Exhibition “Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art” Explores Mystery in Visual Culture

The exhibition, currently on view at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, is on display through May 15
Hiram Powers. American (died Italy), 1805–1873. Loulie’s Hand, 1839. Marble, 2 7/8 × 5 1/2 in. Gift of Professor James Hardy Ropes, 1928.115. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, MA. Photo: © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Whether or not you believe in ghosts, they’re an inescapable part of our history, culture (from pop culture to fine art), literature, and even our understanding of the domestic. Who hasn’t, at one time or another, felt the spirit of occupants past in a centuries-old home or historic site?

In the new exhibition “Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art,” the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) surveys artwork with a relationship to the supernatural. The show includes more than 150 works by artists working from the early 1800s through the present. Among them are Betye Saar, Renée Stout, Agnes Pelton, Dorothea Tanning, Alma Thomas, Grant Wood, and Andrew Wyeth. Also included are works by historically under-represented “spirit artists” from the 19th and 20th centuries who acted as mediums as spirits created art through them.

John Quidor. American, 1801–1881. The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane, 1858. Oil on canvas, 26 7/8 × 33 7/8 in. Museum purchase made possible in part by the Catherine Walden Myer Endowment, the Julia D. Strong Endowment, and the Director’s Discretionary Fund, 1994.120. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC. Photo: Smithsonian American Art Museum / Art Resource, NY.

Also in the exhibition are sculptures, drawings, sketchbooks and albums, books, prints, photographs, videos, and objects such as scientific instruments and Spiritualism material culture, including Ouija boards and planchettes. Related events include an open studio with educator Khusaba Seka on the importance of altars in diverse cultures; and a panel discussion with exhibition artists Chris Pappan, John Jota Leaños, and Chholing Taha who discuss their work in relation to time, the Spirit world, and Indigeneity with moderator Andrea Carlson.

“The mysterious and intangible are integral to American identity for profound and painful reasons, which explain why artists and entertainers across media continue to make art about the supernatural,” says Robert Cozzolino, Mia’s curator of paintings. “At its heart, this exhibition is about the imaginative capacity of humanity to consider what lies beyond tangible existence and how this is reflected in visual culture.”

Columbia Industries. Mystic Answer Board, ca. 1940s. Wood, pigments, 12 x 18 in. Collection of Brandon Hodge. Photo: Brandon Hodge / MysteriousPlanchette.com.

The exhibition closes May 15. Purchase tickets here.

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