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From the Director / Fall 2023

September 1, 2023

From the Director / Fall 2023

September 1, 2023

Connecting in new ways with our audiences, and attentively stewarding the museum’s collection, are both important aspects of the work that the staff and I have set for ourselves in the AMAM’s new strategic plan, entitled A Deep Heritage, A Dynamic Future: Community, Creativity, and a Culture of Care. The plan—including the museum’s new mission, vision, and values statements—is available on our website at amam.oberlin.edu/strategic-plan and we hope you will take time to peruse it.

As I wrote in an introduction there, during the past several years the museum field—like society overall—has encountered tremendous challenges in the form of health crises, economic turbulence, and international conflicts. We also experienced much-needed reckonings around racial injustice, a new focus on issues of gender equity and accessibility, concerns relating to ownership of cultural property, and continuing environmental vulnerabilities due to climate change. Along with these important matters has also come a new attention to the proper acknowledgment of Indigenous and other groups—and I’m proud that the the AMAM staff has been working recently both to highlight Indigenous items in the museum’s collection through thoughtful exhibitions and gallery presentations, as well to grapple with the difficult issues that ownership and custodianship of such items present. Importantly, they have been doing so through conversations with members of Indigenous groups, connections that we expect will only increase in future years as we seek to learn from experts of various fields—including Indigenous American and Pre-Columbian cultures, and Islamic and African art—in which the museum has collections, but no curator with significant relevant expertise.

Currator of Academic Programs Hannah Wirta Kinney has recently highlighted Indigenous American items in focused presentations, including Divergent Paths, which reconstructed the different journeys two pairs of moccasins took upon arrival at Oberlin College in the 19th century, one pair ending up in the AMAM and one in a collection without formal institutional oversight (now stewarded attentively by Amy Margaris, Associate Professor of Anthropology, who has been an excellent colleague and advisor regarding proper care for the Indigenous items the museum currently holds); Dis/Possession, which explored, through American artworks, ideas about the land that reinforce a settler colonial mindset; and Objects of Encounter: American Myths of Place, which examined how the works of both Euro-American and Indigenous artists encapsulated both real and imagined encounters with other people and places. One smaller intervention in the galleries, installed in February 2022 by former student curatorial assistant Audrey Libatique (OC 2022) working with former curator Alexandra Letvin, remains on view in our East Gallery. A case in the gallery includes works made by late 19th and early 20th century Indigenous artists from the Southwestern United States, including three pots by Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez as well as silver necklaces made by Diné (Navajo) artisans and other works made specifically for the increasing numbers of tourists who were able to visit the Southwest following the expansion of railroads. Installations such as this combine several strategies—highlighted in our new strategic plan—that AMAM staff are using in their work with our audiences and our collections. These include close interaction with students, faculty, and/or community members in the preparation of exhibitions; attempts (I would say, successful ones) to make a big impact in a small space—in this instance, in just one case in our East Gallery, with others in similarly intimate spaces, including the Northwest and Southwest Ambulatories and Education Hallway; and the use of collection works to confront difficult and topical issues, while seeking to raise awareness and discussion among our visitors.

Collecting contemporary works from Indigenous artists is also a priority; indeed, the very first acquisition I made after becoming AMAM director in 2012 was a print by Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith (Salish Flathead/Cree/Shosone), Theatres of War—pointedly, the first contemporary Indigenous work to enter the AMAM’s collection. We’re delighted that this aspect of the museum’s holdings has grown substantially since then, including through the Wendy Red Star (Apsáalooke/Crow) print featured in this year’s Shared Art program (see page 15) and through three prints by Jeffrey Gibson (Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians/Cherokee)—who has recently been chosen to represent the United States at the next Venice Biennale.

Many recent acquisitions by contemporary Indigenous artists have come to the museum as generous gifts from Driek (OC 1965) and Michael (OC 1964) Zirinsky—whose donation in 2015 of a textile by Anna Von Mertens features prominently in a new exhibition in our Ellen Johnson Gallery. While that work relates to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the exhibition focuses on the pathbreaking, yet too-little known, American astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, whose studies at Oberlin from 1885 to 1888 set the stage for her later career. We hope you’ll visit us soon to see this and other new exhibitions, and to help us celebrate the work of Oberlin students past and present, and the ways that their efforts—some of which are highlighted on pages 16 and 17—and those of the museum’s talented staff in concert with community members, continue to resonate positively today.

Andria Derstine
John G. W. Cowles Director

Images:

Maria Martínez (San Ildefonso Pueblo, 1887–1980) and Julian Martínez (San Ildefonso Pueblo, 1879–1943), Black-on-Black Jar with Avanyu Design, mid-1930s–1943. Hand-coiled earthenware. Gift of Maxine Houck (OC 1958)
in memory of James A., Pauline A., and Walter
E. Houck, 2011.4.1.

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (American Indian, b. 1940), Theatres of War, 2006.Color lithograph with monotype. Ruth C. Roush Contemporary Art Fund, 2012.8.

Jeffrey Gibson (Mississippi Band Choctaw/Cherokee, b. 1972), One for the Other, 2009. Color lithograph. Gift of Driek (OC 1965) and Michael (OC 1964) Zirinsky in honor of Karl Davis and Nika Blasser, 2023.1.10.

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Allen Memorial Art Museum Closed for the Summer

Starting May 27, the Allen Memorial Art Museum will close for the summer in the lead up to the completion of Oberlin College and Conservatory's Sustainable Infrastructure Program (SIP). Learn More