Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Art of the Americas"... Sort of.

Our past two readings had me thinking a lot about museums and art- how strange it is that they are institutions of cultural preservation which can also end up being oppressive. Before I read The Battle over ‘The West as America’ and The National Museum of the American Indian as Cultural Sovereignty I had gone to an exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston that seemed like perfect fodder for a blog post. The exhibit was called “Art of the Americas,” and had some of the most iconic historical images of the United States (Recognize this guy,,1.0&wid=568&cell=568,427&cvt=jpeg ?) The structure of this massive new wing was as follows. Level LG (the underground level) Ancient American, Native American, 17th-Century, and Maritime Art, Level 1: 18th-Century Art of the Colonial Americas and Early 19th-Century Art, Level 2: 19th-Century and Early 20th-Century Art, Level 3: 20th-Century Art through the mid-1970s.
I originally thought this would be a perfect topic to blog about because I assumed I would find some reviews on the new wing which shared my frustration with the title “Art of the Americas,” but in looking at a few different reviews, I found I was alone in my discontent. My frustration was grounded in the fact that, in reality, this was primarily art of European colonizers and their followers in North America, and not much else. For art of the United States, it would have been a great exhibit. For all of the Americas, however, it was not quite good enough for me. For the most part, the couple corners in the basement level of the new wing were all that explored South American or Indigenous American art. The rest was, essentially, John Singleton’s “Paul Revere” and his descendants.
Quite differently from what I expected, the reviews I found praised the new wing of the MFA’s “multi-culturalism”. The L.A. Times wrote “MFAB's new American wing helpfully exposes the cracks in traditional thinking about American art.” It does? Where is the modern South American art? Where is the art of our immigrant population? Additionally, I found an article from the Denver Post which complimented the new wing on the noble challenge it posed to Art History and the Art world. “The Art of the Americas wing does what academics have been saying for the past 30 years: Take the one-sided European view out of displaying art, and you'll have a more accurate portrayal of society.” Yes, but, how did this wing do that? Those couple corners in the basement? Either I’m much more radical than I thought, or the world of art presentation and appreciation is a little behind.

Here are the two reviews, as well as a link to the new wing:

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