Interview with Dr. Claudia Roch, museum assistant for Native American Modernism, Ethnology Museum, Berlin

Dr. Claudia Roch: Interviewed

Dr. Claudia Roch is a museum assistant at the Ethnology Museum, Berlin. She took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about the recent exhibition Native American Modernism‘ that was on view until late October 2012.

Interview by Gloria Bell.

1. What inspired you to create this exhibition ”Native American Modernism?”

The Ethnologisches Museum Berlin has the biggest collection of modern Native American Art in Europe, which had never been presented entirely. Because of the recent purchase of a larger collection of modern Native American art, there was the opportunity to show the Berlin collection for the first time.

2. How did you define ”Native American Modernism”?
Native American modernism represents a “different” modernism from North America: the art of the indigenous peoples – the Native Americans or First Nations – that has been coevolving with Anglo-American art since the beginning of the 20th century.
Native American modernism refers to a type of art that blends elements rooted in indigenous traditions and influences from western art. The social movements of the 1960s have inspired new, distinct forms of expression in this art which, at the same time, engages with contemporary “western art in a dialogue between equals.
Native American modernism is the art of an ethnic minority that struggles to hold its ground within a dominant American majority. Hence, it is always political.
This art finds expression in the local variants of the American Southwest, the Southern Plains, the Northeast, and theNorthwest Coast, and has often been stimulated by innovative individual artists. Other artists have developed very distinct styles of their own and do not feel committed to any specific region or art tradition.
Native American modernism reflects a cultural diversity that still persists among the indigenous nations of Canada and the U.S. Traditional roots and contemporary reality are the sources of a creative potential that makes this art unique.


3. Does the Ethnological Museum (Berlin) have a large collection of Native American and indigenous art?
The Ethnologisches Museum Berlin has the largest collection of Native American art in Europe.


4. Although your museum has a collection of historical Native American and indigenous material, this was not included as part of the exhibition. Could you explain why?
Originally it was planned to include objects of traditional Native American art, which would have required display cases which did not fit into the design of the exhibition.


5. Germany has had a long-standing interest and fascination with the indigenous peoples of North America, do you think this aspect influenced the exhibition and if so, how?
The German fascination with Native Americans might have influenced the exhibition in so far as most of the works were acquired from German collectors.


6. How has this show been received by visitors?
The show has been received very positively by visitors.


7. Will this exhibition travel to other venues in Europe and North America?
So far the exhibition is offered to travel in Germany. It will be shown in Papenburg from May to August, 2013.


8. Were works for the show solely from the Ethnological Museum collection?
The show presents the Berlin collection, that’s why there were no works from other museums included.


9. Does the Ethnological Museum have an active collecting practice for Native American art?


The Ethnologisches Museum Berlin has started to collect modern Native American art since the 1970s and increased its collecting activities since 1989, when Peter Bolz became curator of the North American collection.


10. What were some of the challenges you faced with this exhibition?
The main challenge was to present Native American art in an ethnographic museum compared to an art museum.


11. What interests you most about this exhibition?
It was my first encounter with Native American art and the first exhibition I was involved.


12. Is there a catalog for the exhibition? If so, is it available in English?

There is a catalog for the exhibition available in German and English:Peter Bolz and Viola König: Native American Modernism. Art from North America. Petersberg: Michael Imhof Verlag 2012.
13. Is there an online component for this exhibition?

There is a website to the exhibition: