Friday, January 21, 2011

Bringing Home the Thaw Collection from Minneapolis

By Eva Fognell, Curator of the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art

When my colleague Chris Rossi and I were at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts last October to install our traveling exhibition Art of the Native Americans: The Thaw Collection, the sun was shining and Minneapolis had a heat wave with 75 degree temperatures. But what a difference a few months makes! When I returned to Minneapolis for the dismantling of the exhibition, -2 degrees Farenheit welcomed me. And, since I had just got home from a winter vacation the cold weather was even more startling. From 90 degrees to -2 in 36 hours can shake up just about anyone; even this winter-hardy Swede.

Chris and I successfully dismantled the exhibition with much assistance from the fantastic MIA staff. However, the weather has made it impossible for the MIA to take down the teepees that have graced their front lawn, welcoming visitors and sending the message that the Native American show is here. All the snow in December and then some rain made the snow into icebergs that are not allowing the poles to be pulled up. So, they’ll stay put until spring!

The exhibition was a great success for the MIA. Nearly 28,000 people came out to see it during its run there. That is more then 7,800 over their target visitation. And that is with a few snow days when the museum was closed due to inclement weather!

I asked Joe Horse Capture, (MIA’s Native American Curator) to reflect on the experience of having this exhibit at the MIA:
Art of the Native Americans: The Thaw Collection was an opportunity for us to show our audience the highest quality of Native American art-which reinforces our mission as a museum. It is the first Native American art survey exhibition since 1972 Art of the Native American also provided us an opportunity to reach out to the Native American population in the Twin Cities. We had 45 schools with a high Native American population (which translates to about 1475 students) tour the exhibition. It was also great that the exhibition had the flexibility for us to add components that we thought would enhance the work-including the video interviews and photo blow-ups of the geographic regions. Lastly, the exhibition provided me an opportunity to show our trustees/patrons some of the best Native American art that inspires them to help the MIA acquire better works for our collection.

Here are a few words from a visitor’s email to the MIA:
American Indian Art is diverse and complicated, often times not lending itself to the typical academic theories about art for arts sake. However, if there are little to no opportunities to view American Indian Art in museums, the American public has no real place to cultivate an interest in it, and if the public has no interest, museums have little incentive to curate such exhibits. … Thanks to MIA for giving us the rare opportunity to experience this art form up close.

The picture below shows poignant evidence of a visitors emotional and appreciative response towards the exhibition and the objects: look carefully at the lower end of the photo with the shield. Someone gave an offering to the shield. The birch bark container contains tobacco - a sacred offering that feeds the shield.

No comments:

Blog Widget by LinkWithin