Friday, March 13, 2015

"The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky" at the Met


Richard Throssel, Interior of the Best Indian Kitchen on the Crow Reservation, 1910 [image via]

One of the most comprehensive exhibitions of Native American Art is currently on view at the Met in NYC. There are over 130 pieces from 50 international collections, including many objects shipped to Europe in the 19th century and rarely seen in the US. Follow this link for an extensive inventory of the exhibition where you can see the ceremonial fan below:


Peyote Fan, c. 1945, Kiowa (golden eagle, parrot and macaw feathers) [image via]

or this Lakota valise...


Nellie Two Bear Gates (Mahpiya Bogawin, Gathering of Clouds Woman), 1903 [image via]

From Holland Cotter's review in the New York Times: "Painted robes, covered with figures and symbols and accessorized with leggings and gloves, became storyboards of oral history and epic adventure. One monumental example from the Branly collection, fittingly known as the Grand Robe, depicts, in more than a dozen episodes and with a cast of some 60 figures, the Homeric exploits of two Lakota warriors. There are debates over the gender of the artists of certain robes. But in general, paintings and drawings were done by men, and tanning, sewing and beadwork by women. And outstanding examples of beadwork, positioned throughout the show, glow with a kind of self-generated light."


The Grand Robe, Central Plains Tribe, c. 1800-1830 [image via]

Also included in the exhibition are silver gelatin prints from one of my favorite Native American artists, Horace Poolaw, who photographed his friends and family in a modern yet traditional Kiowa setting. His images are the antithesis of the clich├ęs we often associate with photographs of the same subject matter from that time period.


Horace Poolaw, Three Young Kiowas, 1928-1935 [image via]

Peter Schjeldahl's informative essay in The New Yorker offers comparisons to contemporary Native American artists that we will discuss at the end of the semester.


Here is Dana Claxton's four channel video, Rattle, 2003 [image via]. You can view the installation on her website where she describes this work as "a visual prayer attempting to create infinity."


Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Gifts for Trading Land with White People, 1992 [image via]

From the Met's website: "Here, she has inscribed the image of a canoe, an icon of Native American culture and a key mode of transportation in the history of trade and crosscultural interaction, amid layers of newspaper clippings, photographs of Native people, and washes of paint. Suspended above is a selection of sports memorabilia, calling attention to the much-contested use of Native American names for teams and mascots—hats with logos, rubber tomahawks, and faux headdresses."

Wendy Red Star's Four Seasons are captivating self-portraits making fun of the idealizations of Native Americans throughout the history of photography. She incorporates plastic animals, Astroturf and murals of Western scenery resembling those one would find in an insurance office from decades past.


Wendy Red Star, Four Seasons (Spring), 2006


Wendy Red Star, Four Seasons (Fall), 2006

Comparing original (and functional) objects with contemporary counterparts is a highlight of this exhibition.


 Horse Mask, c. 1880, Assiniboine [image via]


Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty, Horse Mask, 2008 [image via]


Man's shirt, c. 1830, possibly Blackfeet [image via]


Bently Spang, War Shirt #1 (From Modern War series), 1998 [image via]

In "Moving Pictures," Schjeldahl concludes: "What sinks in, as you absorb the show, is the spiritual spell of the Great Plains—an essence that will resonate with anyone who has spent time on the prairie. Standing out there, you are at once dwarfed to nearly nothing and made the dead center of everything that is. This inescapable paradox makes living sense of works that, whether drawn or carved or beaded or feathered, invariably broadcast qualities of painstaking, economical craft and jolts of resilient pride. There is a singleness to each of them, preserving the here and the now of its making by an individual who was an intimate of boundlessness, impelled often to move on with the maximum practicable speed. The enchantment of the prairie will be a pretty lonesome transcendence for most of us. (You get back in the car. Turn the key. Find a motel.) It hardly grants access to the subtleties of Plains Indian worship and philosophy, but it affords a vision that, once wholly theirs, is now perforce also ours."

Jacinda Russell

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