A "New Look" at "American Identities": The Case of the Brooklyn Museum of Art

Anna Mecugni
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On September 13, 2001, the Brooklyn Museum of Art opened its newly installed galleries of American art to the general public. For the first time, fine and decorative arts were integrated and Native American materials included. Ranging from the early Colonial period to the present, the objects were organized around a framework of themes, some based on general subjects and others based on time periods. Works by famous and anonymous artists with origins in Africa, Holland, Great Britain, Germany, Mexico, and South America were woven into a new version of American art history. Titled "American Identities: A New Look", the new installation was eerily timely in its restatement of Americanness in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

My paper offers a reconstruction of the project history and mission, as well as a critical analysis of the exhibition display and public reception. In particular, it addresses the influence of visual culture studies on the reinstallation. This study also takes into account the crucial issue of the possibilities, limits, and contradictions of intermixing fine and decorative arts. Finally, it contributes an original discussion of the political and social agendas underlying the reorganization of the Brooklyn Museum's American art galleries, given the particular time and context in which it took place.

Keywords: Museum Studies, Visitor Studies, Visual Culture Studies, Cultural Heritage, Exhibition Design, American Art, American History, Americanness, American Identities, Fine and Decorative Arts, World Trade Center, Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, African-American Art, Native American Art, Colonial American Art, Modern American Art, Contemporary American Art, Thematic and/or Chronological Museum Display, Aestheticized Museum Display, Race, National Identity, Ethnicity
Stream: Aesthetics, Design, History, Historiography, Ethnicity, Difference, Identity, Immigration, Refugees, Race, Nation, First Nations and Indigenous Peoples
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: A New Look at American Identities

Anna Mecugni

Doctoral Student, Art History Department, The City University of New York

I have a Laurea in Art History from the University of Bologna where I graduated cum laude. My thesis was on the drawings from art made by the Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti throughout his life. I was a founder and contributor of the first Italian web-based magazine, which was dedicated to new media art. Before moving to the United States, I joined the Emilio Mazzoli Contemporary Art Gallery, Modena, where I worked as an assistant to the Director and conducted research on Emilio Mazzoli's private collection. I came to New York to enrol in the Ph.D. Program in Art History at The Graduate Center, CUNY in the fall of 2002. I am particularly interested in museums as sites of interaction between the art and the public. I have taught in museum settings in Italy and the United States. At present, I am a lecturer at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. I have published articles and reviews on contemporary art, as well as artists' interviews. I have been the recipient of numerous grants, scholarships, and fellowships.

Ref: H05P0382