Familiar Webs: An Exploration of Collecting Practices at the Indian Arts Research Center and Beyond

Curated by Gloria Bell

What criteria validate an authentic cultural or artistic product? What are the differential values placed on old and new creations? What moral and political criteria justify “good,” responsible, systematic collecting practices? … How is a complete collection defined? What is the proper balance between scientific analysis and public display?
—James Clifford in “On Collecting Art and Culture”

Detail of Beaded JacketDetail of Beaded JacketOjibwe - Anishinaabe / Métis style jacket (Northern Ontario), c. 1900s
Beads, cotton thread and moose hide
Denis Tremblay Collection
Courtesy of Denis Tremblay and Gloria Bell

The spiral design of this beadwork recalls the fern head and the tree of life motif within the beadwork of many Native groups such as the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). The web created by this design also reminds one of the interconnected natures of the physical and spiritual worlds within the origin stories of Native communities in Northern Ontario.
Detail of Beaded JacketOjibwe - Anishinaabe / Métis style jacket (Northern Ontario), c. 1900s
Beads, cotton thread and moose hide
Denis Tremblay Collection
Courtesy of Denis Tremblay and Gloria Bell

The spiral design of this beadwork recalls the fern head and the tree of life motif within the beadwork of many Native groups such as the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). The web created by this design also reminds one of the interconnected natures of the physical and spiritual worlds within the origin stories of Native communities in Northern Ontario.

These are some of the questions that collections such as the Indian Arts Research Center’s raise for visitors interested in understanding the complex ways that museums produce and store knowledge. Collectors and museum professionals are often influenced by shifting ideas of “authentic” art in order to build their collections. Museum displays historically conveyed ideas of cultural fixity, rather than flux, with objects under glass presented as “masterpieces” outside of their cultural and social environments. Institutions such as the IARC are dependent on the donations of individual collectors who have their own set of desires and motivations behind why they collected certain objects.

For the purposes of this exhibition, I define collecting as a set of practices influenced by personal taste and political motivations to build a significant set of objects. Some people who collect Native art may not consider themselves collectors. Many artists, for example, trade their work with other artists, but would not think of themselves as collectors.

Collected objects are part of a complex web composed of many threads. If we unraveled these “threads,” we would notice the ties each object has with its creator, community, collectors, and institutions. The four threads you can explore in this exhibit are:

Through exploring these areas, looking at the images, and visiting the collection, you may become entangled in these relationships.

In the past, many cultural objects were taken from Native communities using culturally insensitive means informed largely by the “salvage paradigm.” This was an anthropological attitude acted upon by North American collectors and anthropologists, which resulted in the massive removal of material from Native communities in the name of cultural preservation. Today, institutions such as the IARC strive to rebuild the bonds between art and community. Through the process of collecting, making, and viewing art, these ties are renewed and art continues to be an important element of understanding our own identities and cultural traditions.

In this exhibit, ask yourself how collecting practices build and or break down ties between art objects, communities, and families.

53rd Indian Art Market Poster, ca.197453rd Indian Art Market Poster, ca.1974Lithograph
SAR.1978-9-27
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research
57th Indian Art Market Poster57th Indian Art Market PosterR.C. Gorman (Navajo), 1978
Lithograph
SAR.2005-7-3
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research
71st Indian Art Market Poster71st Indian Art Market PosterTony Abeyta (Navajo), 1992
Lithograph
SAR.2005-7-4
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research
53rd Indian Art Market Poster, ca.197457th Indian Art Market Poster71st Indian Art Market Poster
These posters were used to attract people to attend the Indian Art Markets in the Southwest, which began in the early twentieth century. Collectors and tourists come every summer to these celebrations to purchase artworks from Native artists.

Sponsored by Anne Ray Charitable Trust

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