but we know the fate of best laid plans. Indeed, January arrived with four museums temporarily closed due to Covid-caused staffing shortages and other facilities reducing their days open. What’s new is old, in some cases, with a couple of the 2020 best bets popping up again, ever hopeful for the year ahead. But even those aren’t sure things. One of the most anticipated shows, from Yayoi Kusama at the Hirshhorn Museum, still doesn’t have a firm opening date for the public. That’s because its most popular feature—confined infinity mirror rooms—are uniquely unsuited to the pandemic era. Still, it’s ready to go when the world is. Here’s what might be in store, fingers crossed. Check back with the individual museums for last minute details.
Falcons: The Art of the Hunt, National Museum of Asian Art
The trained precision of hunting falcons has long been fascinating to humans. As long ago as early 8th century Syria, falcons were being trained to become skillful hunters for the royal courts. The fad spread across the globe, from the Byzantine empire to China in the east. A new show collects paintings and objects from ancient Egypt to China celebrating the hunting prowess of the birds. (Jan.15 – July 17, 2022).
Preston Singletary: Raven and the Box of Daylight, National Museum of the American Indian
Pacific Northwest soundscapes, music and projects accompany a major show at the National Museum of American Indian by Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary. Organized by the artist with the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, it was originally supposed to open in the fall of 2020. The show tells the tribal story of Raven and his transformation of the world by bringing light to people from the stars, moon and sun. (Jan. 28, 2022 – Jan. 29, 2023).
Iké Udé: Nollywood Portraits, National Museum of African Art
The success of Nigeria’s film industry has also meant the rise of glamor and celebrity in what is called Nollywood. Enter Iké Udé, who returned to Lagos in 2014 after three decades as an artist in New York City, to photograph the leading stars, often in costumes from their films, as well as directors and producers in the $3 billion industry. The result reflects the changing nature of African identity in the 21st century. (Opens Feb. 5, 2022).
Mind Over Matter: Zen in Medieval Japan, National Museum of Asian Art
The Freer Gallery of the National Museum of Asian Art has one of the greatest collections of the spontaneous monochrome ink Zen paintings, and its full scope will be shown for the first time since the museum’s founding nearly a century ago in the exhibition “Mind Over Matter: Zen in Medieval Japan.” Rare works from Japan and China reflect the philosophy of Zen, which has grown to influence people globally. Monastic Zen painters in turn inspired centuries of Japanese art. (Feb. 26 – July 24, 2022).
One with Eternity: Yayoi Kusama in the Hirshhorn Collection, The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
The big polka-dotted Pumpkin of 2016 gets its own polka-dotted room; there’s an early painting and a Flower Overcoat. But everyone will be lining up to peek into Yayoi Kusama’s infinity mirror rooms—one with red spotted phalli, the artist’s first; the other, one of her most recent, festooned with orbs changing colors. The show from the popular Japanese artist was supposed to open in April 2020 and was ready, but alas the pandemic world was not. Timed passes will be required throughout the run. (Public opening to be announced).
Dakota Modern: The Art of Oscar Howe, National Museum of the American Heye Center, New York City
The innovative 20th century Native American artist Oscar Howe embraced abstraction in his paintings even as he included traditional elements of Sioux culture. He influenced a movement among Native artists to express their individuality rather than conforming to established styles that limited artistic expression. (March 11 – Sept. 11, 2022).
Watergate: Portraiture and Intrigue, National Portrait Gallery
The 50th anniversary of the botched break-in of the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate complex that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon is marked by an exhibition that combines portraiture and visual biography from the Portrait Gallery collection. The show features not just Nixon, but other key figures including Rose Mary Woods, John and Martha Mitchell, and “Deep Throat” himself, Mark Felt, as rendered by artists that include Richard Avedon, Marisol Escobar and George Giusti. An array of scathing political cartoonists, among them Jack Davis, Patrick Oliphant and Edward Sorel, document the scandal. Many of Time magazine’s 40 covers devoted to Watergate are also a part of the exhibition. (March 24 – Sept. 5, 2022).
Baseball: America’s Home Run, National Postal Museum
This long-delayed celebration of the national pastime will feature hundreds of U.S. and international stamps commemorating baseball’s finest players, augmented by dozens of objects loaned by other Smithsonian museums and the National Baseball Hall of Fame. First organized to mark the 150th anniversary of professional baseball in 2019, “Baseball: America’s Home Run” will feature some historic objects that have never appeared on public display. (April 9, 2022 – Jan. 5, 2025)
The Outwin 2022: American Portraiture Today, National Portrait Gallery
The 42 works chosen for the sixth triennial Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, by established and emerging artists from the U.S. and its territories, range from traditional likenesses to conceptual portraiture, with painting, photography, drawing, sculpture, video and performance a part of it all. World events since the last competition in 2019 influence the themes of work chosen by curators Taina Caragol and Leslie Ureña, reflecting the pain, loss and isolation caused by the pandemic as well as the demands for social justice. (April 30, 2022 – Feb. 26, 2023).
This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World, Renwick Gallery
An American craft show meant to be more wide-ranging than in the past, the exhibition highlights the role of activism and resilience in art, centering on often-overlooked histories and contributions of women, people of color and other marginalized communities. “This Present Moment” unfolds across both floors of the gallery with nearly 150 artworks from the museum’s permanent collection. About 135 are new acquisitions unveiled for the first time. Among the artists are Nick Cave, Christian Cordova, Alicia Eggert and George Nakashima. (May 13, 2022 – April 2, 2023).
The Molina Family Latino Gallery, National Museum of American History
It will be more than a decade before the opening of a National Museum of the American Latino, the latest Smithsonian museum signed into law in late 2020. But the Smithsonian Latino Center’s curators offer a preview with the opening of ¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States, a 4,500-square-foot exhibition space documenting centuries of Latino heritage and culture in the U.S.. Among the show’s 200 artifacts will be a refugee raft used by those fleeing Cuba, a dress worn by Salsa queen Celia Cruz and a registration form for enslaved people in Puerto Rico. (May 2022).
Powerful Partnerships: Civil War-Era Couples, National Portrait Gallery
From the Mathew Brady Studio comes the compelling photographs of the 19th-century’s most influential couples. The National Portrait Gallery show includes the visages of President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia, as well as generals Nathaniel Banks and George McClellan and their wives Mary Banks and Ellen McClellan; and explorer and military officer John C. Frémont and his wife Jessie Benton Frémont, a writer and activist. As famous as any of them was the actor Charles Stratton, better known by his stage name, Gen. Tom Thumb. He and his wife Lavinia, also a circus performer, met while they were both working for P.T. Barnum. (July 1, 2022 – May 18, 2025).
We Are Made of Stories: Self-Taught Artists in the Robson Family Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum
This exhibition highlights some of the 93 works of art in the collection of Margaret Z. Robson, featuring the works of 48 major self-taught artists. The collection was gifted in 2016, the largest of its kind in two decades, and it expanded the museum’s extensive holdings of what was once referred to as folk art. Among the 11 new artists are Howard Finster, Bessie Harvey, Judith Scott, William Edmondson, Ulysses Davis and Bill Traylor, who was the subject of a major survey in 2018. (July 1, 2022).
I Dream a World: Selections from Brian Lanker’s Portraits of Remarkable Black Women, National Portrait Gallery
Maya Angelou, Lena Horne, Barbara Jordan, Rosa Parks, Leontyne Price and Alice Walker are among the famous faces that appeared in a popular 1989 book by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Brian Lanke, I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America. Those and other images of women who made their contributions in writing, activism, theater, athletics or journalism will be presented at the National Portrait Gallery in a two-part show that will run for more than a year. (Part I: July 8, 2022 – Jan. 29, 2023; Part II: Feb. 10 – Aug. 27, 2023).
Nation of Speed, National Air and Space Museum
The big event at the popular National Air and Space Museum will be the reopening this fall of the museum’s eight west-side galleries. The museum has been undergoing a major renovation since 2018 that will be completed in 2025. (Before that can happen, the entire building will shutdown on March 28 for several weeks of preparation.) The debut this year of new exhibitions includes “Nation of Speed,” which will feature zippy vehicles from Mario Andretti’s Indy 500-winning race car to the Sharp DR 90 Nemesis, a Formula One aircraft that flew as fast as 290 mph and set 16 world speed records. (Opening Fall 2022).
Early Flight, National Air and Space Museum
While favorite galleries such as “America by Air” and “The Wright Brothers & the Invention of the Aerial Age” will be enhanced and reimagined in the refurbished west wing of the National Air and Space Museum, the new exhibition “Early Flight” will look at the busy decade between the Wright discoveries and World War I in 1914. The newly transformed gallery will include the bird-like wings of a glider from German pioneer Otto Lilienthal (who died in a glider accident in 1896) and the Blériot XI, from Louis Blériot, who made the first airplane crossing of the English Channel in 1909, reaching Calais from Dover in 36 minutes, 30 seconds. (Fall 2022).
Leonard Nimoy’s Spock Ears in the Kenneth C. Griffin Exploring the Planets Gallery, National Air and Space Museum
The pointy prosthetic ears Leonard Nimoy wore in portraying Mr. Spock in the original “Star Trek” television show will go on display in the new “Kenneth C. Griffin Exploring the Planets Gallery.” Donated by the son of the actor, who died in 2015, Spock’s ears join other popular Star Trek memorabilia at the museum including the original 11-foot studio model of the starship Enterprise that appeared in every episode. With “Star Trek” artifacts collected at the Smithsonian, and series star William Shatner shot into space by Jeff Bezos last year, the inspiration of space travel—both real and fictional—seem to be further entwining (Fall 2022).
Entertainment Nation, National Museum of American History
At the National Museum of American History, a 7,200-square-foot expanse of the third floor will offer a glittering new display of the country’s high points in theater, music, sports, movies and television and its reflections on the culture. Objects from Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Prince, Selena, Frank Sinatra and beloved productions from Star Wars to Hamilton, will join the new home of Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz. (Fall 2022).
Our Places: Connecting People and Nature, National Museum of Natural History
Regional and personal stories deepen understanding of humans’ role in nature, in an exhibition that highlights museum researchers through the places that inspire and drive their work. (July 2022).
Subversive, Skilled Sublime: Fiber Art by Women, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Faith Ringgold, Sheila Hicks and Emma Amos are among the artists who mastered and subverted the everyday fabric materials of cotton, felt and wool to create artworks that were deeply personal and presented what the museum calls “an alternative history of 20th century American art.” All the pieces will be drawn from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s permanent collection. (Nov. 18, 2022 – April 16, 2023)
Designing Peace, The Cooper Hewitt, The Smithsonian Design Museum, New York City
What is the role of design in pursuing peace? The new exhibition “Desiging Peace” at the Cooper Hewitt in New York City collected 40 design projects from around the world that look at ways to create a more sustainable peace. They range from confrontations that challenge existing situations to designs that demand justice and truth in a search for reconciliation. (June 10, 2022 – Sept. 24, 2023)
A Splendid Land: Paintings from Royal Udaipur National Museum of Asian Art
From the palaces of northwest India come large immersive paintings of the 1700s, conveying human emotions as well as lakes and mountains over a 200-year period in a rapidly changing part of early modern South Asia. The large works on paper and cloth, many on view for the first time In “A Splendid Land: Paintings from Royal Udaipur,” will be accompanied by a soundscape by filmmaker Amit Dutta (Nov. 19, 2022 – May 14, 2023).
The Smithsonian museums, along with the Washington Zoo, are operating on a modified schedule through January 17. The National Air and Space Museum and the Anacostia Community Museum will be closed through January 17; other D.C. museums will be open for two to five days a week during this period. Check here for further updates on openings and museum hours.