The M Blog

Welcome to the M Blog, an online space for discussing and examining issues related to the many experiences of being American today. The voices you’ll read here are ours and yours. The Minnesota Museum of American Art staff is equally as interested in contributing insights as we are in stepping aside to hear from fellow thinkers, creators, and change-agents. The points of view shared by guest writers do not necessarily represent the M’s but rather demonstrate the diversity of response among Americans to cultural shifts at local, national, and global levels. With the M Blog we strive for a mix of deep, highly focused content and broader-reaching, lighter fare. You will encounter the M’s collection, artists, invitations to action, a window onto what we’re thinking about, and more. We are foregoing categories for now in favor of free-flowing content that finds continuity in its intent.

Read on! — Courtney Gerber, Curator of Learning and Engagement

Redefining the American Art Museum

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.

Here’s the kind of programming we’ve done recently to support this kind of new thinking and engagement:

  • American Art: It’s Complicated, an exhibition with visiting curators to reconsider what American art means today.
  • Seeds of Change: A Portrait of the Hmong American Farmers Association, looking at the impact Hmong farms and farmers are having on our local food culture.
  • Coming up! Ken Gonzales-Day: Shadowlands investigates the history of racialized violence in this country through the photographs of this L.A. artist; a Hmong mural project with Australian artist Vanghoua Anthony Vue; and a reprisal of the American Art: It’s Complicated exhibition with state-wide community conversations, new voices, and renewed perspectives.

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.

Kristin Makholm is Executive Director of the Minnesota Museum of American Art. She is a respected scholar in the field of art history with a B.A. from Northwestern University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. She has worked as a curator of prints and drawings at the St. Louis Art Museum and the Milwaukee Art Museum and was Director of Galleries and Exhibitions at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design from 2004-2009. She won a Minnesota Book Award in 2014 for the M’s exhibition catalogue Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison. She has spent the last seven-plus years leading the renaissance of the M in St. Paul.