Sunday, September 13, 2015

Pueblo Pottery Meets Art Deco

Where: American Art Museum

When: through January 31, 2016

When I saw this image on the Smithsonian, I became very interested in seeing this show.  I'd never heard of this artist before, but the idea of combining Native American design with Art Deco sounded great to me.  I LOVE Art Deco, and am in favor of combining it with anything.

To offer up just a bit of background on Tsireh, he was a Native American artist who took the pottery designs of his Pueblo people and made stylized watercolors that incorporated modernist trends that started in New York and spread across the country.  If he'd been working now, rather than in the early 20th century, I suppose I would say his work is a mash-up of traditional designs and Art Deco.

The first room of the show is Tsireh's early work, which is more traditional Native American art.  If you like that, you'll enjoy this.  The drawings are reminiscent of things I've seen at NMAI, and I admired their precision and depictions of rituals that were unfamiliar to me.  I was, I confess, a bit disappointed though.  Where was the Art Deco bit?  None of this looked the least bit modernist.  Remembering that I hadn't yet seen the image from the website, I soldiered on, and it was in the second and third rooms that I found some truly wonderful pieces.

As Tsireh's style matured, he incorporated modernist techniques, so if you like Art Deco, it's his later stuff that will appeal.  In addition to the piece pictured here, Basket Dancers, the things I liked the best were his "Rainbow Paintings."  These are pictures of animals with a rainbow over top - very Art Deco, and wonderful colors.  It was all I could do to tear myself away.  I'm happy I did, as I was then able to see his series of "Animal Designs," which are also great.  These are fantastical creatures inspired by Pueblo, Navajo and Mayan art with an Art Deco flair.

I was happy to see that this show is mentioned as a critic's choice in the Washington Post's Fall Arts Preview (in today's "Arts and Style" section).  I'm hoping this will bring more people to see this work.

Verdict: Don't miss this great little show.  Easily managed in a lunch hour, it's time very well spent.

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