Minneapolis Institute of Arts hires new curator of African, Oceanic, and Native American Art

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Minneapolis Institute of Arts hires new curator of African, Oceanic, and Native American Art
Currently working as an independent scholar in Belgium, Dr. Grootaers is a senior consultant for the Museum für Völkerkunde in Hamburg and the Afrika Museum in Berg-en-Dal, Netherlands, Jan-Lodewijk will assume his new post on June 9, 2008. Photo: Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

MINNEAPOLIS.- The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) today announced the appointment of Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers as its new curator of African, Oceanic, and Native American Art (AONA). Dr. Grootaers assumes his post on June 9, 2008. His appointment follows an international search under the guidance of MIA Director and President Kaywin Feldman, who came to the museum in January.

“We are thrilled that Dr. Grootaers has accepted the important position of curator of the department of African, Oceanic, and Native American Art,” said Feldman. “Under the previous leadership of Dr. Evan Maurer, Director Emeritus of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, this area of the museum’s permanent collection grew from its beginnings to one of international renown. In his position at the MIA, Dr. Grootaers will further expand this important part of the collection and enhance the museum’s exhibition program.”

Dr. Grootaers received his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Chicago. He taught school in Gabon and Zimbabwe for three years prior to his graduate work, and has conducted extensive fieldwork among the Zande people in the Central African Republic.

Currently working as an independent scholar in Belgium, Dr. Grootaers is a senior consultant for the Museum für Völkerkunde in Hamburg and the Afrika Museum in Berg-en-Dal, Netherlands, where he organizes exhibitions and publishes catalogues. He has worked for the last three years on a large and ambitious survey exhibition about the art and culture from the African heartland, titled Ubangi. This extensive exhibition of more than two hundred objects from fifty-plus European museums and private collections worldwide premiered last October at the Afrika Museum. Dr. Grootaers edited the accompanying 327-page catalogue and contributed several essays.

Dr. Grootaers taught at the Catholic University of Louvain and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, and lectured at museums throughout Europe, including the Quai Branly in Paris. He is currently working on several publications for European museums, including a book for the Musée Jacques Chirac in Sarran, France.

“I am very excited about moving to the Twin Cities and being a part of the great team at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts,” Dr. Grootaers said. “It is an internationally renowned museum, and I am looking forward to expanding its African art holdings. And I lived for about five years in Chicago, where I learned to enjoy the winter!”

In 2006, the MIA significantly enlarged its AONA galleries as part of a major expansion and renovation project, allowing many more remarkable objects from this collection to be displayed. In addition to expanding galleries, this project created seventy new art purchase endowment funds for the MIA, including several new funds supporting the AONA Department: the Jane and James Emison Endowment for Native American Art, the Rebecca and Ben Field Endowment, the Peter and Patricia Frechette Endowment, the Robert J. Ulrich Fund, and the Mary Ruth Weisel Endowment for Africa, Oceania and the Americas.

The MIA began acquiring art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas as early as 1928, and formed a curatorial department in 1971 to focus on objects from these regions. Many important pieces and groups of objects number among the department’s holding of more than three thousand works of art.

The MIA has one of the nation’s broadest collections of African art, featuring outstanding examples of sculpture, as well as basketry and ceramics. In 2007, the museum acquired a rare bronze sculpture made at the height of the Kingdom of Benin culture, between the mid-sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries. Also of international acclaim is a large terra-cotta figure of a seated dignitary from the Nok culture, which flourished between 700 B.C. and A.D. 300, and a sublimely beautiful bust portrait of an aristocratic woman produced in the city of Ife between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. The Benin, Nok, and Ife cultures were once located in present-day Nigeria. Masterpieces within the Oceanic collection include the powerful Poutokomanawa, or architectural post carved in the shape on an ancestral figure, created by the Maori of New Zealand in the 1840s. The Native American Art gallery features both ancient and historical works, including a remarkable Olmec mask from the Highland region in Mexico, sculpted between 900 and 300 B.C., and from the Northwest Coast region, a rare Tlingit Fighting Dagger created 1825-1830.

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