Collecting Stories: New Narratives of American Art

Supported by a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, the Art of the Americas department presents a series of three, one-year exhibitions that use understudied works from the MFA’s permanent collection to address critical themes in American art and the formation of modern American identities. All three shows explore the multiplicity of voices that create American art and culture, giving special attention to how those voices have been represented in the past and how the process of examining them in new ways changes our perceptions of these collections and the role of museums in building stronger communities today. The grant also provides research and administrative support for the exhibitions through a three-year curatorial research associate position and three paid summer internships for college students from underrepresented backgrounds.

The first exhibition, “Collecting Stories: Native American Art,” explored the range of perspectives, motives, and voices involved in building the Native American art collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The exhibition reflected the viewpoints of Indigenous artists and communities, historic and contemporary alike. The second show, “Collecting Stories: A Mid-Century Experiment,” examined a short-lived moment in the MFA’s history when it launched a trial initiative to acquire contemporary American art, allowing the Museum to hold works without adding them to the permanent collection until it could be determined that they had stood the “test of time.” The third and final exhibition in the series, “Collecting Stories: The Invention of Folk Art,” on view in 2021, reconsiders the term folk art by looking at works from the MFA’s Karolik Collection of American Folk Art. The exhibition marks the beginning of the MFA’s multiyear initiative to explore new approaches to the display and interpretation of works historically labeled as folk art.

A range of live and virtual programs, including lectures, courses, and demonstrations by contemporary artists accompany all three exhibitions.

The Henry Luce Foundation’s American Art Program was established in 1982 to support universities, museums, and arts organizations in their efforts to advance the understanding and experience of American and Native American visual arts through research, exhibitions, publications, and collection projects.


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Generously supported by the Henry Luce Foundation.