Friday, December 11, 2015

(Re)Presenting Native Americans

A new look at art by and about Native Americans
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 10, 2015
"Plains Warrior with Breastplate,” acrylic on canvas by John Nieto, gift of Christopher and Astrid Forbes in honor of Erivan and Helga Haub, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum
(Re)Presenting Native Americans is one of three new exhibitions in the Haub Family Galleries at Tacoma Art Museum. The other two are Artists Drawn to the West and Northwest Cowboys in Art. The Native American show features paintings and a single sculpture depicting the lives of Native Americans from the 1800s to modern times by both Native- and European-American artists. (The single sculpture is Sally James Farnham’s bronze “Will Rogers on Horseback.” Rogers’ parents were of Cherokee descent, but I still think his likeness belongs with the other bronze sculptures in the entry to the Haub Galleries.) 
Many of the artists who painted American Indians, including Native American artists, romanticized and mythologized them almost as much as did Hollywood movie makers. A few of the more contemporary painters poked good-natured fun at this tendency to romanticize.
Included in the show are works by famous and lesser-known artists including Catherine Critcher, Joe Fedderson, James Lavadour, Marie Watt, Shaun Peterson, John Nieto, Frederick Remington and Charles Russell. What struck me most tellingly about this show is that in terms of style and technique the art is practically indistinguishable from art by European-American artists such as John Singleton Copley, Benjamin West, Gilbert Stuart (famous for his portraits of George Washington) and Charles Willson Peale. There’s even a painting called “Indians, Salmon Falls, New Hampshire” by an unknown artist circa 1850s that is stylistically like Edward Hicks’ famous painting “Peaceable Kingdom.” It’s an odd painting that I like because of its oddity.
There’s a great minimalist painting by contemporary Seneca Indian, Marie Watt, with some outstandingly nuanced color changes.
Neito’s “Plains Warrior with Breastplate” is one of the strongest pieces in the show, with outstanding design for a simple portrait and some wonderful color combinations.
Equally powerful is Lavadour’s almost totally abstract painting of an Oregon landscape, “Release the Sun.” I also liked his little picture in aquatint, soap ground etching and drypoint, “Dreaming of Whirlwinds.” This one depicts rocky landscapes in a grid of six rectangles with a nude woman in most of the rectangles — the only nudes in the show, by the way.
I love the paint application in E. Irving Couse’s 1911 painting “Music of the Waters.”
Another favorite is Bill Schenck’s “An Ancient Place,” depicting a lone and sad woman in a barren landscape painted in a pop art style reminiscent of paint-by-numbers pictures. His work has been shown previously in the Haub Galleries, and the more I see of his work the more I think he has been sadly overlooked by art historians.
Overall it is an exhibition with many interesting historical references that are nicely executed.
 (Re)Presenting Native Americans, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Spring 2016, $12-$14, Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave. Tacoma,

No comments: