The Hood Museum redefines “American” art through public panels and conversations with scholars

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As an extension of the “This Land: American Engagement with the Natural World” exhibit, public discussions focused on the complicated histories of the Americas and conservation practices.

by Armita Mirkarimi | 04/12/22 02:00

Hood Museum curators Michael Hartman and Jami Powell discuss the ‘This Land’ exhibition during the winter opening, January 2022. Photo by Lars Blackmore.

Source: Courtesy of the Hood Museum of Art

Updated April 12, 2022 at 11:06 a.m.

The Hood Museum of Art hosted “Convening: Re-Envisioning Histories of American Art” on April 7, which included three panel discussions on “This Land,The Hood’s first exhibition to feature traditional and contemporary Native American works alongside the broader American art collection. This exhibit focuses on collecting art that better represents diverse communities—both in artists and in art subjects—and restructuring the canon of American art.

Jami Powell, Hood’s Native Art Curator and Lecturer in the Department of Native American Studies, curated the “This Land” exhibit with colleagues Barbara J. MacAdam, Thomas H. Price, Morgan E. Freeman, and Michael Hartman . For the exhibit, Powell brought together the Hood’s American art collection with the Native American art collection.

“My colleagues and I applied for and received a $75,000 grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art to organize the ‘Convening,’ where we bring together scholars and curators, engaging in conversations about redefining art American and how we’re trying to make art history and museums more equitable and inclusive,” Powell said.

The event included three panel discussions: “Compiling Histories: Curating Across Disciplinary Boundaries,” “Reframing Collection Practices and Care,” and “Redefining ‘American’ Art Across Disciplinary Boundaries,” which examined definitions of American art, ethics in museum collections and the narrative power of native art. After the discussions, the panelists and curators spent the day working on the presentations for possible publication.

“From this, we will produce a peer-reviewed scientific publication rather than a typical catalog, which contains a few essays and is heavily exposed,” Powell said. “We will produce a book of ten to twelve essays, inspired by current presentation trends.”

Ish Mclaughlin ’22 and Parker Hershberger ’22, students of NAS 30.21: Native American Art and Material Culture, which is taught by Powell, attended the panel discussions. Mclaughlin noted the intersection between the course’s focus and the Hood’s exploration of the erasure of Indigenous artists.

“I really like the course design because there’s a lot of interaction with the Hood Museum,” McLaughlin said. “The fact that we talk about what American art is on panels today shows how important this interaction is.”

Michael Hartman, associate curator of American Art at the Hood, said he sees the roundtables as a starting point for showcasing Indigenous art.

“One of my favorite moments in the exhibit is the side-by-side of a Navajo saddle blanket and a Georgia O’Keeffe painting,” Hartman said. “The saddle pad has a mountain range pattern that looks a bit like a mountain range in Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting. Once we put them side by side, we realized it was of the same mountain range and that the same colors were used. It’s a really interesting conversation about how the same landscape is represented by these two people.

Hartman emphasized that the event, panels and subsequent publications are particularly relevant to Dartmouth students.

“Given the College’s history, I think events like the Convening are important for Dartmouth students to enjoy,” Hartman said. “Dartmouth students are genuinely interested in challenging legacy narratives.”

The roundtables also had a national audience: the event was livestreamed to art historians across the country via Vimeo and Hood’s Facebook page, and members of the Upper Valley community also participated. to conversations.

During the second panel, “Reframing Collection Practices and Care,” Mindy N. Besaw, curator of American art at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, was transparent about the long road ahead to diversify the exhibitions of American art.

“Last year there were three paintings and a sculpture [at Crystal Bridges] before 1900 by an African-American artist,” Besaw said. “If you expand it to 1960, we had 13 in total. That’s not a lot.”

Besaw further pointed out that adding Indigenous voices to American art collections creates conversations about the exploitative realities of America’s past, calling on members of the Indigenous community in Arkansas to work together to increase the diversity of the museum. However, many challenges still await curators like Besaw in diversifying their collections of American art.

“We know from our data points that if we acquire 50 new artists a year and half of them are racially and ethnically diverse in 20 years, we’ll only be 35% diverse,” Besaw said. “Now we don’t collect 50 new artists a year, so it’s really daunting, but it’s worth it and we can make a difference.”

Like Besaw, Powell views the inclusion of Indigenous voices in American art as a long and arduous, but vital process.

“I have to continually remind myself and my colleagues that this is the first step,” Powell said. “It’s the opening of a much larger conversation that will take place over the next few decades.”

The conversations that took place at the “Convening” are just the beginning of a change in the field of conservation and in art history itself, according to Powell.

“This show is not necessarily a solution to all the issues we raise,” Powell said. “But rather an important first step for the Hood Museum, for the community of Dartmouth, but also [for the] wider museum field to combat the persistent problems of colonialism and dispossession and the access control that has always been part of our institutions.

Correction in appendix (April 12, 11:06 a.m.): A previous version of this article implied that “This Land” is Hood’s first exhibit of Native American art. It’s not; it is the first exhibit to feature Native American art hanging alongside American art at The Hood. The article has been updated.

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