Installation of Masterpieces Viewable to Public at National Museum of the American Indian During First Half of December

Near 50 Highly Significant, Seldom-Seen Objects To Be Installed in Critically Acclaimed Exhibition, “Infinity of Nations,” Following Conservational Rotation
December 4, 2015
News Release

The landmark semi-permanent exhibition “Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, George Gustav Heye Center in New York City is receiving its largest conservation change out of objects since the exhibition’s installation in 2010. The change out will take place throughout the first two weeks of December 2015.

The in-gallery installation process will be viewable to the public, and conservators/collections staff will be available to field questions from visitors. At its completion in mid-December, 45 objects will be replaced and two others repositioned for conservation purposes from the nearly 700 total objects in the exhibition.

The exhibition is organized in 11 different sections, 10 geographic covering the Western Hemisphere and another containing contemporary art. Nine geographic sections contain objects that need to be replaced. Most of these contain materials and dyes that are too fragile for the sustained light conditions of an exhibition; they can only be displayed for a maximum of five years. The overall goal of determining replacements from the museum’s near million-object collection was to find objects that exhibited the same qualities of the objects being replaced, while maintaining the continuity and gravitas of the exhibition.

“Change outs of this scale do not happen typically, but because ‘Infinity of Nations’ is a very large, object-rich, 10-year exhibition, it becomes necessary for preservation,” said Cécile Ganteaume, exhibition curator. “The largest challenge we face is replacing ‘masterpieces,’ since, by definition, masterpieces are few and far between. One such object is a 1925 Tukanoan headring constructed from brilliant feathers from three different bird species. It is being replaced with another masterpiece of Amazonian featherwork, a 1955 Ka’apor feathered collar.”

Also among the replacements:

  • An Ikoot huipil (a hand-woven, embroidered blouse) from the Oaxacan coast of Mexico and brocade dyed purple through shellfish dye; it is a 2015 acquisition to the collection, specifically purchased for this rotation.
  • A pair of Sisitonwan Dakota (Sisseton Sioux) gauntlet gloves intricately designed with beadwork on buckskin, collected circa 1880 by J.W. Alder.
  • A Naskapi Innu caribou hide man’s coat from the area around Newfoundland and Labrador made circa 1840 and collected by the Museum of the American Indian in 1927.

The objects being replaced will be shipped back to the museum’s Collections Research Center in Suitland, Md., where each piece will be examined for damage or fading. Any inconsistencies found will then be documented and stabilized.

Because visitors will be allowed to observe the change outs occurring in the “Infinity of Nations” gallery, the museum’s education department is also taking advantage of the learning opportunity. School groups scheduled during the change-out hours will tour the gallery and view the installation process and be able to ask questions of cultural interpreters and collections staff. Certain portions of the installation process will also be accessible virtually through the smartphone app, Periscope, by logging in with a Twitter account.

About the National Museum of the American Indian

The National Museum of the American Indian is committed to advancing knowledge and understanding of the Native cultures of the Western Hemisphere—past, present and future—through partnership with Native people and others. To learn more about the museum’s mission, visit Follow the museum via social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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