American art is defined by plurality: who, where, when, and what is America? These galleries grapple with an evolving definition of American art, one that acknowledges that while America has always been diverse and multicultural, institutions have often acted as gatekeepers, shaping whose stories are told and whose are not.
This installation reconsiders those hierarchies. Whereas the NCMA was founded with a mandate to collect American and European paintings and sculptures, the galleries you see today introduce new materials and artistic processes to our displays. We include a variety of craft practices, decorative arts, printmaking, and photography—media that have historically been more broadly accessible to women, people of color, Indigenous makers, and other traditionally marginalized groups.
Interpretations openly acknowledge uncomfortable realities of American history, including the deplorable role of slavery and systemic racism in sustaining the American economy and the violent displacement of Indigenous peoples from their land. The displays also embrace a more Pan-American perspective. For the first time, the American art galleries adjoin the Museum’s significant ancient American collection, acknowledging the rich and innovative work created by thousands of individual cultures that thrived before European colonization in the fifteenth century.
Both thematic and chronological, these galleries do not provide a single, comprehensive catalogue of American artistic production. Instead, the works presented invite you to view American art through an expansive lens, one that accentuates the abundance of voices that have contributed to American culture, from ancient civilizations to our contemporary moment.
Jim and Betty Becher Curator of American Art