Nicholas Galanin exhibition at Baltimore Museum of Art

On July 14, 2024, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) will open Nicholas Galanin: Exist in the Width of a Knife’s Edge, a solo exhibition of new and recent works by the artist that addresses the consequences of European colonization and occupation of Indigenous homelands—specifically theft and erasure of belongings, Land, resources, and cultural knowledge from Indigenous communities. In his multifaceted works, Galanin (Lingít and Unangax̂) offers an incisive and unflinching view of the enduring impacts of colonialism—including the willful excision of history and resulting collective amnesia—while also reclaiming Indigenous narratives and creative agency

Exist in the Width of a Knife’s Edge engages audiences with his provocative practice through eight significant works and installations, urging reflection on the damage caused by cultural erasure and eradication, as well as the persistence of Indigenous self-determination. The exhibition is part of the BMA’s ongoing initiative “Preoccupied: Indigenizing the Museum” and will remain on view through February 16, 2025.

“Through his forceful exploration of the past, present, and future, Galanin interrogates the long-term impact of colonialism within collecting art institutions by inviting a close look at the practices and motivations behind possessing Indigenous cultural belongings,” co-curators Dare Turner (Yurok Tribe) and Leila Grothe said. “His work embraces the transformative potential of art as a catalyst for change and understanding, speaking truth to power with a resolute voice.”

At the heart of the exhibition is the new installation Exist in the Width of a Knife’s Edge, which features 60 porcelain daggers that embody Lingít Indigenous design and technology and that are decorated with Russian ceramics patterns. Russian settlers first descended on Indigenous communities along the islands and coast of present-day Alaska in the 1700s, inflicting violence, capturing land, and displacing Indigenous people and their ways of life.

“With this installation, fragile and decorative representations of powerful weapons speak to the restriction of Indigenous people’s right to resist settler violence and legislation, tolerant of only fragile and decorative Indigenous people,” Galanin said. “The suspended blades hover at the height they would be wielded in battle. Frozen in mid-air, their capability to cut emerges from their ability to shatter. If these daggers break, their destruction would produce sharp projectiles and edges, rendering new forms to use as tools or weapons.”

Another major work in the exhibition is Fair Warning: A Sacred Place (2019), which comprises single channel audio and six photographs. The photographs capture empty museum displays that once featured Indigenous cultural belongings. As the viewer encounters these desolate images, they can hear the lively sound of an auction in progress, calling for new owners to claim possession of Indigenous works offered for sale.

The juxtaposition of absence within the photographs and sense of removal within the audio pointedly challenges the notion that any person or institution can claim ownership over culture. Here, Galanin underscores this concern, stating that these artworks were “acquired (at best) from individuals suffering under extreme hardships enforced by colonization or by illegal means.”

Additional featured works include We Dreamt Deaf (2015), which explores the impacts of colonization on land and water and the struggle to survive in untenable conditions; Infinite Weight (2022), an installation that highlights the desire to control and dominate what is valuable and to continually marginalize what is deemed insignificant; and Visions of Liberation (2024), a hand-dyed and hand-tied rug that suggests the pixelated screen of a broken television. This work speaks to the role of mainstream media in perpetuating colonialist tendencies, false or partial narratives, and the oppression of land and peoples.

Together, the artworks in the exhibition capture the depth, range, and intricacy of Galanin’s practice and highlight his ability to leverage the power of art and personal experiences to encourage new learning, understanding, and action toward a more just society.

“My process of creation is a constant pursuit of freedom and vision for the present and future,” Galanin said. “I use my work to explore adaptation, resilience, survival, dream, memory, cultural resurgence, and connection and disconnection to the Land.”

Indigenizing the Museum

The exhibition is part of the BMA’s Preoccupied: Indigenizing the Museum initiative that significantly increases the presence of Native voices, experiences, and works across the museum. Unfolding over the course of 10 months, Preoccupied includes nine solo and thematic exhibitions, interpretative interventions across the museum’s collection galleries, the development of a publication guided by Indigenous methodologies, and public programs. It represents an exceptionally expansive museum presentation of Native artists and thinkers, with nearly 100 individuals contributing to and represented across the initiative.

The project was led by Dare Turner (Yurok Tribe), Curator of Indigenous Art at the Brooklyn Museum and former BMA Assistant Curator of Indigenous Art of the Americas; Leila Grothe, BMA Associate Curator of Contemporary Art; and Elise Boulanger (Citizen of the Osage Nation), BMA Curatorial Research Assistant, in consultation with a 10-member Community Advisory Panel that includes artists, scholars, designers, and community leaders.

This project is generously supported by the Ford Foundation, the Terra Foundation for American Art, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Eileen Harris Norton Foundation, the Estate of Carolyn Lee Smith, The Dorman/Mazaroff Art Exhibition Fund, the Hardiman Family Endowment Fund, the Sigmund M. and Mary B. Hyman Fund for American Art, The Clair Zamoiski Segal and Thomas H. Segal Contemporary Art Endowment Fund, and the Robert Lehman Foundation.

About Nicholas Galanin

Nicholas Galanin LAND sculpture in Brooklyn Bridge Park 2023.
Nicholas Galanin LAND sculpture in Brooklyn Bridge Park 2023.

Nicholas Galanin (Lingít and Unangax̂) was born in 1979 and lives and works in Sitka, AK.

He has participated in the 2023 Liverpool Biennial; 2021 Desert X Biennial; 2020 Biennale of Sydney; 2019 Whitney Biennial; 2019 Honolulu Biennial; and 2017 Venice Biennale Native American Pavilion, among others major events and exhibitions.

Solo exhibitions include those at the Baltimore Museum of Art (2024), SITE Santa Fe (2023), New York Public Art Fund (2023-24), Heard Museum (2018,) and others. Galanin’s work is in such collections the Museum of Modern Art, NY; Whitney Museum of Art, NY; Brooklyn Museum, NY, Seattle Art Museum, WA; Phillips Collection, Washington, DC; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Art Institute of Chicago, IL; The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, TX, and Denver Art Museum, among others.

He is a 2024 Guggenheim Fellow; 2023 Joan Mitchell Fellow; the 2020 recipient of the Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Award in Art, Academy of Arts and Letters, New York; and a 2020 recipient of a Soros Arts Fellowship.

Baltimore Museum of Art

Founded in 1914, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) inspires people of all ages and backgrounds through exhibitions, programs, and collections that tell an expansive story of art—challenging long-held narratives and embracing new voices. Our outstanding collection of more than 97,000 objects spans many eras and cultures and includes the world’s largest public holding of works by Henri Matisse; one of the nation’s finest collections of prints, drawings, and photographs; and a rapidly growing number of works by contemporary artists of diverse backgrounds.

The museum is also distinguished by a neoclassical building designed by American architect John Russell Pope and two beautifully landscaped gardens featuring an array of modern and contemporary sculpture.

The BMA is located three miles north of the Inner Harbor, adjacent to the main campus of Johns Hopkins University, and has a community branch at Lexington Market. General admission is free so that everyone can enjoy the power of art.

Visitor Information

General admission to the BMA is free. The BMA is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours on Thursdays until 9 p.m. The Sculpture Gardens are open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to dusk. The museum and gardens are closed New Year’s Day, Juneteenth, July 4, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.

The BMA is located at 10 Art Museum Drive, three miles north of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

For general museum information, call 443-573-1700 or visit artbma.org.

No Comments Yet.