Inuit Art at the Dennos Museum Center


The Enchanted Owl, Kenojuak Ashevak

One of the reasons I was so keen to visit the Dennos Museum Center was the Inuit Gallery and expansive collection of Inuit art that is housed at the Dennos.The Inuit art collection at the Dennos includes over 1,000 items including “prints, sculptures, drawings, tools, textiles, and animal specimens” primarily from the 1950s onwards.  I was intrigued by how Inuit art and culture would be displayed outside of Canada.

Despite my initial intrigue, the Inuit Gallery was probably my least  favourite gallery space at the Dennos.  During my visit the majority of the works shown were prints made from stone cuts and small stone carvings.  The works themselves were interesting and I did learn a bit about the stone cut print making from the exhibit.

However, I found this gallery space lacked vibrancy and context.  Many of the text panels looked at Inuit culture through a lens of anthropology and scholarship.  The entrance to the Inuit Gallery is flanked by two taxidermy animals, contributing to the space’s overall reinforcement of stereotypes about Canada’s North and Inuit people.

The space did not incorporate panels which were representative of the Inuit people themselves and highlighted their own views.  It also would have been nice to see some context about Inuit people in Canada more generally about Nunavut itself.  The gallery space did include one framed map that showed Canada’s North, but there was no context accompanying the map. Overall, I felt as though Canada’s North and Inuit culture was painted with a broad brush in this gallery without much attention to current political, social, and cultural movements.

To be fair, the Dennos is far from the only cultural institution that has displayed Indigenous history or material culture without context or from a Euro-centric perspective.  Jon Weier’s recent Active History post, “Strangely ahistoric sensibilities at the American Museum of Natural History.” did an excellent job of looking at the outdated exhibition practices of American Museum of Natural History.  Cultural institutions of all sizes need to look closely at their display practices of Indigenous culture and consider the implications of outdated, one sided presentations of history.

Temporary Exhibits at the Dennos Museum Center

I spent part of last weekend in Traverse City, Michigan.  The Saturday morning of my trip was spent wandering around The Dennos Museum Center located on Northwestern Michigan College campus. My visit was great, the space is well designed and featured a number of interesting visiting and permanent exhibits.

The Dennos was far from busy when I was there. My partner and I were the only visitors for the bulk of the morning, which allowed us to take our time but also contributed to a bit of an eerie feeling to the gallery spaces. The front desk staff were friendly and helpful at explaining the layout of the space and the content of each gallery. Overall, it was a great way to spend a couple of hours.

Tanioka Shigeo, ‘Asuka,’ 2002

The main visiting exhibit at the Dennos right now is “Modern Twist: Contemporary Japanese Bamboo Art” which explores the use of bamboo as an artistic medium in Japan.  The exhibit is curated by Dr. Andreas Marks, Director and Chief Curator of the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture, Hanford, California and is visiting a number of art galleries across the United States in the next few years. 

I particularly enjoyed the historical narrative told by Modern Twist. The exhibit included a number of descriptive panels which described the history behind bamboo being used for functional objects and developing into a nationally significant form of sculptural art.  The textual panels also helped illustrate the role that bamboo items have played in traditional Japanese culture and religious ceremonies. Lastly, the exhibit highlighted the national interested in preserving bamboo sculpture art.  Since 1967 six bamboo artists have been declared national treasures in Japan, highlighting the significance of their on a national scale.  In addition to the historically interesting components of this exhibit, the bamboo sculptures were amazing to look at.  The fine detail and variety of techniques was intriguing and awe inspiring. 

Groundcover II (detail), Larry Cressman

The second, smaller temporary exhibit currently on display at the Dennos is Line Work which features Larry Cressman.  This exhibit focuses on Cressman’s installation drawings that use twigs, wire, and other materials to create unique sculpture pieces.  The temporarily of Cressman’s works intrigued me, as many of his installations are temporary ‘drawings’ that are installed in site-specific ways and never replicated. How can temporary art such as Cressman`s be preserved for future generations? Many of Cressman’s exhibits have been photo documented, but much of their presence is in the 3-D nature of their construct and the shadows created by the materials, which can’t be accurately captured by a camera.

The final temporary exhibit on display right now at the Dennos is The Wings of Icarus featuring the work of Rufus Snoddy, a local artist from Traverse City.  The installation consists of suspended “construction paintings” and was inspired by the mythological story of Icarus. This entire exhibit is suspended from the ceiling of the entrance hall to the Dennos.  The effect is visually appealing and does a great job of utilizing a gallery space in a creative way while simultaneously showcasing artwork in an ideal manner.

All three of the current temporary exhibits at the Dennos Museum Center were interesting and thought inspiring in their own ways.  The layouts of the gallery spaces were conducive to display and education.  In addition to these temporary exhibits the permanent Discovery Gallery and Inuit Art Gallery made an impression on me a well and I plan on writing about them in a later post.