Monday, August 1, 2011

Vantage Point: The Contemporary Native Art Collection

Where: National Museum of the American Indian

When: through August 7, 2011

I took the day off today, so had time to see three exhibits that are closing in August. I don't usually blog about the shows I see until several days later, so this is my first experience in "same day" blogging. It's nice to write, knowing that the details are still fresh in my mind. It was also really nice not to look at my watch while at the shows, wondering if it's time to get back to the office.

The first exhibit I went to see was this collection of contemporary Native American Art. It's a large show, up on the Museum's 3rd level. It was a bit difficult to come up with an overall theme to this collection, as it features work from so many different artists. The show is divided into five different subjects, which I didn't commit to memory. I found that I just looked at the pieces and didn't worry about what went with which other piece.

The show featured the works of Kent Monkman, who has an alter ego, Miss Chief. I think of him as a Native American Dame Edna, but I have no idea if he intends his persona to be comic or not, so perhaps the comparison in inapt. He had several photographs of himself as Miss Chief, and I was reminded of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Warrior show I saw at the Ripley not long ago. One of the themes he examines is Native Americans performing for non-Native Americans.

Catherine Nelson-Rodriguez had two pictures, both of them about her crippling depression. She compares it to falling into a well of blackness, which is probably a pretty good description. Luckily, she was able to get help for her condition, although that was not without its horrors as well. Really well done, and touching because they were so obviously authentic.

One artist had beaded over a copy of the Indian Act, which is a Canadian law governing the lives of First Nations people there. When I saw it, I wondered if it could be the Indian Child Welfare Act, which is a U. S. law dealing with adoptions of Native American children. I've used ICWA as a teaching aid in the past, so it was the first thing to spring to mind. This made me realize that there are tensions between Native people and the descendants of European immigrants in Canada, as well as the U.S.

Mespat by Alan Michelson is a video of Newtown Creek, which runs between Brooklyn and Queens. Now terribly polluted, it was at one time home to Native people. The video is shown on a screen made of feathers, which is a nice, over-the-top touch.

Margarete Bagshaw's Sky Rise Dreams also drew my notice, has her work as an almost Art Deco quality, and I love Art Deco. Although an abstract, I could see easily that it's about New York's skyscrapers.

Verdict: Go see this show, if you are interested in contemporary art, Native American art or you just want to see a video shown on feathers. It's big, so be prepared to move through quickly, if you only have a lunch hour.

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