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For the First Time, Metropolitan Museum Will Display Indigenous Art in Its American Wing

With a major promised gift of 91 works of Native American art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will now include indigenous art in its galleries on American art.

Joseph No Two Horns, (He Nupa Wanica), shield (Hunkpapa Lakota, Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota, 1885), Native tanned leather, feathers, pigment, ink, sinew, cotton, plant fiber, wood (courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, promised gift of Charles and Valerie Diker, photo by Dirk Bakker)

Yesterday, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced a promised gift of 91 Native American artworks from collectors Charles and Valerie Diker. The donation succeeds 20 objects the Dikers have given to the museum over the past two decades. Significantly, the museum states that the art will be displayed in the American Wing, as previously indigenous works from the United States were sequestered in the Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas galleries.

Charles Diker noted in the release that he and Valerie are “honored to share the remarkable work of these Native American artists with the public, especially as an integral part of the broader story of American creativity.” In the New York Times article on their gift, a photograph of the couple in their apartment shows an Acoma Pueblo jar displayed alongside a Rothko, Noguchi, Calder, and Deborah Butterfield horse.

Unrecorded Arapaho artist, attributed to “Henderson Ledger Artist A,” also known as Horseback, “A Medicine Vision” (Arapaho, Oklahoma, 1880), pencil, colored pencil, and ink on paper (courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, promised gift of Charles and Valerie Diker, photo by Dirk Bakker)

Frequently in American museums, indigenous art is excluded from the visual narrative of this country. That perspective has been slow to change, although there have been recent strides such as the Newark Museum’s rehang of its collections to place indigenous art at the beginning of its American galleries. However, in spaces like the Met’s American Wing, often the only images of Native American people and culture were by non-indigenous creators. For instance, John Quincy Adams Ward’s 1860 bronze of “The Indian Hunter,” or Thomas Crawford’s marble 1840s “Mexican Girl Dying,” with a young woman wearing a headdress sprawled backwards.

A 2018 exhibition in the American Wing at the Met will debut more than 100 objects, both outright and promised gifts, from the Dikers. They include an 1880 “Medicine Vision” ledger art drawing from Arapaho, Oklahoma; a 1907 basket bowl by Louisa Keyser, also called Datsolalee, decorated with claw shapes; and a 1900 dance mask by a Yup’ik artist in Alaska carved with fish, a seal, and a bird all grasped in a human hand. Some works from their collection were recently on view in Native American Masterpieces from the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection (installed in the Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas galleries). Carrie Rebora Barratt, deputy director for collections and administration, affirmed in the release that the “transformative gift marks a turning point in the narratives presented within the American Wing.”

Unrecorded Wasco artist, dress and belt with awl case (Wasco, Oregon or Washington State, 1870), Native tanned leather, glass beads, shell, bone, teeth, metal (courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, promised gift of Charles and Valerie Diker, photo by Dirk Bakker)
Unrecorded Anishinaabe artist, shoulder bag (without strap) (Anishinaabe, Ojibwa, Ontario, 1820), black-dyed native tanned leather, porcupine quills, tin cones, silk ribbon, dyed hair (courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, promised gift of Charles and Valerie Diker, photo by Dirk Bakker)
Unrecorded Yup’ik artist, dance mask (Yup’ik, Alaska, 1900), wood, pigment, vegetal fiber (courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, promised gift of Charles and Valerie Diker, photo by Dirk Bakker)
Nampeyo, ceramic jar (Hopi-Tewa, Arizona, 1895), clay, pigment (courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, promised gift of Charles and Valerie Diker, photo by Dirk Bakker)
Unrecorded Tlingit artist, dagger (Tlingit, Alaska, 1750), iron, hair, plant fiber, native tanned leather, wool cloth (courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, promised gift of Charles and Valerie Diker, photo by Dirk Bakker)
Louisa Keyser, also known as Datsolalee, basket bowl (Washoe, Nevada, 1907), willow, redbud, bracken fern root (courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, promised gift of Charles and Valerie Diker, photo by Dirk Bakker)
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