We the People

Extended through November 12

For We the People, Minnesota Museum of American Art (the M) has invited four guest curators to select work by prominent local and national artists that sheds light on the complexities of contemporary American experience. This exhibition continues the M’s engagement with critical issues about American art which began two years ago with the show American Art: It’s Complicated.

“We the people,” the opening words of the U.S. Constitution, serves as a national slogan and a rallying cry. But who constitutes the “we” in that formative phrase? More to the point, which people and whose stories aren’t represented in the language of national unity?

In response to those questions, independent curator and artist Christopher Harrison, the M’s Diversity in the Arts Fellow Johnnay Leenay, Mary Anne Quiroz (Indigenous Roots Cultural Center), and Maggie Thompson (Two Rivers Art Gallery) present artworks with disparate cultural points of view. Artists include Star Wallowing Bull, Zackary Drucker, Rico Gatson, Susan Hauptman, Nooshin Hakim Javadi, Steve Ozone, and others.

Johnnay Leenay says, “I am positive that each person you ask would define ‘America’ differently. My American experience has been a queer experience, and I know that that identity makes me interact with questions of national identity in a different way.” She goes on: “This exhibition reflects the interpretations of four individuals from four different backgrounds, offering four different definitions of what it means to be American which, when combined, tell a more holistic story of ‘we the people.’”

We the People includes more than 35 pieces in all media–including photography, painting, sculpture, textiles, video, and sound installation. A number of these works point to narratives of LGBTQIA identity and experience, while other works highlight perspectives of indigenous artists and artists of color. During this time of division, the curators’ selections offer a more expansive, inclusive understanding of who we are as a nation, making visible both the fault lines and points of confluence running through our collective body politic.

About the guest curators:

Christopher E. Harrison is a fine artist, graphic designer, museum educator, and independent curator based in the Twin Cities. His politically and socially engaged paintings are made with natural materials, and focus on creating greater curiosity and respect for the physical world. Harrison received his BFA in 1987 from Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, OH, and he is an MFA candidate at Art Academy University, San Francisco.

Johnnay Leenay is a community organizer, independent curator, and the Minnesota Museum of American Art’s first Diversity in the Arts fellow. She has a BA in Communications and Journalism and Justice and Peace Studies from the University of St. Thomas.

Mary Anne Quiroz was born in the Philippines and immigrated to the United States in 1989. She is an artist, organizer, and community engagement coordinator based in St. Paul. She is cofounder of Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli, a traditional Mexican Aztec dance and drum group. Quiroz is also cofounder of Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center, a collective of artists and organizations dedicated to building, supporting, and cultivating opportunities for Indigenous peoples and communities of color through cultural arts and activism.

Maggie Thompson, a member of the Fond Du Lac Band of Ojibwe, is a textile artist, designer, and founder of Makwa Studio in Minneapolis. She is also the gallery manager at Two Rivers Art Gallery: an active space for the Native community to build relationships and to collaborate, strengthening Native art and artistic voices within the Twin Cities. She received her BFA in Textiles at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2013.

Take a look at recent press and critical reviews of the exhibition:

Writing for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, critic Alicia Eler says, “The curious thing about We the People is that it doesn’t seek to answer questions about what America will become. Instead, it offers a reflection of what it is right now, a tale that’s cautionary yet empowering, and all-encompassing.”

Minnesota Public Radio’s Marianne Combs reported on the show as well, remarking on the timeliness of the exhibition, saying it’s filled with “pieces that feel as fresh as the morning’s headlines.”

Sheila Regan, reviewing the exhibition for Hyperallergic, writes: “What are the statues that tower over us in public places? What is the art that visitors see in museums? And if these cultural artifacts … don’t lay the right framework for creating the open, respectful society we want, perhaps it’s time to do some rethinking. … The four curators ask viewers to reflect on the somewhat messy task of engaging with American discourse through an intersectional lens.”

City Pages notes that the exhibition is a welcome response to the divisive political climate: “We the People calls for an intersectional approach to American identity and cohesion.”

Pioneer Press calls We the People a show that “looks at who we are” as a nation.

Liz Glass reviews the exhibition for Mplsart.com, writing: “The stories and perspectives on view here — both artistic and curatorial — represent a positive effort by the museum to put their money (and their square footage) where their mouth is: to present, advocate for, and invest in works of art that are reflective of the bountiful, beautiful diversity in our community.”

In Secrets of the City: “The M continues it streak of impressively timely and critically important art exhibitions with We The People, a show that presents a necessarily complex picture of contemporary American experience.”

Listen to an interview by KFAI’s  Lydia Howell, host of the politics and culture radio program “Catalyst,” with M staff and curators of the exhibition.

We the People logo


Exhibition-related programming:
(All events will be held on-site at the M unless otherwise noted)

We the People Opening Reception
Thursday, August 17, 7 – 9 p.m.
Members-only preview, 5:30 – 7 p.m.
Admission is free and open to the public. A cash bar will be available.

Project 42 Performance and Discussion
Sunday, August 27, 7 p.m.
Mixed Blood Theatre | 1501 S. 4th Street, Minneapolis MN
Twin Cities-based performance artist Marcel Michelle-Mobama and 20% Theatre Company will collaborate with We the People-featured artist Jono Vaughan and curator Johnnay Leenay for an artistic response contemplating the lived experience of transgender individuals in the US. Admission is free and open to the public.

We the People Curators in Conversation
Tuesday, September 12, 6 – 8 p.m.
A moderated panel discussion with We the People guest curators Christopher Harrison, Johnnay Leenay, Mary Anne Quiroz, Maggie Thompson, and American Art: It’s Complicated curator Dyani White Hawk. Admission is free and open to the public.

Family Day: When Our Stories Dance Together
Sunday, September 17, 1 – 4 p.m.
A day of family-friendly art-making and performance at the M, in partnership with Hmong Museum, Indigenous Roots Cultural Center, St. Paul Public Library, and artists Vanghoua Anthony Vue and Ryan Stopera. Family Day activities will build from the multiple stories held within the exhibition We the People and the murals from the Saint Paul Murals Project. Admission is free and open to the public.

Conversation: Deana Haggag of United States Artists (U.S.A.)
Wednesday, October 18, 7 p.m.
Ordway Center for Performing Arts | 345 Washington Street, St. Paul, MN
Tickets: $10 ($8 for artists, students, and seniors)
Deana Haggag, CEO and President of the Chicago-based, philanthropic nonprofit U.S.A, is an advocate for artists and passionate about creative workers’ ability to illuminate the shifting landscape of American identity, while making space for experiences and viewpoints that run counter to the mainstream. For this event, Haggag will talk informally about this thing we refer to as American art.

The M After Hours: Closing Time
Thursday, October 26, 7 – 10 p.m.
Tickets: $25 ($20 for members)
After the close of We the People, the gallery will be closed for several months for construction, in preparation for the grand opening of a new, expanded museum in spring 2018. Help us shut the joint down with a bang!

(Ongoing) Materials Lab: Front-Yard Democracy
Engage in a little front-yard democracy: create a yard sign with your best slogan for who we are as a nation. (Activity inspired by the team of All Are Welcome Here.)

(Ongoing) Response Wall: “We the People …”
Try your hand at refreshing the opening lines of the U.S. Constitution: How would you complete the phrase, “We the People …”? Share your declarations on the M’s response wall, and pick up a copy of the U.S. Constitution, courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.

Logo for the ACLU of Minnesota

This exhibition and its accompanying programs are made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant and an Arts Access grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund. Thanks also to Target, and to the ACLU of Minnesota for supporting the Response Wall.