July 21, 2006

Getting comfortable with the NMAI

On the National Museum of the American Indian:

Summer in Washington, Where Image Is AllMany critics had complaints about the inaugural installations. I did. I was looking for an art museum, and what I found was something different. In its permanent home on the Mall, where it opened last year, the museum has sustained its rethought identity. And I have become more comfortable with that identity. I still have gripes, but my expectations have changed. For one thing, I’ve seen that when the revised model works, it really works, as it does in the Pacific Coast show.

It was organized by a team of Indian curators, representatives from 11 Pacific Coast communities in the United States and Canada. They also produced the catalog, which is in the form of oral history rather than conventional scholarship. The objects they chose—call them art, artifacts, ceremonial utensils, whatever—are utterly riveting, and none more so than the masks.

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