Native American Art

Post image for In Mainstream Museums, Confronting Colonialism While Curating Native American Art

Recent criticism of The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky, which closed recently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, sheds light on the many issues that arise when mainstream art museums present Native American art.

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Post image for How a Long-Lost Silent Film Helped Rescue a Forgotten Kiowa Tipi

OKLAHOMA CITY — In 1920, a distinctive tipi painted with horizontal stripes appeared in a silent film called Daughter of Dawn.

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IFAM organizers

ALBUQUERQUE — Not often, when a popular board member leaves an arts organization, do constituents get riled enough to do something about it, other than perhaps grumble on Facebook. However, John Torres Nez’s resignation from the Southwestern Association of Indian Art in April tapped a well of discontent that had been bubbling for a while: Native artists were unhappy with Native art markets run by non-Natives.

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Photograph by Horace Poolaw at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in New York

For five decades at the beginning of the 20th century, Horace Poolaw photographed a Kiowa community in flux.

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Post image for Nicholas Galanin Is Part of a Generation That Is Redefining “Native”

SAN FRANCISCO — How would you describe the art of Native Americans? If you were unfamiliar with the field of Native American contemporary art then you might muse on woven rugs in rich hues, ceramic vessels, silver jewelry inlaid with turquoise, petroglyphs etched or painted on sandstone walls, and carved totems with animal motifs.

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Post image for Beyond the Curio: A Native American Artist Who Never Quite Breaks Free

Woody Crumbo spent six decades of the mid-20th century promoting Native American art to the mainstream, where often it was seen as a novelty or niche by wealthy collectors. Through printmaking, he mass produced his depictions of animals, dancers, and other vibrant images so that anyone could afford his work. Yet despite his prolific career, which included participating in hundreds of exhibits, painting murals inside the US Department of Interior, and having hundreds of his pieces acquired by museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian, Crumbo’s art has, somewhat ironically, become a niche interest, often overlooked even when his influence in bringing Native American work into the contemporary art world remains a powerful presence.

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Post image for Native American Iconography Meets Modernist Aesthetic and Material

My first impression coming into Jeffrey Gibson’s solo exhibition at Marc Straus in the Lower East Side was one of a refined sensual pleasure with a complex edge. Vibrant color painted in geometric shapes on animal hide stretched over trapezoidal forms and ironing boards is the initial entree to an imminent encounter with the unanticipated.

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Post image for Interview with Tipi Artist Bently Spang

The following is an interview with artist Bently Spang, whose work appears in the Brooklyn Museum’s current Tipi: Heritage of the Great Plains exhibit. Through the interview, Spang explores ideas of Native American identity, cultural stereotypes and the difficulty of showing Native American spiritual objects in museum spaces. The Brooklyn Museum show makes progress, Spang says, but there remain problems to be solved.

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Post image for An Attempt to Shatter Native American Stereotypes in Brooklyn

A traditional 19th-century Sioux warrior shirt in the Brooklyn Museum’s current Tipi: Heritage of the Great Plains exhibit is made from buckskin, decorated with green and red pigment, hair, feather, fiber and a white and red beaded bear claw motif. Like all Plains war shirts, it could only be worn by males after acts of bravery in battle.

Exhibited just a few feet away, Northern Cheyenne contemporary artist Bently Spang’s “War Shirt #3, The Great Divide” (2006) is made out of photographs, photographic film, sinew, velvet and found objects such as the compact disc pinned on the shirt’s center like a decorative medallion or amulet. Its arms are outstretched through a white plastic stand in the form of a “t” and two tiny white plastic toy horses flank either side of its base. Like the traditional Sioux shirt, Spang’s is now ensconced in a glass case but it has never been — nor will it ever be — worn.

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Post image for Native American Art’s Disputed Boundaries

Every so often an art review riles readers and critics enough to actually respond to it. That’s what happened after New York Times art critic Ken Johnson’s review of the Brooklyn Museum’s Tipi: Heritage of the Great Plains exhibit was published a week and a half ago. Johnson is not shy about stating his assessment up front, leading with “You know there’s trouble when the first object you encounter in a museum exhibition looks as if it had been misplaced from the gift shop.” Johnson faults the museum for exhibiting “kitschy” contemporary Native American artists alongside the “outstanding” mostly 19th-century Plains objects that make up the majority of the exhibition.

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