First American Art Magazine No. 22, Spring 2019 - Page 88

REVIEWS does a viewer focus their attention on this collaboration between museum, artist, and community? Logically, one might follow the narrative from beginning to end. This iteration of Coyote’s story (Epic) is part of Feddersen’s ongoing Coyote Now series. According to the MAH, which commissioned the work, “The story begins with coyote’s resurrection and ends with his death. He confronts his relationship with technology. He navigates through nuclear sites and proposed oil fields. He makes selfish decisions that have long ranging impacts on the earth.” In other words, Coyote teaches us how the follies of our actions can impact our world. Walking around the mural, the power of art in the hands of the people manifests itself in blue and purple crayon manifestos, such as “FAMILIES BELONG FREE,” “LOVE HEALS,” and “I AM THE LIZARD KING.” Like a de Kooning painting, participants make visible what artists once tried to hide: indexical traces that reveal the presence of the person who created the art. Individuals respond in various ways as they participate with the installation. There are lighthearted, fun gestures like the abstracted, cartoonish profiles created out of landscape features in the background of Coyote’s continuing story. Some visitors color inside the lines, while others color outside the lines. Precise, descriptive color appears in some places, while in other places one might see a red coyote sporting a purple head and tail. Perhaps most striking is a section where Coyote sits behind a desk facing outward toward participants. His eyes are covered with Blues Brothers–style black sunglasses, while his yellow-colored face supports red-tipped ears. A computer monitor blocks his upper torso, while one imagines his lower torso behind the desk where Coyote sits like a human. Facing Coyote, with his back to us, stands a man who wears a blazer, crisp pants, and dress shoes. Unlike Baroque paintings, where postures such as these act as a substitute for the viewer, partic- ipants cast this man in a different light. On the top of his now orange crayon-colored hair topped with black crayon-created horns, the words “You’re Fired” pass between the man and Coyote. On the back of the man’s jacket, in black crayon the words, “I REALLY DON’T CARE DO YOU?!” allude to the jacket First Lady Melania Trump wore in June 2018 when she traveled to Texas to visit children taken from their parents at the US–Mexico border. The man’s pant legs echo the overall theme of the scene: on the left pant leg are the words “IMMIGRANTS ARE” and up the right “HERE TO STAY.” The beauty of this installation— including the silly, playful musings and the pointed political messages—is that it replaces stagnated power plays within the art world where institutions select art that they believe the public should view and not touch. In contrast, Coyote Now opens a new space that activates the imagination of each person who steps in the museum gallery and empowers them to collaborate and create … all the while documenting an archive for future generations who want to learn about history from the perspective of the people. —Jean Merz-Edwards SANTA FE LIT: The Work of Rose B. Simpson Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian “H AVE YOU EVER MET ROSE?,” I overhear one visitor ask another as I enter the Wheelwright Museum’s Klah Gallery, where Rose B. Simpson’s mid-career retrospective of ceramic work, LIT, exhibits through October 2019. “She’s nothing like you’d expect,” he summarizes, his gaze fixed on one of seven clay masks that comprise Simpson’s Ancestors series, punctuating the exhibition with fixed gazes of their own. For a moment, I ponder a few of the endless possibilities of interpretation: Did the visitor think Simpson would be wearing a customary Pueblo manta and moccasins when they met? Was she too tall, too edgy, too something he couldn’t quite decipher? Could it be the body 86 | WWW.FIRSTAMERICANARTMAGAZINE.COM piercings and tattoos that threw him? And, I found it odd that he assumed the second viewer had any to-be-shattered expectations of Simpson, as if there exists some invisible but deeply carved template for how a 21st-century Pueblo woman should look, sound, dress, or act, or what she should create. All these thoughts rush to me momentarily, before I remember that this is the way much of the world still sees us and our art: through superficially informed and misaligned measurings-up of tribalness, wrapped in and then unwrapped from some nostalgic expectation of Indianness. And, following that course of thought, the belief that our art should, or could, be contained within such a limited and confining graph. Simpson’s work pushes against these awkward, threadbare notions, and that’s what makes it so important and so effective on a sociopolitical, disser- tation-supporting level. Consisting of several dozen sculptures (“It’s the first time I’ve seen so much of my work in one place. So cool!,” enthused Rose), the collection confronts some of the standardized conventional ideas that linger on the edges of the rewritten, contemporary Native art narrative—dismantling old stereotypes one newly informed viewer at a time. But this exhibition speaks more to the soul and spirit than to politics or protocol—livening a sense, an ancient memory perhaps, of those who have come before, while acknowledging a consciously accessible, if physically intangible, space for those yet to arrive. Most of the work in LIT is self-por- traiture, brought to form through the “slap-slab” technique Simpson learned while earning an MFA at Rhode Island School of Design. Several pieces, including Prayer, employ the historical Pueblo coil-and-scrape method, bringing verve to vision. The black-and-white, manta-and-moccasin-clad figure speaks to Simpson’s strong connection to her Tewa culture, and to the power of prayer that exists within us all. The tattoos and non-Pueblo embroidery on her dress express Simpson’s often dichotomous influences and extra-Pueblo experiences. The Prayer sculpture stands with Genesis, another dynamic depiction of