The Next 25: the Future of the Biggs Museum of American Art

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Biggs Museum of American Art Sat, Dec 8, 2018 8:30 AM


In the spirit of Fred Wilson’s landmark exhibition, Mining the Museum, the Biggs Museum has invited seven scholars to explore important cultural absences within its collections, interpretation, and public programs-to find and add underrepresented perspectives of America’s historical minorities. These researchers will be looking critically at the Biggs, and American art museums generally, to describe new and better ways of incorporating the experiences and artistic accomplishments of African Americans, Asian Americans, the LGBTQ community, Native Americans, the disabled and of women.

As the Biggs Museum of American Art finishes celebrating its 25th anniversary, we are taking time to reflect on the institution’s past to discuss public inclusivity and cultural equity. This day-long symposium is free to the public and will be followed by a reception.

This day-long symposium is free to the public thanks to the support of the Delaware Humanities Forum. 

Speakers and Topics Include:

Sylvia Yount, Lawrence A Fleischman Curator In Charge, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Title: American Evolutions

Description: The head of The Met’s American Wing reflects on how expanding definitions of American art and culture are reshaping the historic department’s collecting focus and gallery narratives.

Emily Casey, Assistant Professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland

Title: Global Histories of the Slave Economy in a Regional Decorative Arts Collection
The Biggs’ showcase of local material culture opens out onto global vistas: wood from Brazil, porcelain from China, silver from Europe. This lecture will trace Atlantic economies through the material richness of the Biggs collection, exploring how the reality of slavery might cling to objects seemingly removed from its history.

Jessica A. Cooley, Ph. D Candidate at University of Wisconsin-Madison

Title: Disability and the Biggs Museum, An Introduction

Description: Drawing on a selection of works from the Biggs’s collection, Cooley will introduce key issues, theories, and methods at the intersection of visual culture studies, art history, and disability studies.

Jonathan D. Katz, Chair of Art, University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences

Title: Queer Curating and Passive Censorship

Description: Overt censorship of queerness in museums gets all the attention, as I discovered when a work in my own queer-themed Smithsonian exhibition, Hide/Seek : Difference and Desire in American Portraiture was censored in 2010. But only reckless museums censor; the savvy ones censor vastly more often, but long before the art is mounted on the walls. This pervasive passive censorship is the chief reason sexuality remains the third rail in the American museum world and this talk explores why.

Janneken Smucker, Associate Professor at West Chester University

Title: Women’s Work and Fine Art

Description: Despite the Biggs’ amazing collection of decorative arts, women’s traditional arts and crafts are very underrepresented in the collection. In this talk, Smucker will discuss how “women’s work”—samplers, needlepoint, quilts, and other traditionally female art forms, along with their more contemporary descendants, have made their way into American art museums with varying degrees of success during the last half century.

Brittany Webb, Curator of the John Rhoden Collection at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Title and Description Pending
Topic: African American representation in American art museums

Gordon Wilkins, Robert M. Walker Associate Curator of American Art at the Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy

Title: The Last Lacuna: Asian American Art in the “American” Museum
Topic: Exploring the broad and complex history of art by and about Asian Americans from primarily the 19th century to the present, this talk will endeavor to shed light on and provide context for the continued omission of Asian American artists from the American art canon.  


8:30-9                    Check-in and light breakfast
9-9:15                    Welcome
9:15-10:10            Sylvia Yount - Reinstallation of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
10:10-11:05          Emily Casey - Colonial identities of indigenous and enslaved peoples
11:05-12               Gordon Wilkins - Asian American exchange and representation within American art museums
12-1:30                 LUNCH 
1:30-2:30              Jonathan Katz - Queer theory and American art institutions
2:30-3:30              Janneken Smucker - Women’s representation in American art museums
3:30-4:30              Jessica Cooley -  Disabilities studies and American art institutions
4:30-5:30              Brittany Webb - African American representation in American art museums
5:30-7                    Cocktail reception

Registration  is provided free of charge thanks to the support of the Delaware Humanities Forum.

If you would like lunch provided, there is a $15 fee and you will be prompted to select a menu option during check out.

All questions should be directed to the Biggs' Curator of Education at or 302-674-2111 ext. 110