Native Art at MIA (and also at SAM)


Visited the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) today and it was fantastic! There was so much to see and we really only went through probably half of the entire museum. So many pieces/artists that I remembered from my art history classes. One of the things I really liked was the galleries that held Native American art. Above is a picture of one of the rooms. They interspersed contemporary and historic pieces in a way that I really appreciated. For instance this room had a lot of artifacts from plains tribes but also included contemporary pieces such as the sculpture by George Morrison as well as four pieces by Wendy Red Star.

They didn’t have any artifacts from northern California, but there was a painting by Rick Bartow! He’s one of my favorite artists and is Yurok/Wiyot which are tribes near my own. Picture below, along with a shot of the accompanying text which I had to photograph because they misspelled “Yurok” after his name. I thought that was amusing!





Again, I really enjoyed the way that exhibits were curated throughout the parts of the museum that I saw. It was extremely thoughtful and really helped to engage visitors. And the inclusion of artwork from different periods of time in the Native galleries really helped to underscore that these are living cultures. There were a couple of pieces by George Morrison there, but I also found another of his pieces in the contemporary galleries. This was rather refreshing as it really underscored the different lenses that can be used to view Native art.

I do love Seattle Art Museum back home in Seattle, but we really don’t have anything that compares to MIA or other really large and comprehensive collections such at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Also, I still find SAM’s Native galleries to be a little cold. They have started to incorporate a few more contemporary pieces in like Preston Singletary’s giant glass screen Keet Shagoon (Killer Whale). But they could definitely push things further in this direction, which I think would really breathe some life into these galleries and make them less tomb-like. Below is a picture I took at SAM earlier this year of one of their Native galleries. (It does include a glass piece by Preston Singletary that is paired with an artifact of the type that it is modeled after.)


The special exhibition of Salish art they had done a few years ago had some really great and engaging aspects that I would love to see brought into the way that the permanent collection is presented too. Plus, it feels like there is so much unused space! Feels like a missed opportunity to either have more of the collection on display, or to engage with local Native artists and get more community involvement taking place. There is definitely resistance to contemporary Native art in the Seattle art scene, but I think that SAM could take the lead and really help to educate the public and collectors in this area. Just because we’re more isolated from the contemporary Native art scene in the Southwest doesn’t mean we can’t create our own in the Pacific Northwest!



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