OKLAHOMA CITY — Military cemeteries seem incredibly uniform with the simple headstones showing little more than rank, name, the dates of life, and a symbol of religion. Yet there are still some hidden messages in the stones. This is especially true in a place like Fort Sill, where Buffalo Soldiers, American Indian POWs, and Army soldiers going back to the 19th century are buried.
During the recent restoration of Pinturicchio’s Resurrection fresco (1494) on the wall of the Hall of Mysteries in the Borgia Apartment at the Vatican has revealed what may be the first images of Native Americans in European art.
“The Old Becomes The New,” at Wilmer Jennings Gallery, tackles a particularly overlooked aspect of Native American artistic development – the fertile exchange that took place between the New York abstract expressionists and Native artists.
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.
The Carl Beam retrospective now at the National Museum of the American Indian Heye Center in Lower Manhattan could be a response to the museum itself. Located in the imposing Alexander Hamilton US Custom House, a monolithic reminder that New York City was originally built on European immigration, the museum presents artifacts and art by North America’s first people. Beam’s work likewise was always aimed at juxtaposing the modern culture of North America, a transformation of the country that he marked with the arrival of Columbus, with the traditional imagery of the American Indians. Neither the museum nor the influential Canadian artist’s work offers much harmony between these two clashing worlds, but in the resulting collage of Beam’s work is an engaging sort of turbulence.
October 12, observed yesterday as a holiday, is most commonly known as Columbus Day in the United States, but is also recognized as Dia de la Raza throughout Latin America, as well as Indigenous People’s Day. Fraught with controversy, the various iterations of this holiday reflect the range of perspectives on Christopher Columbus and his legacies. The Columbus Day of my youth celebrates the heroic “discoverer” of the Americas, playing up mythical stories of his genius on insisting the world was round, and often neglecting the icky bits about the ensuing genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
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.
In 2004, Brooklyn-based artist Anita Glesta was commissioned by the General Services Administration’s Art in Architecture Program to create a permanent seven-acre landscape intervention for the Census Bureau Headquarters Building in Suitland, Maryland. Six year in the making, on July 12 Glesta will inaugurate her artistic meditation on the idea of counting and numeric order with a global perspective.