The institution recently opened Picturing Mississippi, which presents a journey through the state’s charged history sprinkled with salient contemporary art.
Seph Rodney, Hyperallergic, June 18, 2018
Installation view of Picturing Mississippi, 1817–2017: Land of Plenty, Pain, and Promise at the Mississippi Museum of Art (all images by Julian Rankin and courtesy Mississippi Museum of Art unless otherwise noted)
What do we see when we look at a painted or sculpted portrait? Do we see personality? Clothing? Fashion? Setting? Do we read wall labels? If When we do, we generally learn who the artist is (if the artist is known), when she or he made the work, and what the work is made of. And if the museum is doing its job, we might learn more about object in an illuminating text panel that often directs what we make of what wen see. But what do we see in that work of art when the museum contextualizes it within a picture of its time and place of origin — an America when a significant population of Americans were enslaved Africans? The Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts is rewriting its labels.
John Singleton Copley, “Lucretia Chandler” (1763), oil on canvas, Copley was one of the Boston area’s most prominent painters and painted this portrait of the daughter of a wealthy New England judge named Lucretia. The new signage at the Worcester Art Museum now notes that Chandler’s father, Judge John Chandler II (1683-1762), owned two slaves that he left to family members upon his death (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
From the article: ” ‘We’ve been trying to educate the visitors for five hundred years; how long will it take to educate the visitors?’ spoke an elderly Native woman at one of several community-based consultations I organized for the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) between 1989 and 1994. Her words—strong, angry, and impatient—formed a response to the question we carried to each consultation: what should the museum say about Native America? Her agitated comeback affected the remainder of my experience as one of the museum’s early planners and has remained with me for the past fourteen or fifteen years. Smithsonian representatives had no response for the woman then; today, the finished museum stands as a reminder of how the small-but-growing museum staff failed to find, in that tense moment of public scolding, inspiration and encouragement to tell the story that we know and the nation denies.”