Can a single image tell us a complex, multifaceted story or expose the truth of a historical incident? Since the formation of states, artists have shed light on political and social events and, in some cases, forged fables and shaped national identity. American Memory: Commemoration, Nostalgia, and Revision, though not historically or artistically comprehensive, examines how images—paintings, prints, and documentary photographs—shape our memories and understanding of historical and current events.
History is often told from a single perspective. Episodes that impacted women, people of color, and the LGBTQI+ community (to use the current term) are frequently skewed, have been erased from the historical record, or were never documented. American Memory looks at works in the Museum’s collection from multiple perspectives and reveals this selective grooming. Told in three chapters across the galleries, the exhibition amplifies underrepresented voices and analyzes the impact of slanted narratives, employing social history to move beyond purely aesthetic readings of the works.
American Memory, further, is an essential catalyst to critique the Milwaukee Art Museum’s collecting and interpretive strategies. Addressing how the Museum acquired particular objects and acknowledging inconsistencies in interpretation are important to the work of presenting art and sharing the stories that are relevant to our community. American Memory is but one action the Museum is taking in this direction, which includes inviting the people of Milwaukee specifically to have a seat at the table.
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