First American Art Magazine No. 21, Winter 2018/19 - Page 72

REVIEWS BENTONVILLE, ARKANSAS Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art L IKE MOST SWEEPING SURVEYS, Ar t for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now attempts to reach the broadest possible audience. This means compensating for the general public’s astonishing lack of knowledge of Indigenous history and presence, which has never been integrated into mainstream narratives. Even if FAAM readers are not familiar with all artists in the exhibition, most are certainly fluent in issues surrounding Indigenous life: the history of forced removal and boarding schools, sovereignty, etc. For this audience, some museum didactics repeat questions so stereotypical and trite, it is remarkable to see them presented in the year 2018 (“Do any of these artists live on reservations?”, “What is sovereignty?”). As tiring as it is to dispel myths and define basic terminology, Crystal Bridges knows its audience and is meeting the American public at current majority understandings of Indigeneity. There is a lot of work to do. Overviewing six decades of North American art by Indigenous artists, the individual artists selected to represent various eras, genres, and nations become more important than the specific works standing in for their entire oeuvres (which are diverse in themselves). Manuela Well-Off-Man proposed Art for a New Understanding in 2014, and in 2016 Mindy Besaw and Candice Hopkins joined the project. The first three galleries trace the 1950s to 1970, primarily via painting. Two small ink paintings on paper created by George Morrison (Grand Portage Ojibwe, 1919–2000) in France in 1952 are the earliest works in the show. Luiseño artist Fritz Scholder’s Monster Indian (1968) pulls one in with a direct gaze and beautiful yet putrid skin tones. Five dyed and printed fabrics by Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee Nation, 1916–2002), Bill Blackmore (Athabascan), and Harrison Burnside (Navajo) hang in the center of this gallery, signaling both the founding of the IAIA in 1962 and the ways in which these artists synthesized local and global sources. The National Gallery of Canada loaned three paintings by Daphne Odjig (Odawa-Potawatomi, 1919–2016), intimate portraits of human-animal hybrids relaying Anishinaabe legends. In the fourth gallery, Leadership, a black-and-white photograph by Jolene Rickard (Tuscarora), and the Chief Joseph series by Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee Nation) complement each other aesthet- ically and represent a sliver of the Indigenous contributions to feminist conversations unfolding in the seventies and eighties. Nor val Morrisseau’s (Bingwi Neyaashi Ojibwe, 1932–2007) The Story Teller: The Artist and His Grandfather hangs next to T.C. Cannon’s (Kiowa- Caddo, 1946–1978) Collector #5 (Man in a Wicker Chair). Both artists used a vibrant, full-color palette, but beyond this the similarities are few. The distinct applications of paint suggest different personal temperaments. Cannon’s canvas is smooth and deliberate. Every stroke is confident. Morrisseau’s, belying his flat, graphic style, reveals major changes in composition. His layers build up like sheets of collaged paint. Comparing nuances like these is one of the pleasures of seeing works in the flesh, as subtle details of materiality are lost in reproduction. The late Payómkawichum-Ipi multidisciplinary artist James Luna’s table from his 1987 Artifact Piece performance is a highlight in the second part of the exhibition, which surveys the 1980s and ’90s. The documentary photos showing Luna in a loincloth have become part of the art historical canon, but his sardonic captions are rarely reprinted. 1 Luna’s recent passing made his absence in the display more conspicuous. The work may have felt reverent were it not for its position next to a presentation of Spiderwoman Theatre ephemera, including a blaring video. The clips interrupted concentration on any other work in the gallery and should have been confined to headphones. Trade (Gifts for Trading Land with White People), a mixed-media painting from 1992 by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Sqelix’u-Métis-Shoshone), prompts one to consider what progress has been made over 26 years in efforts to eliminate racist stereotypes as sports mascots and in pop culture. The answer? None. One of the stated goals of the exhibition is to prompt reconsideration of exclusionary histories of American art. A web of connections exists among the artists in this show and those producing contemporaneously. Métis painter Edward Poitras’s Offensive/Defensive (1988) Indigenizes and politicizes Michael Heizer’s Nine Nevada Depressions (1968–72). In Columbus Chronicles (1992), the late M’Chigeeng Ojibwe artist Carl Beam recalls mixed-media works by Robert Rauschenberg, though the latter was intentionally scattered in his references, while Beam’s images equate the invasion of Turtle Island to the devastation of an atomic bomb. Indigenous cinema has mushroomed in recent decades. In the exhibition narrative, two films by Zacharias Kunuk (Inuk), ᐊᑕᓈᕐᔪᐊᑦ Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001) and ᒪᓕᒡᓗᑎᑦ Maliglutit [Searchers] (2016), stand in for this renaissance. This is a curious choice since the films are feature- length and artfully slow, but also because no additional information is provided about the larger world of Indigenous cinema or the museum’s own related programming, which includes filmmakers Kyle Bell (Thlopthlocco Muscogee), Steven Paul Judd (Kiowa-Choctaw), 1. One of Luna’s captions reads, “Drunk beyond the point of being able to defend himself, he was jumped by people from another reservation. After being knocked down, he was kicked in the face and upper body. Saved by an old man, he awoke with a swollen face covered with dried blood. Thereafter, he made it a point not to be as trusting among relatives and other Indians.” 70 | WWW.FIRSTAMERICANARTMAGAZINE.COM