Press Release  October 9, 2020

The Met acquires commissioned works by Cree artist Kent Monkman

Image courtesy of the artist

Kent Monkman (Cree, b. 1965), Welcoming the Newcomers, 2019. Acrylic on canvas. 132 x 264 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Donald R. Sobey Foundation CAF Canada Project Gift, 2020.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has announced the acquisition of a grand diptych by Kent Monkman, mistikôsiwak (Wooden Boat People), created by the Ontario-based Cree artist as the inaugural commission for a new series of contemporary projects in the Museum’s Great Hall. The paintings—titled Welcoming the Newcomers and Resurgence of the People—debuted in December 2019 and will remain on view in that space through November 16, 2020.

Monkman’s Welcoming the Newcomers and Resurgence of the People were acquired through support of the Donald R. Sobey Foundation, CAF Canada Project.

“We are thrilled to share the momentous news that the Museum has acquired these ambitious, sweeping historical paintings by Kent Monkman, a Canadian artist of First Nations heritage,” said Max Hollein, Director of The Met. “With monumental scale and breadth, and at a critical moment of reckoning, mistikôsiwak (Wooden Boat People) upends conventional historical narratives of the European settlement of North America. The diptych conveys Monkman’s reverence for art history’s traditional canon even as he critiques it by calling necessary, incisive attention to its gaping omissions. As The Met recommits itself to attending more rigorously to underrepresented voices, Monkman’s commission functions as both a trenchant reminder and a steadfast compass going forward. The acquisition of this important work would not be possible without the generous support of the Donald R. Sobey Foundation, and for that we are grateful.”

Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Joseph Hartman

Kent Monkman, (Cree, b. 1965), Resurgence of the People, 2019. Acrylic on canvas. 132 x 264 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Donald R. Sobey Foundation CAF Canada Project Gift, 2020.

“Monkman’s grand commission delivers a powerful—and visually spectacular—corrective to widespread, even systematic erasure of Indigenous lives, perspectives, and experiences from art history and museum collections,” added Sheena Wagstaff, The Met’s Leonard A. Lauder Chairman of Modern and Contemporary Art. “Like so many of the European and American history paintings he deftly references, mistikôsiwak is operatic in both scale and content, filled with pain and misery, but also joy and triumph in equal measure. At the same time, he also brilliantly walks the line between gravely serious subject matter and a touch of camp, through the presence of his alter-ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, who leads the charge to a better future in sky-high Christian Louboutin stilettos.”  

Donald R. Sobey, Chair of the Donald R. Sobey Foundation, commented, “I am profoundly delighted to see this critically important Canadian work enter the collection of one of the world’s leading museums. I feel tremendous pride that Kent’s triumphant response to The Met collection through this commission addresses continental questions that have been generations in the making. Having a permanent home in The Metropolitan Museum of Art will mean that this work can continue to provoke more meaningful discussion on the enduring issues that are the result of our colonial past.”

About mistikôsiwak (Wooden Boat People)—Welcoming the Newcomers and Resurgence of the People
Like much of the multimedia artist’s work, Kent Monkman’s two paintings reinterpret images, motifs, and techniques from art history to assert Indigenous experiences and histories, thereby subverting predominate narratives of Euro-American culture, while also bringing present-day issues to the fore. Featuring numerous references to works in The Met collection, particularly paintings and sculptures that promote the 19th-century romantic myth of the “Vanishing Race,” the two paintings that comprise mistikôsiwak (Wooden Boat People)Welcoming the Newcomers and Resurgence of the People—evoke the relationship between peoples native to Turtle Island—an Indigenous name for North America—and settler cultures, both past and present. Welcoming the Newcomers captures the early stages of European colonization while asserting the injurious aspects of these encounters, including the onset of disease, religious oppression, and the proliferation of trans-Atlantic slavery. Recalling recent poignant images of precarious, but heroic migrant vessels, Resurgence of the People testifies to the resilience of Indigenous peoples in the face of systemic white supremacy and climate change. Prominent in each of the compositions is the larger-than-life figure of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman’s shape-shifting, time-traveling alter ego who embodies “Two Spirit” traditions of various Indigenous communities embracing non-binary gender and plural sexualities. Miss Chief, whose name plays on the words mischief and egotistical, also parallels the Cree trickster figure who challenges conventional beliefs and wisdom in traditional stories.

About Kent Monkman
Born in Canada in 1965, Kent Monkman is a Cree artist widely known for his provocative interventions into Western European and American art history. Considered one of North America’s leading Indigenous artists, he creates works that challenge the colonial narrative of European and North American history paintings and authorize Indigenous experience into the canon of art history. Other collections besides The Met that house Monkman’s work are the Hirshhorn Museum; Denver Art Museum; Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian; Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal; Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal; National Gallery of Canada; Art Gallery of Ontario; Art Gallery of Nova Scotia; and Maison Rouge. His work has also been exhibited at the Philbrook Museum of Art; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; Royal Ontario Museum; Hayward Gallery; Compton Verney; Musée d’art Contemporain de Rochechouart;  and Palais de Tokyo. Monkman has had two nationally touring solo exhibitions—Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience (2017-20), and The Triumph of Mischief (2007-10). 

The installation at The Met is made possible by Marilyn and Charles Baillie and Rosamond Ivey, with additional support provided by the Hal Jackman Foundation and the Director’s Fund.

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