Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

Long Sidelined, Native Artists Finally Receive Their Due

American Indian artwork back into the picture


December 9, 2019

Brooklyn by Mario Martinez (Pascua Yaqui), 2004 (NMAI)

Museums are beginning to rewrite the story they tell about American art, and this time, they're including the original Americans. Traditionally, Native American art and artifacts have been exhibited alongside African and Pacific Islands art, or in an anthropology department, or even in a natural history wing, "next to the mammoths and the dinosaurs," says Paul Chaat Smith, a curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). But that has begun to change in recent years, he says, with "everyone understanding that this doesn't really make sense.

Smith is one of the curators of "Stretching the Canvas: Eight Decades of Native Painting," a new exhibition at the NMAI's George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. The show pushes to the foreground questions of where Native American art-and Native American artists-truly belong. The paintings, all from the museum's own collection, range from the flat, illustrative works of Stephen Mopope and Woody Crumbo in the 1920s and '30s to Jaune Quick-to-See Smith's politically current Trade Canoe, Adrift from 2015, depicting a canoe overloaded with Syrian refugees. Some paintings include identifiably Native American imagery, others don't. But almost all reveal their artists as deeply engaged with non-Native art, past and present. The artists reflect, absorb and repurpose their knowledge of American and European art movements, from Renaissance painting to Modernist abstraction and Pop.


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