Native American art will now be part of the Met's American Wing
Where should Native American art be shown? It’s a tough question. It has dogged the Metropolitan Museum. The museum is in New York. Its answer has been to place it in a wing with other indigenous art. The art is from other places. These places include Africa. It includes Oceania. And it includes the Americas. But that’s about to change. ArtNet’s Sarah Cascone reports that nearly 100 newly donated works will be part of the museum’s American Wing instead.
The move marks the first time Native American art will be shown alongside artworks by those of European descent. They will be shown in the American Wing. The decision was made when Charles and Valerie Diker donated 91 pieces of art. The art is from various places. It is from various periods. They donated it to the Met. The Dikers own one of the country’s largest collections of Native American art.
The museum says that the new pieces will be shown alongside 20 other previous donations by the Dikers. And there will be a “major exhibition.” It will be in 2018. This is according to a press release.
The Dikers have long spoken out for museums to show Native American art alongside other American masterpieces. Those masterpieces include Rothko. They also include Miro. The Dikers collect their work. That's what The New York Times’ Grace Glueck wrote in 2004.
Art by Native Americans wasn’t typically included in art museums. This has been the case for years. Pieces were chosen for their ethnological merits. They were not chosen for aesthetic merits. They were shown in natural history museums.
“When Native American, Pacific, and African art and artifact is lumped in with natural history exhibits, it sends a message that these groups are a part of the “natural” world.” That's according to Katherine Abu Hadal. She writes for Indian Country Today.
“That the art they produce is somehow less cultured than the western art canon. It also sends the message that they are historical. It says they are an element of the romantic past. But in reality these peoples are alive and well. They have many traditions intact. And new traditions happening all the time.”
Sometimes Native American art is shown in art museums. But it is often put into its own section. That is instead of being part of other American works.
Many museum collections don’t include much historic or contemporary art from Native Americans at all. Sylvia Yount works at the Metropolitan Museum. She is the curator in charge of the museum’s American Wing. She tells The New York Times’ Randy Kennedy that visitors from other countries often wonder why Native American art is absent from the wing.
“They go through and expect to see Native American work here. Because often where they come from, indigenous art is part of the narrative of a nation’s art. But that is not the case in the United States. We’re really behind the curve.”
The museum states that acquiring more Native American art is a top priority. Will this make a difference? Will other museums change how they show art? Perhaps. Even if it doesn’t, the chance to view Native American art in the American Wing at a major museum will make an impact.