Director's Letter: Winter 2022


John R. Stomberg, Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director
Hood Quarterly, winter 2022

Each time we add to the collection at the Hood Museum of Art, we welcome a new member to the family. Whether ancient or newly created, each object carries with it a wealth of meanings, connections, challenges, and assurances. It contains all that the artist put into it, all it has gathered through its life, and all the ways in which it will respond to the art already at the museum. We take a risk as to how it will "read" at the Hood Museum, at Dartmouth, in the Upper Valley, in New England, or in the United States. All are considerations. To some extent, we can predict the outcome of the new union, but we are often surprised by how a work of art "plays" once it is here.

This season, as we continue to welcome more viewers into our expanded spaces, we will also witness an expansion of the stories that we can share—stories by artists whose work, and often culture, is new to the Hood Museum. While we endeavor to provide a viewing environment that allows individual objects to stand apart from the other works in the galleries, we also acknowledge that relationships, both tenuous and strong, will emerge within these spaces. How can we see Julie Mehretu's richly layered painting Iridium over Aleppo on the second floor without thinking back to the ninth-century BCE Assyrian reliefs from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II on view downstairs? And how do those works, in turn, inflect what we find in Cannupa Hanska Luger's haunting buffalo skeleton installation (Be) Longing? Joining the family extends a work of art, stretching it in often unexpected directions. And that is the joy of getting to know a museum. It has a personality, a past, and a present that shape experience in special ways.

Some of this we control, hope for, and even choreograph. In our exhibitions, we often deliberately prompt visitors to recognize resonances within the collections we hold. The most ambitious recent example of this approach takes flight in This Land: American Engagement with the Natural World. Now open in several galleries throughout the museum, This Land resulted from multiple curators collaborating over several years to address how best to show Native American art alongside the objects traditionally displayed in American art galleries—a simple problem to frame, an immense challenge to address.

There are no precedents for uniting these two long, fraught, and intertwined narratives. Past art histories nearly all address one or the other—Native or non-Native American art—individually, despite the fact that the artists/makers all share, and have shared, a single continent. Problems abounded in conceiving this show—nomenclature, for one. How do we talk about the artists who have been traditionally covered by "American" art history? In practice, this term has not included Native Americans, so how do we use it correctly now? Perhaps we need to think of Native American art and art of the United States? Perhaps we should frame it all as North American and become even more inclusive? This Land offers, with humility, an open call for dialogue. The team that organized it welcomes responses and input toward future projects.

We hope that the Hood Museum, with its ever-expanding family of ideas, provides a safe arena for productive conversations about the complicated nature of identity and belonging, and that the various presentations of our collection on view this winter will foster rich dialogue among our family of visitors.

Written February 02, 2022