Museum of Northern Arizona
Artful Bounty: New Acquisitions to the Museum of Northern Arizona Collections
Does an Australian aborigine find beauty in a masterful Navajo rug? While not all artwork has a universal appeal, art is essential to cultures worldwide. Three curators join in a discussion of the artistic qualities that distinguish the Colorado Plateau in a Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) exhibit, Artful Bounty: New Acquisitions to the Museum of Northern Arizona Collections, when it opens Saturday, December 16, 2000. (left: Snake Dancer Doll, Artist: Hopi from Moenkopi, Arizona, Medium: Wood, paint, cloth, Created: Circa early 1920s, Gifted: 1999 by Mrs. Cecile D. Cobb in memory of Irby Mae Richardson, Collection of the Museum of Northern Arizona, E10567)
A good old-fashioned debate was the method by which the 50 paintings, katsinas, Navajo rugs, pieces of jewelry, folk art works, pottery, Zuni fetishes, and more were chosen for the exhibit from among the 500 pieces of artwork donated to Museum collections over the past seven years. The discussion began with MNA Senior Vice President Edwin L. Wade, Hopi artist and teacher Michael Kabotie, and Northern Arizona University artist and art historian Paula Rice who now invite the public for their feedback on their selections.(left: Flute Player, Artist: Michael Kabotie (Lomawywesa), Medium: Acrylic, Created: 1968, Gifted: 1996 by Joelle Adlerblum, Collection of the Museum of Northern Arizona, C2232; right: Hopi Maiden in the Window, Photographer: The Honorable Richard Elihu Sloan, circa 1900, Gifted by Bill and Lorraine Dickey, Navajo Man, Photographer: The Honorable Richard Elihu Sloan, circa 1900), Gifted by Bill and Lorraine Dickey, Collection of the Museum of Northern Arizona)
The Museum collects cultural, archaeological, botanical, zoological, geologic, and fine art objects from the 130,000 square-mile Colorado Plateau region. The total collections are second in size only to the Smithsonian's and are used for research, exhibits, as well as documentation of the region's history and character. With such a large collection, normally only a small fraction of it is displayed. Artful Bounty provides an opportunity to take an interdisciplinary look at ways in which prehistoric and contemporary cultures of this high desert region are interwoven, influence each other, and how they are distinct from cultures anywhere else on the planet. (right: Navajo Bracelet, Artist: unknown, Medium: Silver Applique, Created: Circa 1990, Gifted 1998 by Dr. Marilyn Moore, Collection of the Museum of Northern Arizona, E10649)
Curators' Statement: An Artful Bounty: What It Means To Collect
Since its inception seventy-three years ago the Museum of Northern Arizona has been an active collecting institution. Most museums are. But what exactly does it mean to say that we collect. What kind of things do we collect? How do we go about finding those objects? Are they always objects or can you collect ideas? Who decides what should be acquired? And how do they, the curators, researchers, scientists, and patrons, determine what it is that they want?
The Lockett Gallery that you are standing in is dedicated to fine and ethnographic art. This is why you will not see the thousands of natural science specimens dinosaurs, minerals, animals and plants that also have been collected during our history. Nevertheless, just as with art the same principles are applied when we search out such material to add to our study collections.
The most important first question asked when we think about a new acquisition is - does the object or thing fit within the mission of our institution. The Museum of Northern Arizona is dedicated to the study of the Colorado Plateau, a region of 130,000 square miles that encompasses parts of four western states. We focus inclusively upon the arts, cultures, science, and history of this unique place. Within the arts we collect both the old as well as the new, both Native American and western, immigrant, ethnic, and contemporary mainstream traditions. Within our collections, housed across the street on the research campus, we preserve over 3500 paintings and prints, 800 Navajo textiles, 1945 Hopi ceramics, 6000 prehistoric Southwestern Pueblo ceramics, 1924 Southwestern Indian jewelry, and thousands of art quality photographs along with other fine and ethnographic arts.
At times however, since we are a teaching as well as a research museum, it is necessary to expand our focus beyond the Plateau. Researchers require comprehensive collections that within the arts allow them to study regional styles, trends, changes in taste, individual artistic vision, and high and low periods in an artist's career. Teachers find equally valuable comparative collections that allow them to contrast the arts of the Plateau against those contemporaneously produced within the larger nation and internationally. It is through such study that we are then able to define the character of our regional identity and show how our artistic perception of place, time and the spiritual is both similar and different from others.
Sometimes we acquire simply because of quality, the object is a masterpiece. Specific topics can be equally intriguing as with the hundreds of artists who have challenged their talent in attempting to depict the Grand Canyon through paint, print, clay, and photography. Then occasionally an object is so unique, so unusual, as with the beaded Northern Plains deer skull within this exhibition that it exists as an aesthetic statement unto itself.
Collecting is a method by which we preserve our history and document the forces and personalities that will shape our future. Collecting creates a storehouse of inspiration essential to the emerging talent of newer generations. Collecting allows for the democratization of human endeavor, vision and identity. It forms the collective consciousness of being human.
Exhibit Introduction: Three Curators -Three Viewpoints
When organizing an exhibition there is usually one principal curator who decides the topic of the show, how it is going to look and which artworks will be featured. This is the simplest process. Yet, something gets lost in the efficiency. Missing are the challenges, debates, and arguments among specialists as to which objects are worthy of being shown.
Significance, as with beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder even for artists or trained art historians. Too often just because an object is featured in an exhibition, visitors assume that somehow it must be important.
In reality there are very few human creations that have universal appeal. To the Kalahari Bushman, Leonardo's "Mona Lisa" has less relevance than his etched ostrich shell eggs. Even closer to home we have all heard people look at an American abstract expressionist painting by Pollock or DeKooning only to comment "Well, I can paint as well as that." And perhaps, depending upon the painting, sometimes they can.
When planning this exhibition the Museum decided to have a little fun with the project. Hundreds upon hundreds of items have been given to the collections over the past seven years, which meant that it was impossible to exhibit them all. At best fifty objects could be featured, but which ones?
In a dangerous nod towards the democratic process we decided to elicit the opinions of colleagues. Internationally celebrated Hopi artist and teacher Michael Kabotie and Northern Arizona University artist and art historian Paula Rice warmly responded to the overture to join me, Ed Wade MNA Vice President of Curatorial and Fine Art.
The rules of engagement in the selection of objects were simple. If a curator was passionate about an object then it was his or her responsibility to convince the others. In certain cases there was no argument, in other instances great disagreement.
Is It Art? Join the Discussion
Our goal was to let you participate in the debate as to what is compelling art. And knowing that you have your own opinion, we ask you now to join us in selecting your favorite object within the gallery and sharing your comments.
Be liberated by the knowledge that there are no universal
truths as to what is a masterpiece. Over the decades scholars creep towards
a consensus as to what is significant within a tradition. Remember this
is a slow process and as much as we now revere Van Gogh and happily stand
in line for hours to see his works upon gallery walls, during his lifetime
these same paintings were considered insignificant and dismissed as financial
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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/27/11
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