Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art is the first museum exhibition to broadly examine the relationship between American artists and the supernatural. Featuring well-known artists together with many who have been overlooked, the exhibition is interdisciplinary, multicultural, and multimedia. It includes many generations of artists active in the United States from diverse faith traditions working with a wide range of topics and approaches. From the Salem Witch Trials to the Legend of Ichabod Crane; the 1848 spirit rappings famously reported by Kate and Maggie Fox to William Mumler’s spirit photographs; the scientific pursuit of parapsychology to innumerable personal and official government reports of U.F.O.s (unidentified flying objects), American culture is filled with tales of the supernatural and accounts of paranormal experiences.
The “supernatural” and “paranormal” refer to experiences and phenomena beyond scientific explanation that suggest an order of existence beyond the visible and observable universe and that appear to transcend the laws of nature. The source might be an invisible or uncanny agent (e.g. a ghost or extraterrestrial intelligence) and affects those experiencing the phenomena emotionally and physically. The experience may confuse the witness about whether their body or something outside of it is the source of mysterious phenomena; they might also feel their body is a portal through which to channel another entity, as in possession or mediumship. This complex and multifaceted subject has beguiled American artists for centuries, and it remains compelling today.
A broad range of artists has 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 includes approximately 160 objects. It emphasizes painting at its core, but also includes drawings, sketchbooks and journals, prints, photographs, furniture, clothing and textiles, video, and other objects (scientific instruments and mediumistic/occult paraphernalia, including Ouija boards and planchettes).
Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art is organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Art and will be open at the Toledo Museum from June 12-September 5, 2021.