MN Original

The Minnesota Museum of American Art (the M) continually reexamines the question, “What is American Art?” with their audiences, artists and local communities. The video offers a snapshot of perspectives from local artists Anne DeCoster, Seitu Jones, Stuart Nielsen, Anat Shinar, Maria Cristina Tavera, Xavier Tavera and Tetsuya Yamada. In the article below, the M’s Executive Director Kristin Makholm explores how the M is broadening its definition of “American art” to be inclusive of communities historically left out of museums defined by “American art.)


Written by: Kristin Makholm, Executive Director of the Minnesota Museum of American Art
Reprinted with permission from: Minnesota Museum of American Art Blog

There are American art museums all across the country—the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and many more. Each one celebrates the accomplishments of American artists from the past and the present, from monographic shows to carefully forged biennials of the “state of the art” in American art today. There’s a pantheon of great artists to choose from and a lifetime of exhibitions that can result from focusing on an artist’s unique contribution to the American canon. They all have well-regarded curators to make sure that the expert has conferred their stamp of approval on everything.

But what if the museum of American art became less a place of honoring, of confirming the status quo, or of charting a new one, and became more a site of questioning, of asking why and how this artist might be American and what that means to those of us living here today?

“What would it look like if an American art museum were to more authentically reflect the American experience?”

This simple question drives all programmatic decisions at the M: how to redefine the American art museum as a place where everyone can see themselves and their experiences in our exhibitions. It begins with the question: What actually is “the American experience” and how has it morphed, shifted and expanded over the decades since American art museums came into being in the 20th century?  Whose reality is being celebrated here and how does it connect with this constantly shifting landscape of ours? Who gets to claim “Americanness” and what is that anyway? We celebrate and investigate the work of American artists who represent the many different voices that make up that conversation.

One of the prisms through which we view the American experience is our local artist and maker community. We celebrate their work and place it in dialogue with what some might consider the canon of American art, or at least art that has passed some curatorial test of time. We create a rich dialogue of juxtapositions to help stir the pot of our expectations and those of our audiences.  Through this we hope to jumpstart conversations about the nature of the American experience and how art can truly be a catalyst to authentic, honest conversations about culture and identity in today’s America.

Let’s challenge ourselves and our institutions of “American Anything” to wade into the assumptions that defined us in the 20th century and consider more honest, equitable and inclusive ways to engage these issues today. We will strive to make the M one of those NEW American institutions that fully embrace the beauty—and messiness—of what it means to be American in this day and age.

Spend some time with additional stories from our partnership with the M.

Special Thanks: Landmark Center, Susannah Schouweiler
Additional Media: Jerry Mathiason
Minnesota Music: Cloud Cult
Production Team: Robert Hutchins, Jacob Kelso, Jennilee Park, Mike Phillips, Brittany Shrimpton, Brennan Vance

This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.