‘Conventional Narratives of History Are Being Expanded’: Native Art Is Now Appearing in the Met’s American Wing

The change of venue was a stipulation to receive a gift from Native American art collectors Charles and Valerie Diker.

Tsimshian artist, Headdress frontlet (c. 1820–40). Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of Native American Art, promised gift of Charles and Valerie Diker.
Tsimshian artist, Headdress frontlet (c. 1820–40). Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of Native American Art, promised gift of Charles and Valerie Diker.

When the Metropolitan Museum of Art opens its show “Art of Native America: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection” on Thursday, it will mark the first time the museum has held a show of Native American art in its American wing.

The exhibition features 116 pieces from the Dikers, a diverse range of works created by over 50 different Native American cultures dating from the 2nd century to the early 20th century. The couple has made a promised gift of many of the pieces—others are loans, or have already been donated—with the express intention that they be shown with other American works.

“The presentation in the American Wing of these exceptional works by Indigenous artists marks a critical moment in which conventional narratives of history are being expanded to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of cultures that have long been marginalized,” said Met director Max Hollein in a statement, He went on to credit the Dikers with having “forever transformed the Met’s ability to more fully display the development of American art, enabling an important shift in thinking.”

In other countries, it is common to present indigenous art as part of the wider arc of a nation’s art history, but like many US museums, the Met has always shown Native American art in its galleries for Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.

Unrecorded Arapaho artist, attributed to “Henderson Ledger Artist A,” also known as Horseback, “A Medicine Vision” (Arapaho, Oklahoma, 1880). Photo by Dirk Bakker, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of Native American Art, promised gift of Charles and Valerie Diker.

Unrecorded Arapaho artist, attributed to “Henderson Ledger Artist A,” also known as Horseback, “A Medicine Vision” (Arapaho, Oklahoma, 1880). Photo by Dirk Bakker, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of Native American Art, promised gift of Charles and Valerie Diker.

“We are committed to exploring thoughtfully and sensitively the entangled histories of contact and colonization from both Native and Euro-American perspectives,” American wing curator Sylvia Yount said in a statement. “The Met takes seriously its curatorial responsibility to share with our broad audiences—in a variety of displays and contexts—the cultural endurance and creative continuity of Indigenous American artists.”

With an eye toward preserving Native American culture, the Dikers first began their collection while living in New Mexico in the 1970s. Their goal in integrating their collection into the Met’s American art holdings is “to recontextualize what we define as American culture,” Charles told the Art Newspaper.

Louisa Keyser, also known as Datsolalee, basket bowl (Washoe, Nevada, 1907). Photo by Dirk Bakker, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of Native American Art, promised gift of Charles and Valerie Diker.

Louisa Keyser, also known as Datsolalee, basket bowl (Washoe, Nevada, 1907). Photo by Dirk Bakker, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of Native American Art, promised gift of Charles and Valerie Diker.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Met will publish an exhibition catalogue that “presents Native American art within the broader context of American art history.” The Dikers’ collection was also the subject of the exhibition “First American Art: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of American Indian Art” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in 2004.

The Met had previously shown work from the couple’s collection in the 2016–17 exhibition “Native American Masterpieces From the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection.” The new show features sculpture from British Columbia and Alaska, baskets from California, pottery from the southwest, Plains drawings, rare accessories, and regalia.

“Art of Native America: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection” is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Met Fifth Avenue, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, October 4, 2018–October 6, 2019.


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