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Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art from the Diker Collection

July 5-September 13, 2015


Drawn from the celebrated American Indian art collection of Charles and Valerie Diker, Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art from the Diker Collection showcases approximately 120 masterworks, including fine examples of basketry, pottery, sculpture, ivories, kachina dolls, regalia, and pictographic arts from tribes across the North American continent. The exhibition provides rare access to many exquisite works from one of the most comprehensive and diverse collections of American Indian art in private hands.

Indigenous Beauty was organized by the American Federation of Arts (AFA) and was made possible by the generosity of an anonymous donor, the JFM Foundation, and Mrs. Donald M. Cox. It is the first new AFA exhibition to open in 2015 and will remain on tour for fifteen months.

After showing at the Amon Carter Museum from July 5 through September 13, 2015, Indigenous Beauty will travel to Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University from October 8, 2015 through January 3, 2016 and to the Toledo Museum of Art from February 14 through May 11, 2016). (left: Man's Shirt, ca. 1850, Niimiipu (Nez Perce), Oregon or Idaho, Hide, porcupine quills, horsehair, wool, glass beads, pigment, 32 11/16 x 60 2/3 inches. Diker no. 666. Courtesy American Federation of Arts)

As AFA Director Pauline Willis has stated, "This exhibition has been shaped by the Dikers' passion for Native American art, and their collection is renowned as one of the largest and most comprehensive in private hands. We are delighted to be bringing these exquisite works to audiences across the country."

The exhibition showcases recent acquisitions never before seen by the public, and is the first traveling exhibition curated from this exceptional collection. Selections from the collection have been presented previously at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1998-2000) and the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian (2003-6).

Indigenous Beauty began its four-venue tour at the Seattle Art Museum. Barbara Brotherton, Curator of Native American Art at the Seattle Art Museum, noted, "Charles and Valerie Diker are collectors and stewards of exceptional works of art from all corners of Native North America, and audiences will be awed by the transformative spirit of creativity of the First Peoples whose 'art schools' were their families and communities. This traveling exhibition and accompanying catalogue will invigorate new perspectives and rich discussion about the ways in which these objects affirm cultural values and express refined aesthetic sensibilities."

Indigenous Beauty will emphasize three interrelated themes -- diversity, beauty, and knowledge -- that relate both to the works' original contexts and to the ways in which they might be experienced by non-Native visitors in a contemporary museum setting. The exhibition is organized in eleven clusters; while the objects within each one demonstrate common formal and functional qualities, the groupings are based primarily on geographic and cultural factors, allowing the viewer to perceive the impact of historical events as well as stylistic shifts over the course of decades or centuries. The range of work represented includes sculpture of the Northwest Coast; ancient ivories from the Bering Strait region; Yup'ik and Aleut masks from the Western Arctic; Katsina dolls of the Southwest pueblos; Southwest pottery; sculptural objects from the Eastern Woodlands; Eastern regalia; Plains regalia; pictographic arts of the Plains; and Western baskets. (right: Situlilu (Rattlesnake) Katsina, 1910-1930, Zuni, New Mexico, Cottonwood, pine, gesso, pigment, dyed horeshair, cornhusk, cotton cord,14 1/2 x 7 x 2 /3/4 inches. Diker no. 835. Courtesy American Federation of Arts)

Diversity is underlined as an essential factor of indigenous American art, a corrective to the notion of a homogenous "Indian" cultural and ethnic identity. Visitors to the exhibition are reminded that there is not just one North American Indian culture but hundreds of unique groups whose languages, mythologies, and customs have evolved over the centuries. The comprehensive nature of the Dikers' collection allows for this broad view of Native American art in all its complexity and historical specificity.

A hallmark of the Diker Collection is the beauty and visual richness of the objects it comprises. The concept of formal beauty is the oldest and perhaps the strongest link between the material cultures of indigenous people and those of the Euro-American West. All known Native American languages include words that signify beauty or aesthetic quality, and many have more than one term to convey these concepts. For instance, in the language of Anishinaabe peoples (also known as Ottawa, Ojibwa, or Algonquin), the word miikawaadiziwin refers to physical comeliness or handsomeness, while bishigendaagoziwin denotes beauty of a more spiritual and ethical nature. Such nuanced vocabularies influence the creation of objects within Native communities, each with its own criteria for technical excellence and aesthetic merit.

Cultural knowledge is inseparable from the practices of traditional art making in Native communities. Artists learn from their elders techniques for gathering and processing materials; production methods; a repertory of designs and patterns and the meanings they may contain; and often songs, prayers, and rituals that are closely tied to art-making. Over the last few decades, increased scholarship and closer collaborations between museums and Native communities have resulted in the recovery of knowledge about how objects were made, as well as their provenance, and the ways they might have been used and understood in the contexts in which they originated.

Indigenous Beauty celebrates native North American artists whose visionary creativity and technical mastery have helped preserve cultural values across generations. The artists identified as members of many tribes and nations, each the product of complex and intertwined histories; and the captivating objects they created convey the extraordinary breadth and variety of Native American experience in North America. The exhibition will show both the deep historical roots of Native art and its dynamism, emphasizing the living cultures and traditions of Native American groups through to the contemporary era.


Guest Curator

An internationally recognized scholar of American Indian art, David Penney's exhibitions include Ancient Art of the American Woodland Indians (1985), Art of the American Indian Frontier, the Chandler/Pohrt Collection (1992), and The American Indian: Art and Culture between Myth and Reality (2012). Penney's many publications include North American Indian Art (2004), part of the Thames and Hudson World of Art series.


(above; Julian Scott ledger Artist B (Ka'igwu [Kiowa]), Kiowa and Comanche Indian Reservation, Oklahoma, Twelve High-Ranking Kiowa Men, ca. 1880, Pencil, colored pencil and ink on paper, 7 1/2 x 12 inches. Diker no. 059 LD. Courtesy American Federation of Arts)



A fully illustrated catalogue presenting new research on the objects in the exhibition will include an essay by the guest curator, David Penney, and contributions from renowned experts, offering insight into the visual and material diversity of the collection and providing a greater understanding of the social and cultural worlds from which these works came. Contributors include Janet Catherine Berlo, Professor of Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester; Bruce Bernstein, executive director of the Continuous Pathways Foundation, Pueblo of Pojoaque, New Mexico, and senior curator of the Ralph T. Coe Foundation for the Arts; Barbara Brotherton, curator of Native American art at the Seattle Art Museum; Joe D. Horse Capture, curator, scholar, and consultant with a focus on Native cultures of the Plains; and Susan Secakuku, a Hopi curator and consultant for museums and cultural organizations.


About the American Federation of Arts

The American Federation of Arts is a nonprofit institution dedicated to enriching the public's experience and understanding of the visual arts that organizes art exhibitions for presentation in museums around the world, publishes exhibition catalogues, and develops educational programs.

Current and upcoming AFA exhibitions include Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums; Matisse as Printmaker: Works from the Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation; Gods and Heroes: Masterpieces from the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris; Pastures Green & Dark Satanic Mills: The British Passion for Landscape; Art of the Lega: Meaning and Metaphor in Central Africa; Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture; and Not for Pleasure Alone: Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900.


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