As part of an ongoing effort to reinvigorate its approach to its Native American collection, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is launching a new program devoted to Indigenous art—and, according to Taylor Dafoe of artnet News, the museum is seeking an associate curator to head the initiative.
“This position,” the Met writes in a job posting, “represents the museum’s first full-time appointment of a curator for this rich and complex material.”
The successful candidate will be responsible for overseeing the Diker Collection, a robust series of gifted and loaned objects from the holdings of Charles and Valerie Diker, philanthropists who have assembled one of the world’s most important private collections of Native American artworks. The museum’s Ralph T. Coe Collection of historical and modern Indigenous art, along with more recent acquisitions, will also fall under the curator’s purview.
Much of the job will involve creating exhibitions, installations, and programs in the Met’s American Wing, representing a significant shift for the museum. For most of the institution’s long history, works by Native Americans were displayed in the galleries of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. But last year, the Met introduced an exhibition of Native American art in its American wing, thus situating Indigenous works within the broader narrative of American art. The move was driven by the Dikers, who wanted to “re-contextualize what we define as American culture,” as Charles Diker told Gabriella Angeleti of the Art Newspaper at the time.
But Art of Native America, as the exhibition was titled, quickly became the subject of contention. The Association of American Indian Affairs released a statement saying that the majority of items on display were not in fact “art,” but “sacred ceremonial objects, cultural patrimony and burial objects.” Some of these items “may be held in violation of state and federal laws,” the statement continued. “Native American inalienable items have frequently found their way into collectors’ hands as the result of theft, looting and illegal trafficking.”
Speaking to Angeleti of the Art Newspaper, Shannon O'Loughlin, the executive director of the Association on American Indian Affairs, said that Met officials “did not consult with affiliated tribal representatives to perform their due diligence” while preparing for the exhibition. A spokeswoman for the museum countered that the Met had in fact “engaged regularly and repeatedly with tribal leaders in many Native communities throughout the country,” though she did not specify which communities. The contested items were not removed from the exhibition, according to Dafoe.
In spite of these tensions, Sylvia Yount, head of the American art wing, tells Dafoe that the Met is committed to implementing an “increasingly robust program of Indigenous American art across the museum,” citing the commission of two monumental paintings by Cree artist Kent Monkman as a recent example.
It will be important for the new curator to establish a positive relationship with Native American groups. Part of the curator’s job, according to the listing, will be to “thoroughly” research the provenance of the items in the collection. The museum is also looking for a candidate with “[d]emonstrable connections with descendent communities” and the ability to “[d]evelop robust collaborations and partnerships with Indigenous community members.”