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Contemporary Art

Objects Collection Notes
(George Heye’s Legacy)

The museum’s Modern and Contemporary Art Collection reflects the dynamic nature of Native creativity and the changing realities of Native life and culture across the Americas. During the first half of the 20th century, as he amassed his remarkable collection, George Gustav Heye, the founding director of New York’s Museum of the American Indian–Heye Foundation, acquired ceramic art by San Ildefonso Pueblo artists Maria and Julian Martinez and paintings and drawings by Native artists trained at the Studio of the Santa Fe Indian School. Material culture, however—both rare ceremonial objects and the household goods of traditional Native life—was the major focus of Heye’s collecting.

Today, the museum acquires and exhibits new art even as it seeks to enhance its unparalleled archaeological and historic collections. Contemporary Native artists, like their non-Native peers, have important and original perspectives on the issues of this time. Many of these artists continue to be influenced by specific histories and traditions, but they are also members of a larger creative community that shares a global culture. Their work is part of an on-going international dialogue about living in a complex and culturally diverse world—the infinity of nations of our own time.

George Heye’s Legacy: Contemporary and Modern Art

Since its founding in 1989, the National Museum of the American Indian has augmented Heye’s collection with some 15,000 pieces of modern and contemporary Native art. The largest single addition to the museum’s contemporary holdings was the transfer, in 2000, of the collection amassed by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB). This New Deal–era agency was created within the U.S. Department of the Interior to benefit Native people by expanding the market for Indian-made art. The IACB collection consists of approximately 6,300 objects, including sculpture, paintings, pottery, beadwork, dolls, textiles, and jewelry.

New acquisitions by the museum encompass Native art made using traditional media, such as pottery, basketry, and beadwork, as well as multimedia pieces, metal sculpture, and other works reflecting a clear and strong engagement with contemporary art. Click here to read more...

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