Decolonizing the Museum, Part Two

December 12, 2017 at 11:59 am Leave a comment

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Wendy Red Star. Winter, 2006. From the series The Four Seasons. Archival pigment print on sunset fiber rag, 23 x 26 in. Gift of Loren G. Lipson, MD, 2016 2016.46.1.3. ©Wendy Red Star

In October 2017, Art in America devoted an entire issue to Native American art, and the Newark Museum was invited to contribute to this national conversation. Along with distinguished curators and leaders from museums throughout the United States and Canada, Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Ph. D., Newark’s Curator of American Art since 2015, was asked to discuss practices and policies for decolonizing museums. The full roundtable includes contributions by Wanda Nanibush (Art Gallery of Ontario), Karen Kramer (Peabody Essex Museum), Ben Garcia (San Diego Museum of Man), Lara M. Evans (Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe), as well as Bloom, and is recommended reading for all concerned with access and equity in museums. It can be read here.   Here’s the excerpted transcript of Tricia Bloom’s contribution:

Museums tell stories. The older and more diverse a museum’s collection, the fuller the stories it can tell—but only if the collection is used wisely. As purveyors of culture, museums always risk falling into patterns—telling familiar stories, one-sided stories. It is not enough to collect with a broad and democratic mission, as the Newark Museum has done for more than one hundred years. Rich holdings of Native American art—or the art of any non-hegemonic group—do not benefit anyone if the works remain in storage. It is critical to find ways to put objects into thoughtful contexts. The vitality of the objects, which come to life when placed within a larger visual exchange, and the attention of the visitors, who grow weary of the same tired scripts, depend on it.

In 2016 the Newark Museum relocated its Native American collection from a tuck-away space to a central gallery on the ground floor, at the intersection of the Decorative Arts, Asian Art, and American Art galleries, steering our visitors toward the new conversations we want to have about the Museum’s global collections. Titled “Native Artists of North America,” this long-term installation presents a selection of rarely exhibited historical objects, which have been taken from storage, studied, treated, and reinterpreted. They are arranged with ample space and light, allowing visitors to get up close to the materials, and reflect the experience of six different curators, including five leading indigenous artists and scholars from around the country. “Native Artists” becomes, in effect, the way into Seeing America, Newark’s recently reconceived display of American art, featuring Indigenous art—historical, modern, and contemporary—installed through the chronological narrative.

While the basic story of Seeing America may look familiar, the museum has intentionally made the aesthetic equivalent of large demographic shifts in these galleries over the past two years. The reconfigured long-term exhibition integrates works of Latin American, African American, and Indigenous art—largely pulled from storage—into the overall history of American art. The ongoing challenge is to continue to build the collection in underrepresented areas and to make the acquired works part of the public stories we tell.

The Newark Museum is organizing a solo exhibition featuring new work by Portland-based artist Wendy Red Star, (Apsáalooke) Crow; Opening February, 2019.

 

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Decolonizing the Museum, Part One Meet Our Curators: William Coleman and Amy Hopwood

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