Berman Museum

Innominate

Innominate
adjective
not named or classified

“What lies beyond our grasp remains unnamed.”

Innominate invites visitors to consider the conventional hierarchies of value that exist within museum collections. Here, objects from the Berman’s permanent collection—objects with unknown makers, titles, and provenance—designated as “ethnographic” are featured alongside examples of the European tradition of hierarchical academic painting: history, portrait, genre, still-life, and landscape. Under this system, the human form was coveted for its supposed superiority, depictions of landscape and still life were considered frivolous, and works made outside the academic system were devalued entirely.

Language—written, verbal, and visual—is an organizing principle used to classify and establish value. Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in the chapter “Learning the Grammar of Animacy” of Braiding Sweetgrass that the English language grants “animacy” only to what is considered “human.” Unlike Kimmerer’s ancestral language of the Potawatomi Nation, English speakers do not see, for example, a plant as a “being,” rather as an object, taking agency from other beings in their foreignness to humans. Similarly, without language to describe them, innominate artworks lose their voices under existing museum hierarchies.

Bahar Behbahani’s experimental wall drawing Immigrant Flora, on display in the adjacent gallery, brings native and non-native plants together. Immigrant Flora is symbolic of displacement: at what point does “the other” belong? Innominate asks this question as well. Seeing these permanent collection works in connection within the gallery leaves space to consider how classification facilitates “othering.”

Immigrant Flora and Braiding Sweetgrass realize a lyrical and harmonious vision of various voices and perspectives where hierarchy can be deconstructed. In Innominate, disparate works hold equitable value. The innominate works speak where they will be heard and understood.

Teddi Caputo, Exhibition Curator

Order Date

08/08/2022

Short Description

Objects from the Berman’s permanent collection—objects with unknown makers, titles, and provenance—designated as “ethnographic” are featured alongside examples of the European tradition of hierarchical academic painting: history, portrait, genre, still-life, and landscape.