Field Museum’s New Exhibition Explores Historical Views on Race through Art

Field Museum’s New Exhibition Explores Historical Views on Race through Art

Newly restored sculptures from Field’s collections depict world cultures, encourage conversation about race

Nearly a hundred years’ ago, scientific and cultural views of race were very different from what they are today. In 1930, The Field Museum commissioned artist Malvina Hoffman to travel the world and create sculptures documenting different “racial types.” While we now know that there is no scientific basis for the concept of race, the effects of these ideas are still felt today. This exhibition provides a thoughtful look at our evolving views of cultural differences, making these sculptures all the more relevant to our world today.

The exhibition not only explores our changing ideas about race and culture, but it also tells the stories of the individuals immortalized in Hoffman’s sculptures and raises questions about whether the sculptures celebrate or denigrate the people they portray. The exhibition also provides insight into the artist herself. Hoffman challenged expectations for women in her day, traveling the world and shaping scientific thought through her work.

The sculptures themselves have undergone extensive conservation work to restore them to their former glory; a team of conservators worked for years to remove the effects of decades of wear and tear. They now appear as they were intended to for the first time in years, providing visitors with new insights into our changing world.

This exhibition is organized by The Field Museum. Conservation and re-installation of the Hoffman works are made possible by a generous gift from Pamela K. and Roger B. Hull. The exhibition is made possible with the support of The Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust and an anonymous donor.

Photo by John Weinstein

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