THE SMITHSONIAN AMERICAN ART MUSEUM (SAAM) in Washington, D.C., has a new board chair. Robert “Bob” C. Davidson Jr., was appointed chair of SAAM’s Board of Commissioners, effective Jan. 1, 2024. The news was announced Feb. 15. He was appointed by his fellow commissioners to a four-year term.

Davidson is the retired chairman, CEO, and founder of Surface Protection Industries, a Los Angeles-based manufacturing company he started in 1978.

He has been a member of SAAM’s board since 2016 and was chair of the board’s collection committee, from 2021 to 2023. His new appointment is historic. Davidson is the first African American chair of the board of commissioners.

“As a noted art collector and business executive, Bob Davidson brings important expertise and connections in the arts to this new leadership role,” SAAM Director Stephanie Stebich said in a statement.

“He has championed the collecting mission of the museum as well as provided knowledge and experience of strategic, financial and public governance matters.”

The appointment is historic. Robert C. Davidson Jr., is the first African American chair of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s board of commissioners.

Davidson lives in Pasadena, Calif. He has built a notable collection of African American art, along with his wife, Faye Davidson. Over the years, the couple has loaned works from their collection to major museums for public exhibitions. Support from the Davidsons has also helped make exhibitions possible, including “Betye Saar: Drifting Toward Twilight,” currently on view at The Huntington, Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens Board of Governors in San Marino, Calif. (through Nov. 30, 2025) and “Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor” at SAAM (2019).

Last fall at its Oct. 23, 2023, meeting, the Smithsonian Board of Regents approved by vote the naming of the Robert and Faye Davidson Family Gallery at SAAM, “for a term of the longer of 20 years or until the next major renovation of the Gallery, whichever occurs later.”

In addition to SAAM, Davidson has served on an array of boards across banking, healthcare, education, and the arts. His board affiliations include The Huntington, Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens Board of Governors; chairman emeritus of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.; and chairman emeritus of his alma mater, Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga. Davidson earned a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse and has an MBA from the University of Chicago.

SAAM’s BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS was established in 1908 to provide counsel to the museum’s director. The 25-member advisory board meets twice a year in Washington to weigh in on policy matters, fundraising issues, and proposed acquisitions.

The museum’s collection includes more than 46,000 works of art. African American art is one of the strengths of the collection, which includes the largest institutional holdings of William H. Johnson, Alma Thomas, and daguerreotypes by early photographers James P. Ball, Glenalvin Goodridge, and Augustus Washington. Significant works by Bill Traylor are also among the highlights.

Recent acquisitions include works by artists Corey Alston, Firelei Báez, Sanford Biggers, Bisa Butler, Sonya Clark, Coco Fusco, Daniel Lind-Ramos, Winfred Rembert, Alison Saar, Hank Willis Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems. The works by Alston, Báez, Saar, Thomas, and Weems are featured in the museum’s recently reinstalled collection galleries for modern and contemporary art, where works by Nick Cave, Kerry James Marshall, Martin Puryear, Alma Thomas, and Mickalene Thomas, are also showcased.

“I am incredibly honored to continue my work with the Smithsonian American Art Museum as chair of its board of commissioners,” Davidson said in a statement. “I believe wholeheartedly in its mission of sharing the stories of our nation through American art and craft to inspire reflection, spark dialogue and build connection. Since joining the commission in 2016, I am proud of the work we have done thus far and look forward to implementing the museum’s newest strategic plan and to strategically expanding the national collections.” CT


IMAGE: Robert C. Davidson Jr. | Courtesy of Robert C. Davidson Jr., Photo by David Perry


Multiple exhibitions focused on Black artists are currently on view at SAAM in Washington, D.C.: “Composing Color: Paintings by Alma Thomas” (Sept. 15, 2023–June 2, 2024); “Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Hour — Frederick Douglass” (Dec. 8, 2023-Dec. 6, 2026); “Carrie Mae Weems: Looking Forward, Looking Back” (Sept. 22, 2023-July 7, 2024); and “J. P. Ball and Robert S. Duncanson: An African American Artistic Collaboration” (Sept. 15, 2023–March 24, 2024)


The exhibition catalog “Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor” (2018) documents the landmark retrospective of Bill Traylor organized by Leslie Umberger at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Hour – Frederick Douglass” accompanies British artist Isaac Julien’s stirring work—a 10-screen film installation and related photography. “Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful” was published to coincide with a comprehensive retrospective of Alma Thomas, exploring her paintings (including several from SAAM’s collection) and works on paper, as well as other aspects of her creative life.


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