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American Memory: Commemoration, Nostalgia, and Revision
July 15, 2021 @ 12:00 am
A new three-part exhibition series at the Milwaukee Art Museum seeks to relate the Museum’s collection to historical events that have contemporary resonance, while reflecting on the institution’s own past and collecting history. Opening July 15, American Memory: Commemoration, Nostalgia, and Revision explores and reveals the selective editing of historical narratives in America’s past through drawings, prints, and paintings from the Museum’s collection.
Though well known by many, historical narratives are often told from a single perspective. Incidents that have especially involved or impacted women, people of color and the LGBTQI+ community have frequently been ignored, skewed or erased entirely. Since America’s founding, artists have shed light on political and social events, either as they happened or with decades of hindsight.
The works in American Memory, spanning the nineteenth century to the present day, show a more complicated and nuanced view of past events, revealing this selective editing of history. The exhibition’s three chapters will be installed in three separate spaces within the collection galleries and further direct a critical lens on the history of how certain works came into the Museum’s holdings.
On view beginning July 15, on the Museum’s first floor, Chapter 1: People and Identity features eight works that explore the nature of portraiture, those who make portraits and the stories they tell about their subjects. Artists included represent a wide range of time periods, such as Cephas Thompson (American, 1775 or 1777–1856) and Amy Sherald (American, b. 1973).
Chapter 2: Activism and Terrorism, also opening July 15, in a second-floor gallery, studies the normalization of racist, violent imagery. Depictions by artists such as Loïs Mailou Jones and Kara Walker upset these standard narratives through works that document and respond to moments of terror and violence in our country.
Opening Oct. 1, on the Museum’s second floor, Chapter 3: Responses and Revisions explores how a single image of an event or personage can shape the perception of history, as well as memory’s ability to not only expand our understanding of the past but completely replace it. Artists featured among the chapter’s 13 works include George Henry Yewell, Zoe Leonard, and Winslow Homer.
All three chapters of this exhibition will be on view simultaneously during the month of October 2021. American Memory is organized by Brandon Ruud, Abert Family Curator of American Art, and Phoenix Brown, Abert Family Curatorial Fellow, at the Milwaukee Art Museum.