Photo: Installation view of Love Letters to the Collection in the Lynda M. Frost Contemporary American Indian Art Gallery in 2020.

Love Letters To The Collection

March 2 2020 - January 9 2021

MAM believes that if a single artwork can depict the ideas of an individual artist, then a collection of art can embody the character of a community. The MAM Collection has the power to tell us about our distinctive regional and indigenous communities. But in 1998, the collection was not that inclusive—it didn’t represent the work of Indigenous artists in an accurate or vital way. In response, MAM created the Contemporary American Indian Art Collection (CAIAC). Over the next two decades, this collection grew to one of the largest of its kind in the region. MAM also expanded the presence of Indigenous artists in programming so that now Native voices and tribal partnerships are integral to exhibits and education.

Love Letters to the Collection continues this commitment to amplify diverse voices and honor the richness of indigenous cultures. The exhibit is distinguished with an “active” approach. This bold philosophical commitment rouses acquisitions from long-term storage and ensures they support museum-wide engagement goals. Love Letters is designed to use the CAIAC to stimulate and share previously unheard stories that make up the living narrative of art history.

The exhibit opened with artworks from MAM’s Contemporary American Indian Art Collection selected by guest curators. The exhibit will grow over the year as different guest curators—artists, writers, poets, community members, local and tribal leaders, activists, scholars, students, and others—select new works to add to the installation, share their thoughts about the artworks and suggest other curators.

Every viewer is invited to write a ‘love letter’ to the artworks on view. Viewers can also send emails, share ideas through postcards provided in the gallery, or share on social media with the hashtag #mamloveletters. MAM anticipates these many responses will reveal a dynamic web of interpretations. MAM will include postcards in the exhibit and add stories, keywords, and other associations to collection records, allowing researchers and any curious user of MAM’s searchable online database to find unexpected connections and more significant meanings.

Love Letters takes a gentle but decidedly non-neutral position in MAM’s ongoing journey toward inclusiveness. MAM acknowledges that the very concept of museums and presumptions of authority is rooted in colonial traditions of conquest and capital. When MAM welcomes more diverse voices, it destabilizes long-unquestioned power structures, such as the academic hierarchy of descriptive museum language. Listening to audiences helps MAM remove some of the obstacles inherent in museum practices.

An ongoing ode to the collection:

The physical installation of this exhibit closed in January 2021, but the project lives on as a special collaboration between the public, the curatorial department, and the education staff at the museum. See all virtual programs, educational resources, and each selection by clicking here.

Featured selections:

Lillian Pitt (Wasco/Yakama/Warm Springs), Gorge Spirits Floating 2, monotype, 2019, 22 x 30 inches. MAM Contemporary American Indian Art Collection, gift of MATRIX Press, copyright the artist, 2019.16.01. 

Kevin Red Star (Crow), Crow Indian Girl, acrylic on canvas, 2009, 16 x 20 inches. MAM Contemporary American Indian Art Collection, Gift of Mason Miller in memory of Merida Red Star-Miller, 2010.09.

Dwayne Wilcox, Wow! Full Blooded White People!, colored pencil on ledger paper, 2012, 11 x 17 inches. MAM Contemporary American Indian Art Collection, purchased with a grant from the Pleiades Foundation, photo courtesy of Carl Basner, copyright the artist, 2012.15.09.

Donna Loos (Little Shell, 1931–2018), Family Watch, acrylic on canvas, 2001, 43.75 x 63.5 inches. MAM Contemporary American Indian Art Collection, donated by the artist, copyright the estate of Donna Loos, 2018.14.