Two important new curatorial appointments at the Autry Museum of the American West mark an interest in diversifying the history that’s represented and the stories that are told at the three-decade-old institution.
Sixteen years after the merger between Gene Autry’s Western Heritage Museum and the now defunct Southwest Museum, keeper of one of the most important collections of indigenous art and artifacts in the United States, the Autry has hired Joe D. Horse Capture, a prominent Minnesota-based curator known for producing methodical exhibitions devoted to piecing together indigenous histories atomized by colonization. He will come on board as vice president and curator.
Tyree A. Boyd-Pates, curator of history at the California African American Museum, will move to the Autry as associate curator of Western history, a new position.
“This positions the Autry for the future,” said Rick West, the museum’s president and chief executive. “The museum has a mission to address the cultural history of the entire West. It represents a lot of possibility and a great deal of complexity.”
Horse Capture, a member of the A’aninin tribe of Montana who is serving as director of Native American Initiatives at the Minnesota Historical Society, will take up a newly created role that will have him overseeing the Autry’s vast collection of indigenous objects, as well as developing exhibitions as the Ahmanson Curator of Native American History and Culture.
“The priority is to ensure that we work with native folk not just in Los Angeles, but beyond that,” Horse Capture said via Skype from the Netherlands, where he is on a fellowship. “The collection is rather deep, so I want to ensure they can have access to the collection ... that we can interface with tribal groups and share information with them and they share information with us. That way we can understand not only what the work is about, but we know that we are taking care of it properly.”
The aim is a more collaborative approach to curation — something Horse Capture has experience with.
In the 2009 exhibition “From Our Ancestors: Art of the White Clay People,” a show about the material legacy of the A’aninin, held at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Horse Capture worked with members of the tribe to catalog historical objects and their stories — an act of sleuthing that helped him to reunite linked objects that had been divvied up between collections in New York and Berlin. He then sent free catalogs to tribal members.
“We want to ensure that Native people have access to the works their ancestors created,” he said.
Boyd-Pates, a born-and bred Angeleno who in his short time at CAAM has organized richly researched exhibitions on the legacy of slavery in California and the history of gospel music in Los Angeles, has likewise worked in a similar fashion.
For “How Sweet the Sound: Gospel Music in Los Angeles,” which was on view last year, “I went to South L.A.'s oldest African American churches and spoke to clergymen and laymen and laywomen to see if they could offer artifacts and oral history to complement the narratives,” he said. “They gave choir robes, they performed. It’s community curation.”
Both curators, West said, “understand that curation is not only knowledge inside the institution, but a recognition that how we curate today is outside-inside — not just top-down, but also bottom up.”
This will add to the already diverse range of programming that appears at the Autry, which shows a range of historical and artistic exhibitions and hosts Native Voices, a theatrical series devoted to work by indigenous playwrights.
In addition to the appointments, the museum is also at work on its infrastructure.
It is putting the finishing touches on a Burbank “Resources Center” that will serve as a research and conservation center for the museum’s most important objects. In the spring, the museum put out a call for proposals for a new owner to take over the old Southwest Museum near the Mount Washington-Highland Park border for “community benefit.” (The 1914 structure, set on a hillside with limited wheelchair access, is in need of extensive renovations and structural upgrades. Renovating it for museum use would have likely cost tens of millions of dollars.)
West said that the Autry has received 35 to 40 proposals and is reviewing “a smaller number that we are exploring actively.” He said the museum expects to make further announcements on this process early next year.
Boyd-Pates will begin at the Autry in late January. Horse Capture will join in the spring.