Guided tour with Melissa Ho, Curator (20th-Century Art)
& post-tour Cocktail Social at Dirty Habit with
Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Art History '88
How the Vietnam War changed American art
By the late 1960s, the United States was in pitched conflict both in Vietnam, against a foreign power, and at home—between Americans for and against the war, for and against the status quo. Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965–1975 presents art created amid this turmoil, spanning the period from President Lyndon B. Johnson’s fateful decision to deploy U.S. ground troops to South Vietnam in 1965 to the fall of Saigon ten years later.
The first national museum exhibition to examine the contemporary impact of the Vietnam War on American art, Artists Respond brings together nearly 100 works by fifty-eight of the most visionary and provocative artists of the period. Galvanized by the moral urgency of the Vietnam War, these artists reimagined the goals and uses of art, affecting developments in multiple movements and media: painting, sculpture, printmaking, performance, installation, documentary art, and conceptualism. Iconic pieces are seen alongside works by artists of color and women, who have been historically excluded from surveys of the period. The exhibition makes vivid an era in which artists endeavored to respond to the turbulent times and openly questioned issues central to American civic life.
This exhibition is organized by Melissa Ho, curator of 20th-century art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Following the tour, our group will walk to Dirty Habit bar across the street at Kimpton Hotel Monaco for a Cocktail social with SAAM Director Stephanie Stebich.
Stephanie Stebich is the Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, responsible for the nation’s premier collection of American art and major exhibition, research, publication, education and digital-media programs at the museum and its Renwick Gallery. Stebich serves on the Smithsonian’s Capital Board as well as the Smithsonian-London Strategic Advisory Board. In May 2018, she was named co-chair of the Smithsonian’s American Women’s History initiative.
Before coming to Washington, D.C., Stebich had been executive director of the Tacoma Art Museum since 2005. Under her leadership, the museum underwent a major renovation that doubled its exhibition space; launched a capital campaign with a goal of $17 million and raised more than $37 million; and added endowed curator, educator and fellow positions. She oversaw the development and implementation of the museum’s strategic plan, as well as a 10-year collecting strategy. At Tacoma, Stebich championed the presentation of many groundbreaking exhibitions and secured major collection gifts, including the Haub Family Collection of Western American Art, 300 masterworks from the 1790s to the present by Charles Bird King, Thomas Moran, Frederick Remington, Georgia O’Keeffe and others; and the Rebecca and Jack Benaroya Collection, 225 works of American studio glass featuring Pilchuck School artists such as Dale Chihuly, Ginny Ruffner and Therman Statom as well as artworks by Northwest artists such as Morris Graves and Deborah Butterfield.
Stebich was assistant director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts from 2001 to 2004 and assistant director at the Cleveland Museum of Art from 1995 to 2001. She was previously a trustee of the Association of Art Museum Directors from 2010 to 2012, where she led and implemented its diversity initiative as chair of the membership committee.
Stebich earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from Columbia University and a master’s degree with a concentration in modern art from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. She has a certificate in nonprofit management from Case Western Reserve University and is a graduate of the Getty Leadership Institute in Los Angeles. She was a fellow at the Guggenheim Museum and has studied at the University College London. She is fluent in German and French.
Melissa Ho is the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s curator of 20th-century art; she joined the museum’s staff in September 2016. She is responsible for research, acquisitions and exhibitions related to the museum’s collections, focusing on art made since 1945. Ho is particularly concerned with studying the connections between artistic practice and social and historical conditions. She is also interested in debates surrounding abstraction, conceptualism and experimental art. Her current project is “Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975,” an exhibition scheduled to open at the museum in 2019.
Ho was a curator from 2011 to 2016 at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, where she organized “Shirin Neshat: Facing History” (2015) with Melissa Chiu; “Salvatore Scarpitta: Traveler” (2014); and “Barbara Kruger: Belief+Doubt” (2012). She also co-curated, with Evelyn Hankins, a re-installation of the museum’s collection, “At the Hub of Things” (2014).
Ho began as an artist, working primarily in collage and installation. She earned a bachelor’s degree in studio art and art history from Princeton University and a master’s degree in art history from the University of Pennsylvania; her thesis examined the performative practice of photographer Tseng Kwong Chi.