Metropolitan Museum of Art Hires First Full-Time Curator of Native American Art
Patricia Marroquin Norby previously worked at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian–New York
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is set to mark a major milestone in its approximately 150-year history. As the New York cultural institution announced earlier this week, Patricia Marroquin Norby, who is of Purépecha heritage, will start as the museum’s inaugural associate curator of Native American art on September 14.
“I am delighted with this opportunity to return to my fine-art roots,” says Norby, who is also the Met’s first full-time Native American curator, in a statement. “Historical and contemporary Native American art embodies and confronts the environmental, religious, and economic disruptions that Indigenous communities have so powerfully negotiated—and still negotiate—through a balance of beauty, tradition, and innovation.”
Norby previously served as senior executive and assistant director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian–New York. Before coming to the Smithsonian, she directed the Chicago-based Newberry Library’s Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies and worked as a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
According to the statement, Norby most recently penned a monograph titled Water, Bones, and Bombs. Set to be published by the University of Nebraska Press, the book examines 20th-century Southwest art through the lens of “environmental conflicts among Native, Hispano, and White communities in the northern Rio Grande Valley.”
In her historic new role, Norby will report to Sylvia Yount, the curator in charge of the museum’s American Wing, per Alex Greenberger of ARTNews.
Norby’s appointment arrives amid ongoing efforts to incorporate more Indigenous artists into museums’ collections. In June, for instance, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. announced the acquisition of its first painting by a Native American artist.
As Valentina Di Liscia notes for Hyperallergic, the Met first displayed works by Indigenous artists in its American Wing in 2018, a year after collectors Charles and Valerie Diker announced a planned donation of 91 Native American artworks. Previously, Indigenous artists’ creations were displayed in the galleries for the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, wrote the New York Times’ Randy Kennedy in 2017.
The subsequent exhibition of Native American art attracted criticism from the Association on American Indian Affairs, which argued that the display was unethical.
In a press release, the nonprofit said, “[I]nalienable cultural heritage items are not ‘art’ [but rather] living and breathing entities of their communities essential to the continuation of Native American cultures, traditions and religious practices.”
Pointing out that many Native American cultural heritage items were originally acquired through theft and looting, the association further stated that several items in the Met’s collection “violate Tribal and customary laws.”
At the time, a spokesperson for the Met told the Art Newspaper’s Gabriella Angeleti that the museum had “regularly and repeatedly” consulted Native American tribal leaders but did not specify which communities these individuals belonged to.
More recently, in December 2019, the museum installed two monumental commissions by Toronto-based Cree artist Kent Monkman in its famed Great Hall, as Brigit Katz reported for Smithsonian magazine at the time.
In one of the paintings, Monkman reimagines Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851) as a boat piloted by Indigenous people—a choice that “emphasize[s] indigenous resilience and survival,” as Monkman told Vulture last year.
“This is a time of significant evolution for the museum,” says Norby in the statement. “I look forward to being part of this critical shift in the presentation of Native American art.”