American Indian Masterworks on View at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art this Summer

Release date: 
April 7, 2015

FORT WORTH, Texas—This summer, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art presents the traveling exhibition Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art from the Diker Collection. Organized by the American Federation of Arts (AFA), the exhibition is drawn from the celebrated holdings of Charles and Valerie Diker and features approximately 120 masterworks representing tribes across the North American continent. The exhibition is on view at the Amon Carter from July 7 through September 13, 2015; admission is free.

“This exhibition has been shaped by the Dikers’ passion for Native American art, and their collection is renowned as one of the largest and most comprehensive in private hands,” says AFA Director Pauline Willis. “We are delighted to bring these exquisite works to Fort Worth.”

Selections from the collection have been presented previously at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1998–2000) and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (2003–2006), but Indigenous Beauty showcases recent acquisitions never before seen by the public. This is the first traveling exhibition curated from this remarkable collection.

“Charles and Valerie Diker are collectors and stewards of exceptional works of art from all corners of native North America, and audiences will be awed by the transformative spirit of creativity of the First Peoples whose ‘art schools’ were their families and communities,” says Barbara Brotherton, curator of Native American Art at the Seattle Art Museum. “This traveling exhibition and accompanying catalogue will invigorate new perspectives and rich discussion about the ways in which these objects affirm cultural values and express refined aesthetic sensibilities.”

Indigenous Beauty emphasizes three interrelated themes—diversity, beauty and knowledge—that relate both to the works’ original contexts and to the ways in which they might be experienced by non-Native visitors in a contemporary museum setting. The exhibition is organized in 11 sections; while the objects within each section demonstrate common formal and functional qualities, the groupings are based primarily on geographic and cultural factors, allowing the viewer to perceive the impact of historical events as well as stylistic shifts over the course of decades or centuries. The range of work represented includes sculpture of the Northwest Coast; ancient ivories from the Bering Strait region; Yup’ik and Aleut masks from the Western Arctic; Kachina dolls of the Southwest pueblos; Southwest pottery; sculptural objects from the Eastern Woodlands; Eastern regalia; Plains regalia; pictographic arts of the Plains; and Western baskets.

Diversity is underlined as an essential aspect of indigenous American art, a corrective to the notion of a homogenous “American Indian” cultural and ethnic identity.

“Visitors to the exhibition are reminded that there is not just one North American Indian culture but hundreds of unique groups whose languages, mythologies and customs have evolved over the centuries,” says Andrew J. Walker, director of the Amon Carter. “The comprehensive nature of the Dikers’ collection allows for this broad view of Native American art in all its complexity and historical specificity.”

A hallmark of the Diker Collection is the beauty and visual richness of the objects it comprises. The concept of formal beauty is the oldest and perhaps the strongest link between the material cultures of indigenous people and those of the Euro-American West. All known Native American languages include words that signify beauty or aesthetic quality, and many have more than one term to convey these concepts. For instance, in the language of Anishinaabe peoples which includes the Ottawa, Ojibwa or Algonquin, the word miikawaadiziwin refers to physical comeliness or handsomeness, while bishigendaagoziwin denotes beauty of a more spiritual and ethical nature. Such nuanced vocabularies influence the creation of objects within Native communities, each with its own criteria for technical excellence and aesthetic merit.

Cultural knowledge is inseparable from the practices of traditional art making in Native communities. From their elders, artists learn techniques for gathering and processing materials; production methods; a repertory of designs and patterns and the meanings they may contain; and often songs, prayers and rituals that are closely tied to art making. Over the last few decades, increased scholarship and closer collaborations between museums and Native communities have resulted in the recovery of knowledge about how objects were made, as well as their provenance and the ways they might have been used and understood in the contexts in which they originated.

Indigenous Beauty celebrates native North American artists whose visionary creativity and technical mastery have helped preserve cultural values across generations. The artists identified as members of many tribes and nations, each the product of complex and intertwined histories; and the captivating objects they created convey the extraordinary breadth and variety of Native American experience in North America. The exhibition shows both the deep historical roots of Native art and its dynamism, emphasizing the living cultures and traditions of Native American groups through to the contemporary era.

Visitors to the Amon Carter can have a hands-on experience with many of the materials the artists used to create the objects in the exhibition. Tactile boards with several authentic materials (such as buffalo hide, abalone shells and seed beads) will be available for visitors to interact with while viewing the artworks.

Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art from the Diker Collection is organized by the American Federation of Arts. This exhibition was made possible by the generosity of an anonymous donor, the JFM Foundation and Mrs. Donald M. Cox. The guest curator, David Penney, is an internationally recognized scholar of American Indian art. A fully illustrated catalogue presenting new research on the objects in the exhibition will include an essay by Penney, and contributions offer insight into the visual and material diversity of the collection, providing a greater understanding of the social and cultural worlds from which these works came. The catalogue will retail for $55 in the Museum Store.

After closing at the Amon Carter, the exhibition travels to the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University (October 8, 2015–January 3, 2016) and Toledo Museum of Art (February 14–May 11, 2016).

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About the American Federation of Arts
The American Federation of Arts is the leader in traveling exhibitions internationally. A nonprofit institution founded in 1909, the AFA is dedicated to enriching the public’s experience and understanding of the visual arts through organizing and touring art exhibitions for presentation in museums around the world, publishing exhibition catalogues featuring important scholarly research, and developing educational programs.