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”
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:
- Developing Passion: A Brief History of Collecting at the Indian Arts Research Center (IARC)
- Collecting Ourselves: George Heye, Estelle Rebec, Denis Tremblay, and the Whiteclouds
- Protecting the Past and the Future? Laws and Native Arts Museums
- Pseudo-Ceremonial Pots and Zuni Collection Reviews
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.1974||57th Indian Art Market Poster||71st Indian Art Market Poster|
Sponsored by Anne Ray Charitable Trust