Collectors Charles and Valerie Diker at the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio. Photo: Jetta Fraser

American Indian Works Gifted to the Met Prompt Curatorial Changes

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been promised a gift of ninety-one American Indian works from the private collection of Charles and Valerie Diker, Randy Kennedy of the New York Times reports. The donation marks a shift in the way the museum views indigenous art.

For the first time, American Indian artifacts, including a jar by the Hopi-Tewa potter Nampeyo and a painted shield by the Hunkpapa Lakota artist Joseph No Two Horns, will be exhibited alongside its collection of American art rather than the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.

Curator in charge of the American Wing Sylvia Yount said when visitors walk through, they “expect to see Native American work here . . . Because often where they come from, indigenous art is part of the narrative of a nation’s art, in a way that it’s not in the United States. We’re really behind the curve.”

“We always felt that what we were collecting was American art,” Charles Diker said. “And we always felt very strongly that it should be shown in that context.” Diker, a former president of Aurora Plastics Corporation—an American toy and hobby manufacturer—and his wife began collecting in the 1960s, purchasing American Indian pieces during their many trips to Santa Fe. Their gift will be featured in an exhibition scheduled to open in the fall of 2018.

Gaylord Torrence, a senior curator of American Indian art at the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City and a guest curator of the 2018 exhibition, said that the Met’s outgoing director Thomas P. Campbell encouraged the institution to grow its collection of American Indian art. Torrence credits Campbell with challenging “old curatorial constraints” and believes that the Dikers’ approach to collecting American Indian art—“with a sense of connoisseurship and aesthetic appreciation that is rare”—helped push the Met toward rethinking indigenous art and where it belongs in its galleries.