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Where You Can See Late DC Painter Sam Gilliam’s Art Around DC

See his colorful work at the Hirshhorn, Takoma Metro Station, and more.

Sam Gilliam in front of “Light Depth” (1969) at the Hirshhorn. Photo by Tex Andrews.

Sam Gilliam, the renowned Black abstract painter and colorist, passed away last weekend just two months into his first solo exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The visual artist may be known around the world for his brightly colored draped canvases, but his work has a special significance in the District. Gilliam moved to the city in the early 1960s, becoming an art teacher at McKinley High School and showcasing his art in galleries around DC. While he was never a member of the Washington Color School, he soon became the face of the color-focused art movement.

Several pieces of Gilliam’s bold artwork can be spotted all around the city, from Metro stations to museums. Here’s where you can see them.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Installation view of Sam Gilliam: Full Circle at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 2022. Photo by Ron Blunt.

The artist’s final solo exhibition, “Sam Gilliam: Full Circle,” will be on display at the Hirshhorn until September 11. The exhibit shows his most recent artwork, round paintings layered with vibrant colors, sawdust, metal fragments, and other debris from his studio. A slight difference from the blocky and draped paintings he’d done previously, Gilliam told the museum that the series encompassed many of the ideas that the artist had been developing through his career.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library

Sam Gilliam, Ship (1967), Acrylic on canvas. Photo courtesy of DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Art Bank Collection.

As a part of a new partnership between the Art Commission and the DC Public Library, Gilliam’s 1967 painting, “Ship” will be installed at Penn Quarter’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in September 2022.

The Phillips Collection 

The Phillips Collection holds a special significance to Gilliam’s art career. In 1967, the Kalorama museum was the first institution to buy one of his paintings, and it hosted the painter’s first solo museum exhibition. Starting on Thursday, the museum will display that painting, titled “Red Petals.”  Gilliam’s paintings will also be featured in “Lou Stovall: The Museum Workshop,” a special exhibition of artwork that artist and printmaker Lou Stovall collected from the artists he mentored. The pieces will be on display from July 23 through October 9.

Reagan National Airport

Next time you’re traveling through National Airport, take a few moments to find Gilliam’s mural, “Construction Aviation Potomac,” which sits on the outside of the enclosed pedestrian bridge leading to the Metro. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority commissioned the piece as a part of its Arts Program when Terminal B/C (now called Terminal 2) was built in 1997.

Takoma Station

From Model to a Rainbow, Sam Gilliam (2011) on display at Takoma Station. Photo courtesy of Flickr user, art around.

One of Gilliam’s mosaic paintings, “From Model to Rainbow,” adorns a wall in Takoma’s Metro Station. The piece, which faces Cedar Street, Northwest, was commissioned by WMATA and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities through the Art in Transit program in 2011. Ayris Scales, former interim executive director of the Arts Commission, wrote in a press release that the piece demonstrates “how public art can be used to beautify the District’s neighborhoods.”

The Kennedy Center

Sam Gilliam’s Carousel Light Depth (1969) at the Kennedy Center. Photo courtesy of the Kennedy Center.

Gilliam’s draped canvas painting, “Carousel Light Depth,” hangs on the Peace Corps Gallery Wall inside the REACH. 50 years after he painted the 75-foot piece, the artist loaned it to the Kennedy Center for the venue’s grand opening in 2019.

The National Gallery of Art

Sam Gilliam, Shoot Six (1965), acrylic on canvas. Photo courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

First shown in an exhibition at the Washington Project for the Arts in 1985, Gilliam’s “Shoot Six” is on display on the upper level of the National Gallery of Art’s East Building.

Washington E. Washington Convention Center

Gilliam’s “Many Things (2003)” and “Chevrons (1984),” are both on permanent display at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Visitors can view “Many Things” at the building’s M Street entrance, and “Chevrons” in the Hall B Concourse.

The Kreeger Museum

Gilliam was the first contemporary artist to have a solo exhibition at Foxhall’s Kreeger Museum. There are now three of his paintings in its permanent collection.

Damare Baker
Research Editor

Before becoming Research Editor, Damare Baker was an Editorial Fellow and Assistant Editor for Washingtonian. She has previously written for Voice of America and The Hill. She is a graduate of Georgetown University, where she studied international relations, Korean, and journalism.