Article

Minnesota Museum of American Art invites five curators, from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds, to select work that might complicate and crack open the notion of American-ness.
December 15, 2015

Brian Frink, Memory of Water/Star Reflection, oil on canvas, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.

The Minnesota Museum of American Art (MMAA) set about the task of creating a show asking, "What is American art?," and emerged with an exhibition as messy as the question itself. With five different curators selecting work, the response couldn’t help but be chaotic, but perhaps the frenzied, loose structure of the exhibition is a fitting tribute to a country that’s composite and contradictory by nature, with a history stained with genocide and slavery, but also a national character that’s inextricably linked to the generations of newcomers who’ve arrived here in waves of immigration from all corners of the globe.

At a panel discussion for the show, MMAA Executive Director Kristin Makholm explained that the idea for the exhibition came after Theresa Sweetland, the museum’s new Director of Development and External Relations, mentioned that, ever since she’d started in her position last summer, people had been asking her to define what a museum of American art is, exactly — what it does and who it’s for. "I fumbled around," Makholm recalled. "I’m the director and I’m supposed to know the answer to that…. It’s squishy, and it’s messy: there are artists from Canada and artists from South America. And what about people who live here but were born elsewhere? There’s just a lot of flux in that concept."

Later in the summer, Makholm and Christopher Atkins, who recently joined the museum as Curator of Exhibitions and Public Programs, went to visit the Whitney Museum, which had just opened their new building with an exhibition called America is Hard to See. "It was meant to talk about why that [notion of 'America'] is so hard; the aim was to throw that concept open," Makholm said. "And yet [the Whitney’s exhibition] still pretty much boiled down to showing the canonical works in a big museum in New York City… I didn’t really get a sense of the squishiness or the messiness inherent in the central concept. I thought, in this day and age, we have got to be able to come up with a more nuanced idea of what constitutes American art."

Chantala Kommanivanh, Cousins in Rabbit Suits, oil and spray paint on canvas, 2014. Courtesy of the artist

And so, for their exhibition, American Art: It’s Complicated, MMAA brought in four outside curators (the fifth being Makholm herself) to open up the question anew. Each of the guest curators — Seitu Jones, Oskar Ly, Maria Cristina Tavera, and Dyani White Hawk Polk — are artists in their own right and come from different cultural backgrounds. The show doesn’t seek to define American art as much as it aims to offer threads of understanding about the complex weave of culture and conflict that makes America what it is. The curators chose to feature a mix of established and emerging artists, from our current moment and also from the past, born in the United States and elsewhere, who together voice a cacophony of human experiences.

There’s a strong presence of immigrant artists in the show, many of whom are emerging voices. For example, Chantala Kommanivanh (chosen for inclusion by Ly), uses found images from Laos with an abstract, graffiti style in Cousins in Rabbit Suits. The work depicts two children in rabbit suits in an almost storybook landscape, harmonizing a sense of the homeland with a contemporary hip hop aesthetic. Makholm selected a photograph by Wing Young Huie, one of Minnesota’s most celebrated artists and a Duluth-born Chinese-American, for the exhibition. In President and Founder of the Asian Worldwide Elvis Fan Club, Houston Texas Huie captures a Vietnamese couple posing stoically amidst their Elvis paraphernalia. The work speaks to the tenacity and dedication of the couple, who, Huie notes, were inspired by "the story of how a poor, backwoods outsider could overcome his circumstances and become a global icon."

Wing Young Huie, President and Founder of the Asian Worldwide Elvis Fan Club, Houston Texas. Photograph courtesy of the artist at MMAA 

There are voices conspicuously missing from the exhibition, however. Most glaring is the lack of African immigrant artists -- a particularly noteworthy omission given Minnesota’s sizable African population and when you consider that Somali immigrants are the fourth largest immigrant group in the country (behind Mexico, India and Laos).

That said, the show makes no claims to being encyclopedic in its scope. And there are a number of pieces by African-American artist Maurice Carlton, whose work curator Seitu Jones chose to feature exclusively for his selections. "I decided to make it about me, to tell my own story," Jones says, noting that he chose Carlton because of the artist’s influence on his own life and work. An African-American who worked for the railroad as a sleeping car porter for 20 years, Carlton became an artist after retirement and was based in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul.  Growing up, "I saw Maurice’s work out of the corner of my eye," Jones says. "I saw it on the street as part of the streetscape. It became something that was omnipresent." On sign posts, at the inner city youth league, and in other community spaces, Carlton’s transformed broken dolls, weathervanes and globes into artwork, though he called himself a toy maker rather than an artist. Carlton "wanted to visually render many of the issues that faced the African American community," Jones explains. His curatorial decision to present work exclusively from Carlton is, itself, a way to further open the canon of American art to those issues and experiences. (Many visitors to the MMAA have likely never before heard of the St. Paul artist, and if they walk away with one artist’s name to remember, it’s probably going to be Carlton’s, given the sheer number his pieces featured in the exhibition.)

In addition to the diverse cultural spread of American experience, the curators also took pains to pay tribute to the country’s landscapes. In the curators’ talk, White Hawk Polk spoke of her deliberate attention to the land as a particular focus in her curatorial choices. That interest is evident in a number of pieces, from Brian Frink’s gorgeous abstract landscape, Memory of Water, to Catherine Meier’s vivid charcoal drawing, Sage Creek Rim Road, which descends into the gallery from a huge roller.

Will Wilson, Air #2, courtesy of the artist.

White Hawk Polk’s selection of Will Wilson’s Air #2, a photograph of young Native Americans overlooking the Grand Canyon, is displayed next to one of Ly’s selections, Gabriel Z. Traveller’s Hunter. In Air #2, a young man wears a handkerchief over his mouth and holds his fist out over the vista beyond; in Hunter, we see a man in military garb holding a gun, with the angle of the camera held in such a way that the figure is overpowered by the sky above him. Both pieces capture the vastness of an American sky, and both comment on masculinity. But Wilson seems to celebrate a defiant spirit, while Traveller is more interested in his subject’s overbearing power.

Tavera’s selections investigate issues of land and the vagaries of ownership by questioning how we define the contours of America. "A third of Mexico was taken during the Mexican American war," she says. "What represents someone who considers themselves American?" Raoul Deal’s Immigration Series #9 (chosen by Tavera) takes on issues of identity for immigrant Americans head-on. In the wood-block print of a presumably Mexican American family, the oldest son stares out at the viewer with an American flag t-shirt. The photo captures something of the experience of having a Mexican-American identity, with a nod to the complicated layers of American-ness.

Raoul Deal, Immigration Series #9, woodblock print. Courtesy of the artist.

The exhibition is strongest in its re-examination of history, with an impressive showing of Native artists, in particular, that challenge mainstream narratives of American history in sometimes heartstopping ways. Jim Denomie’s Off the Reservation, or Minnesota Nice (chosen by White Hawk Polk) and Francis J. Yellow’s They Said Treaties Shall be the Law of the Land (chosen by Makholm) both deconstruct white supremacist narratives of U.S. history with brutally effective truth-telling.

For her part, Makholm’s curatorial approach is a responsive one, bringing out an assortment of works from the 4,000-some pieces in the museum’s collection she thought might resonate with pieces the other curators had selected. For example, Weasel Trail— Piegan, 1900, a photograph by Edward Curtis drawn from the artist’s controversial collection of (posed and elaborately orchestrated) images portraying Native Americans. Not only did Curtis frequently provide costumes for his subjects but, as was common among white European artists of the time, he portrayed his subjects as part of a “vanishing” race, objectifying his sitters in poses and configurations more akin to idealized natural history dioramas than documentary.

Jim Denomie, Off the Reservation, or Minnesota Nice. Courtesy Collection Minnesota Historical Society.

In the exhibition, Curtis’s work is presented next to Pao Houa Her’s photograph of a Hmong veteran, one of a series of photos in which Houa Her brings to light the many Hmong veterans whose contributions to the Vietnam war have since been erased as part of the U.S.’s covert operations in the Southeast Asian conflict. Both photographs hold with them untold stories, but they offer two very different methods of revealing those stories. Where Curtis projects European notions of what "Native" looks like onto his images, Houa Her actually comes from the community she is photographing (though from a different generation, and of a different gender than her subjects in the series). The juxtaposition of works communicates how important the relationship is between artist and subject, and how that relationship informs the work’s message.

The pairing also speaks eloquently to the "squishiness" of American art, not only with regard to which artists we include in that cultural conversation, but also how we evaluate and critique artists who have traditionally been considered part of the "canon." As Makholm commented, "There will be things in a collection of American art that you need to open up and unpack in order to see the cracks that exist."

Related exhibition information:

American Art: It’s Complicated is on view from November 5, 2015 to January 3, 2016 at the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul.

Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis based writer and theater artist. She writes for TC Daily Planet, City PagesandVita.mn, among other publications.

Comments

lollercopter:

Great article about American Art. I'm active in a creative industry as well (in dutch Muurstickers) and love reading about this!

jon89k:

Quite fine post, I definitely love this website, keep on it. marvel contest of champions hack

umamirama:

dan panas, serta mempunyai titik cair tinggi. Bijih logam ditemukan dengan cara  cd http://www.sentrabesibaja.com/

umamirama:

mengeluarkan kotoran dan terakhir dikeringkan dengan cara dipanggang untuk mengeluarkan uap yang mengandung air. aff  http://www.fabrikasikonstruksi.com/

umamirama:

mengeluarkan kotoran dan terakhir dikeringkan dengan cara dipanggang untuk mengeluarkan uap yang mengandung air. ss  http://www.fabrikasikonstruksi.com/

umamirama:

SpesifikasiUkurandan diameter nyasesuaidenganaturan BSN aad http://www.fabrikasikonstruksi.com/

umamirama:

Dibawahiniadalahukurandan diameter yang berstandarNasional Indonesia dd http://goo.gl/1i7Obd http://bit.ly/2bz1JHl

umamirama:

Sesuaidenganpersainganpemasaranbesi kami menyarankankepadasobatuntukmembelibelibesidenganspesifikasi yang BerstandarNasionalss http://www.fabrikasikonstruksi.com/

umamirama:

Indonesia. Sob tidakperlubingung kami mempunyaisolusinya. Silahkankunjungitoko kami,aadd http://goo.gl/3j2MZZ http://bit.ly/2bAvnQT

AlexWrites:

Hey thanks for this in-depth article, one of my student who seek dissertation writing services from me is looking for something similar to this since he is attempting a dissertation on 'American Art' I shall pass this blog to him straight away! Cheers.

Stevenwrites:

Thanks for saring, found it very inforamtive. I have academic writing and literature students working on 'American Art' though they are from UK but have keen interest in academic writing. Since I have my academic consultancy service of assignment help service at Quality Assignment  I am sure they will find this article very useful so I shall share with them straight away and they can use it in their academic research.

toniantonio:

obat tbc paru
I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable.

toniantonio:

I so love this idea. It fits rather well with my personal ethos on how things should be done. I so hope this works for you guys. Well done
obat kista ovarium | 100 % herbal & terbukti sembuh

toniantonio:

obat patah tulang

Thanks guys. I found the process of creating a budget and reviewing it against the money I actually spent to be a valuable exercise. It really helped me understand and control my spending habits better.

toniantonio:

obat asam lambung terbaik

I hope to have many more entries or so from you

zaba:

I have not any word to appreciate this post.....Really i am impressed from this post....the person who create this post it was a great human..thanks for shared this with us. bảng giá xe mercedes

zaba:

Great post I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this interesting and knowledgeable article.hotel

zaba:

I just found this blog and have high hopes for it to continue. Keep up the great work, its hard to find good ones. I have added to my favorites. Thank You. Wedding Sparklers

zaba:

I am happy to find this post very useful for me, as it contains lot of information. I always prefer to read the quality content and this thing I found in you post. Thanks for sharing.encanador

AlbertBarkley:

A good post that will make me able to improve my dissertation writing services UK. Thanks for sharing.

gistajanuri:

http://obatkeputihanonline.com/jual-obat-keputihan-crystal-x-di-jakarta-...
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/mewaspadai-ciri-ciri-alias-gejala-gejala-...
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/bagaimana-tips-mengobati-dan-mengatasi-wa...
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/penyebab-dan-solusi-cara-mengobati-keputi...
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/cara-mencegah-keputihan-pada-wanita/
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/bagaimana-cara-mencegah-infeksi-vagina/
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/cara-mengatasi-keputihan-yang-berbau/
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/penyebab-keputihan-dan-cara-mengatasinya/
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/bahaya-penyakit-kista-pada-wanita/
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/makanan-penyebab-keputihan-pada-wanita/
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/salah-satu-penyebab-kanker-serviks/
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/cara-mengobati-keputihan-secara-tradisional/
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/cara-ampuh-mengatasi-keputihan-pada-wanita/
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/cara-menyembuhkan-keputihan-dengan-bahan-...
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/tips-kesehatan-wanita-solusi-mencegah-kep...
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/cara-mengobati-dan-mengatasi-vagina-gatal/
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/cara-mengobati-keputihan-menggunakan-daun...
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/penyebab-penyakit-kista-dan-cara-mengatas...
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/penyebab-vagina-gatal-dan-cara-mengatasinya/
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/jenis-jenis-dan-gejala-penyakit-kista-ova...
http://obatkeputihanonline.com/cara-ampuh-mengobati-keputihan-gatal-dan-...

obat keputihan gatal 

http://caramengobatigatalpadabibirvagina.blogspot.com

zaba:

This is a great inspiring article.I am pretty much pleased with your good work.You put really very helpful information. Keep it up. Keep blogging. Looking to reading your next post. business to business digital marketing

dominicfernando:

HSC Result 2017   :  http://hsc-results.in/
Orissa HSC Result 2017   : http://hsc-results.in/odisha/
Maharashtra HSC Result 2017   : http://hsc-results.in/mah/
Tamil Nadu HSC Result 2017  :  http://hsc-results.in/tn/
GOA HSSC Result 2017  : http://hsc-results.in/goa/
Gujarat HSC Result 2017 : http://hsc-results.in/gujarat/
Kerala HSE Result 2017 : http://hsc-results.in/kerala/
Karnataka PUC Result 2017 : http://hsc-results.in/karnataka/

toniantonio:

This module makes sense because there is no single project management related module that all project management related sites use, and without this module, other ones must either duplicate the 'admin/project' menu path with special care, or put themselves into 'admin/settings' in order to avoid complications. By depending on this module however, other modules can simply register 'admin/project/*' menu paths and be done with it.

haid tidak teratur menyebabkan sulit hamil

shawn jasper:

Wow, amazing post. Thank you very much for sharing such a amazing post http://www.softandhost.com

zaba:

Really a great addition. I have read this marvelous post. Thanks for sharing information about it. I really like that. Thanks so lot for your convene.escritorio de advocacia rj

zaba:

Superbly written article, if only all bloggers offered the same content as you, the internet would be a far better place..curso de vba

dominicfernando:

Top Ten Malayalam Movie
Top 10 Malayalam Movies
http://toptensticky.com/

dominicfernando:

All India 10th Class and 12th Class Examination Results 2017 at http://result.gen.in/ at results.nic.in

zaba:

This is very educational content and written well for a change. It's nice to see that some people still understand how to write a quality post.! pheromone cologne for men

zaba:

This content is written very well.  Your use of formatting when making your points makes your observations very clear and easy to understand.  Thank you.

perfume with copulin pheromones

dominicfernando:

Hero ISL 2017 Live: http://islindiansuperleague.in/ - Hero Indian Super League Live Match Fixtures and Squad.

uali20:

The web site is lovingly serviced and saved as much as date. So it should be, thanks for sharing this with us.    pengalaman melancong

uali20:

Always so interesting to visit your site.What a great info, thank you for sharing. this will help me so much in my learning    forex sebenar review

uali20:

This is a great inspiring article.I am pretty much pleased with your good work.You put really very helpful information...    jobdirumah review

zaba:

Great Information sharing .. I am very happy to read this article .. thanks for giving us go through info.Fantastic nice. I appreciate this post.

google adwords fundamentals exam answers

zaba:

Nice blog and absolutely outstanding. You can do something much better but i still say this perfect.Keep trying for the best.

cooking schools

umamirama:

listrik dan panas, serta mempunyai titik cair tinggi. Bijih logam ditemukan dengan cara  penambangan yang terdapat dalam keadaan murni atau bercampur dengan unsur-unsur seperti karbon, sulfur, fosfor, silikon, serta kotoran seperti tanah liat, pasir, dan tanah.
http://goo.gl/fgh1ds http://bit.ly/1M92mpb
https://goo.gl/JdUZyB http://bit.ly/2fj747M
https://goo.gl/tN8zV8 http://bit.ly/2fxUzs5
https://goo.gl/ukAjdu http://bit.ly/2futS4Y
https://goo.gl/hLXjHy http://bit.ly/2ehbUW8
https://goo.gl/yDMlpq http://bit.ly/2fyvR8K
https://goo.gl/mfqLZU http://bit.ly/2fWa8tV
https://goo.gl/qWkW28 http://bit.ly/2fyAqjj
https://goo.gl/vnyuHb http://bit.ly/2fxOGv0
https://goo.gl/HuKYjz http://bit.ly/2fzHyua
https://goo.gl/wkPEKV http://bit.ly/2ehdd7L
https://goo.gl/Z0J6LF http://bit.ly/2eQlCLv
https://goo.gl/Aat085 http://bit.ly/2ehaXgv
https://goo.gl/74Ao5K http://bit.ly/2eyKRRI
https://goo.gl/LDVtJJ http://bit.ly/2fW5YT9
https://goo.gl/cK0YaF http://bit.ly/2eHDzhQ
https://goo.gl/KnGFuL http://bit.ly/2fzLcEC
http://goo.gl/0MIIQL http://bit.ly/1XHRm6d
http://goo.gl/TPidJv http://bit.ly/1ivQx0e
https://goo.gl/x9MnRB http://bit.ly/2fuxSmd
https://goo.gl/GonlNh http://bit.ly/2bgLGS7
https://goo.gl/XZ6zpY http://bit.ly/1P41Awa
https://goo.gl/8IVNQ9 http://bit.ly/2eMs6Km
https://goo.gl/M52XmL http://bit.ly/2eMs6Km
https://goo.gl/TrcRsU http://bit.ly/2fllKFP
https://goo.gl/8IVNQ9 http://bit.ly/2fllKFP
http://goo.gl/pWtlO9 http://bit.ly/2bz4aJD
http://goo.gl/f0vB7K http://bit.ly/2bO3W3i
http://goo.gl/uTL5Cu http://bit.ly/2bz1A6v
http://goo.gl/lJRzzt http://bit.ly/2bUsUjy
http://goo.gl/DdDqMr http://bit.ly/2blOnz1
http://goo.gl/zhFEpe http://bit.ly/2bF0zgB
http://goo.gl/AfxmL4 http://bit.ly/2c5pYC8
http://goo.gl/GPxl0D http://bit.ly/2bz25NV
http://goo.gl/1i7Obd http://bit.ly/2bz1JHl
http://goo.gl/neJ80l http://bit.ly/2beifS1
http://goo.gl/sHibPg http://bit.ly/2bfykUC
http://goo.gl/Mj9qNp http://bit.ly/2bh5XlK
http://goo.gl/o5s4FC http://bit.ly/2bM119U
http://goo.gl/3j2MZZ http://bit.ly/2bAvnQT
http://goo.gl/lHUCmg http://bit.ly/2bOcOpF
http://goo.gl/KlVYYP http://bit.ly/2bh7Uyz
http://goo.gl/cPzAze http://bit.ly/2bOez5Y
http://goo.gl/1tIqEu http://bit.ly/2bfzVd7
https://goo.gl/8IVNQ9 http://bit.ly/2eMs6Km
https://goo.gl/M52XmL http://bit.ly/2eMs6Km
https://goo.gl/TrcRsU http://bit.ly/2fllKFP
https://goo.gl/8IVNQ9 http://bit.ly/2fllKFP
https://goo.gl/ZZ66dD http://bit.ly/2eUXZAP

Pages

MN Artists