Museum Studies Theses


This paper explores the Classical influence within the discourses surrounding museum exhibitions that helped to construct colonial representations of gender. I address how Classical receptions and images of Native Americans rendered into Classically influenced discourses have featured in anthropological and later art market structures within museum displays. Constructions of femininity play a significant role here as these representations, especially in the Southwest, serve to gender colonized and Othered subjects with parallels in Classical ideas about foreign others. My analysis is in two parts: I first explore constructions of femininity in museum exhibitions through these insights. I then consider the agency of Native American artists today and how they navigate their own identities and heritages within the broader scope of Classically-influenced Western heritage.

My analysis is comprised of two sections with multiple chapters within them. In order to demonstrate the relationship between Classical frameworks and the construction v of femininity in museum discourses, I first address a selection of exhibition case studies, starting with an overview of relevant curatorial decisions at the Denver Art Museum (Section I). In this section I also include an analysis of some of the Denver Art Museum’s approaches to Native American art, as well as an analysis of two national exhibits that are framed in relation to matriarchy discourse. Through a series of three artist case studies, Section II addresses the agency of some contemporary Native American artists in their engagements with these frameworks within museums. Ultimately, my concern in this exploration is to show how the interpretation of art objects in the Southwest were constructed as an American Classical art tradition, authenticated within the space of specific museums using these frameworks. In this representational arena, Southwest traditions are valorized in relation to a sanctioned, authentic, ancient/Primitive cultural heritage that makes tangible the specific features of constructed narratives of American nationalism.

Project Sponsors

UNM Museum Studies Department



Document Type


Level of Degree


Department Name

Museum Studies

First Committee Member

Lea McChesney

Second Committee Member

Loa Traxler

Third Committee Member

Monica Cyrino


Museums, Museum Studies, Representations of Native Americans, Classical Reception, Gender Studies, Southwest Ethnology