Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art
October 7, 2021 – January 2, 2022
North Building, 3rd Floor Special Exhibition
Supernatural America examines the artwork that has shaped our collective imagination of the supernatural and paranormal and asks why America is haunted. Ghosts of a violent US history, whether Native American genocide, slavery, or the Civil War, remain unsettled and periodically resurface to make the present face the past. In intimate moments of mourning, the will to make contact with spirits of the dead drove cultures of mediumship, new ritual practices, and a popular culture around Spiritualism. Artists have been integral to visualizing these ghosts, whether national or personal, and in doing so have embraced the mysterious and unexplained. In the twentieth century, anxieties about technology, atomic weapons, and the trauma of war inspired ideas about worlds beyond a troubled America. This exhibition explores the numerous ways artists in the U.S. made sense of their own experiences of the paranormal and supernatural, and in doing so developed a rich visual culture of the intangible.
A broad range of artists have engaged this subject matter, which often grew out of their personal experience, religious practices, and scientific pursuits. Spanning a chronology of the early 19th century through the present, Supernatural America will include approximately 125 objects from artists as diverse as America itself, featuring paintings, drawings, sketchbooks, prints, photographs, furniture, clothing and textiles, video, scientific instruments, and mediumistic/occult paraphernalia. From Native American spiritual traditions to the Salem Witch Trials to Afrofuturism, the exhibition tracks this country’s complex and complicated relationship to the otherworldly. Most importantly, the exhibition will include well-known artists and objects alongside artists who will be new to art historical analysis, never before included in museum exhibitions of American art.