All over the country, there are art museums that solely focus on bringing interesting new shows with an appreciable concept to a wide audience. This… is the concept of an art museum, and so it might seem odd that I’m saying it like a novelty, but in this particular epoch of the Information Age, art museums have struggled to “stay relevant,” pushing innovation to capitalize on visitors’ increasing affinity for “experiences.” Installations are proverbially “in,” and anything that can be shared online in a tasteful way will be hailed as a success. That isn’t to say that bigger museums have abandoned their purpose, we can still see an excellent show at the Met or MoMA, but the old model of curating is more and more seen as an antiquated nicety for those who don’t understand the current era.
Some museums though, still center the inherent value in vibrant, yet traditional curated exhibits. The South Dakota Art Museum is not a flashy, big money museum that you might find in New York or London, but they serve a core audience of locals and visitors. For the most part, their museum’s claim to fame is holding a large collection of acclaimed painter Harvey Dunn’s work, and beyond that, they bring in thought-provoking, well-curated traveling showcases that anyone can enjoy, without having to feature Picasso paintings or a full-blown Yayoi Kusama installation.
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For their latest show, My Hero!, they worked with Walnut Creek, CA-based Bedford Gallery to bring a variety of superhero-inspired works to their museum. The exhibit features the superhero figure analyzed from multiple angles, from Superman delivering pizzas and Batman sculpted from Terracotta, to hand-knit superhero costumes and a crocheted Spiderman. There has obviously been a huge resurgence of superhero myths in the last decade, and it’s no surprise why those movies top the charts and set records nearly every year. There are a number of potential reasons for this, and like any cultural analyses, no single theory can describe it entirely. However, if 2016 taught us anything, it’s that people are looking for heroes. In a time where the future feels incredibly unclear, and nothing seems to help, we turn to strong individuals to pull us up. Heroes are flawed, and it’s easy to forget that heroes are based on humans. Taking a critical look at the hero narrative can be a fulfilling experience regardless.