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Native American Masterpieces from the
Charles and Valerie Diker Collection

Native American Masterpieces from the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection

October 28, 2016–March 31, 2017

Exhibition location: The Met Fifth Avenue, Gallery 359, The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing


A selection of exceptional Native American works of art from New York’s Charles and Valerie Diker Collection—one of the most outstanding and comprehensive private collections of its kind—will go on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art beginning October 28.  With artworks ranging in date from the second to the early 20th century, Native American Masterpieces from the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection will explore important achievements by artists relating to culturally distinct traditions from across the North American continent. The works of art—carefully selected by the collectors and Met curators—reflect the unique and innovative visions from these traditions in a wide variety of aesthetic forms and media. Their presentation at The Met this season celebrates the conclusion of their national tour as part of the exhibition Indigenous Beauty, organized by the American Federation of the Arts, and the return of the Diker Collection to New York City. 

The exhibition is made possible in part by the Estate of Brooke Astor.  

Thomas P. Campbell, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, stated: “Charles and Valerie Diker were truly visionary in their early appreciation for Native American art and have assembled an extraordinary collection that defines North America’s earliest and most enduring artistic heritage.  As an encyclopedic museum, we are thrilled to reaffirm our commitment to this critical field through this exhibition.“ 

“Our rationale for showing a more focused selection of highlights from the collection again so soon,” stated Charles and Valerie Diker, “is that we would like to introduce more people to the infinite beauty and diversity of these Native American objects, as well as to their cultural and historical significance.”

Presented within a geographical framework, the exhibition features clusters of works that exemplify notable developments that took place over centuries of artistic practice in various regions of the United States and Canada, including the Southwest, Northwest Coast, Plains, and Great Lakes, as well as California.  

The selection of creations from the Plains pictorial painting and drawing, for example, features paintings on animal hide, muslin, and paper.  Among Plains artists, historic events and personal accomplishments were traditionally recorded pictorially in paintings and the tremendous social changes that took place in the Great Plains instigated a proliferation of works that captured these events.  During the 19th century, a new idiom for pictorial graphic arts traditions was introduced in the new form of “ledger book drawings.”  Several pages from the “Julian Scott Ledger” featured in the exhibition reflect individual styles of their authors, who describe their Kiowa subjects in exacting detail. 

Native American sculptural compositions, both abstract and representational, have been of interest to artists and collectors since the time they were first introduced to the art world during the early 20th century. A powerful Yup’ik spirit mask from Hooper Bay, Alaska, is a collage of abstract forms of game animals—those that make survival in the Arctic possible, including fish, waterfowl, and seals. In this prayerful composition, the image of the fingers of a hand confidently gripping the fish is outlined by an ovoid hoop that represents the spirts of the Arctic universe.  Surrealist artists including Max Ernst were fascinated by the inventive way in which Yup’ik shamans depicted visionary journeys that brought together dream narratives and imagery. 

Dress and personal accessories represent another important form of expression highlighted in the exhibition. Skilled artists combined diverse materials into wearable creations that convey culturally specific meanings through their aesthetic elaboration and conceptual design. The rare items of fashion selected for the exhibition include a graphically beaded Apsáalooke boy’s shirt, a vibrantly embroidered Acoma dress, and an intricately painted Naskapi hide coat. The collection is especially rich in works from the Northwest Coast, including a two-skin style Wasco dress from the late 19th century with fully beaded yoke, which expresses the extraordinary talents and status of the woman who wore it. The tanned deer hide is ornamented in a striking pattern of contrasting black and white pony beads that were available from the traders who formed businesses along the Columbia River, in what is now Oregon. 

Exceptional basketry works by Native California women artists from the beginning of the 20th century include those by master weavers Louisa Keyser, Elizabeth Hickox, and Carrie Bethel. These works demonstrate the ingenious blending of tradition and innovation in indigenous design. Keyser, also known as Datsolalee, achieved national fame and recognition as a professional fine-art artist during her lifetime. 

Finally, dazzling ceramic works are presented that relate to ancient artistic practices across the Southwest and that continue to be a vibrant fine art tradition.  An art form that spans centuries, it has seen numerous periods of creative change and experimentation. Pueblo potters developed distinctive styles using local clays and pigments, and embraced new designs through trade.  Designs also changed as people moved within the region, sharing ideas and visual cultures. The Hopi-Tewa artist Nampeyo is arguably one of the most famous Native American artists.  Her work is represented in the exhibition through an intricately painted water jar from the turn of the century. 

Related Publication
The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue from the touring exhibition Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art from the Diker Collection, which was organized by the American Federation of Arts. The fully illustrated catalogue presents new research on the objects in the exhibition and features contributions by leading authors in the field, including Janet Berlo, Bruce Bernstein, Barbara Brotherton, Joe Horse Capture, David Penney, and Susan Secakuku.

Related Programs
In conjunction with the exhibition, The Met will offer education programs that include gallery tours and conversations and a MetCreates program that will allow audiences to explore more deeply the significance of the Diker collection in the wider context of Native American cultural traditions.

Native American Masterpieces from the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection is co-organized by Christine Giuntini, Conservator, and James Doyle, Assistant Curator, both in the Department of Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at The Met, with consultation from Pollyanna Nordstrand, History of Art and Visual Studies, Cornell University.

The exhibition will be featured on The Met website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Updated March 13, 2017


Image: Unrecorded Yup'ik Artist. Dance mask, ca. 1916–18. Hooper Bay, Alaska. Wood, pigment, vegetal fiber. Collection of Charles and Valerie Diker (788) © Charles and Valerie Diker Collection. Photo by Dirk Bakker

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