Yellow Mule lithograph circa 1980 by Kevin Red Star
Image courtesy NACDI
A selection of Native American contemporary artworks from the Hopeman Family Collection is currently on display at All My Relations Gallery. The collection illustrates a history of various contemporary movements, featuring artists who are influenced by these styles and also fighting against them. The exhibit, curated by Dyani Reynolds-White Hawk, demonstrates styles that have been perpetuated as "authentic" by a mostly non-Native market, and gives context for later Native artists who were working within the stylistic traditions of the different schools -- at times working against those traditions -- and also finding their own individual voices within these contexts.
According to Reynolds-White Hawk, the owner of the artworks is "preparing for his next journey" at 92 years old. He heard about All My Relations Arts, and stopped in to visit. "He has a sizable art collection," Reynolds-White Hawk says, "and a portion of that is his Native collection." The collector was interested in seeing the works exhibited, as he is currently deciding where the gifts will go.
Reynolds-White Hawk and Justin Kii Huenemann, who at the time was executive director of the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) and is now moving on to another position, went to the Hopeman Collection storage unit. "We both saw there was an opportunity in showing this collection to expose Minnesotans to movements and central artists in Native art history that we don't normally get exposed to in Minnesota," she says. When she visited the storage unit, Reynolds-White Hawk saw not just the artists and artworks that belonged to central movements, but people who helped spur those movements that have since become pillars of contemporary Native American art history.
Blue Corn Grinding Ceremony (1962) by Gilbert Atencío
She selected a portion of the collection to show in the gallery, focusing telling the history of contemporary Native American art.
In the back room are pieces that are highly influenced by the Studio School (also sometimes referred to as the Santa Fe Studio School, or the Dorothy Dunn School), which consisted of a group of Native artists who were put into classes taught by Dunn, who encouraged the artists to concentrate and focus on traditional art forms, and to stay within a two-dimensional style. "They didn't necessarily employ ideas of three-dimensional space or layering," Reynolds-White Hawk says. The Studio School became very influential, and known as a traditional form. "There became an expectation of the market that that's how Native people painted and drew," she says.
For example, Blue Corn Grinding Ceremony
(1962), an acrylic painting on paper by Gilbert Atencío (nephew of renowned potter Maria Martinez), shows two Pueblo women grinding corn while a man sits near them playing a flute. Above them, a spirit looks down. The two women are in identical poses, and all of the figures in the painting have a uniform skin tone. In a sense it is realistic in that it depicts a scene that educates those outside of the culture of a ceremony within the culture, but it also contains symbolic elements.
Eagle Dancer and Dog Soldier Dancer by Woody Crumbo
Also highlighted in the exhibit are known as the Kiowa Five, another group of artists from the Southern Plains area who worked in a similar flat technique, depicting figures in traditional dress. Woody Crumbo was very involved with a school that perpetuated that style. Two of Crumbo's pieces show figures dancing in traditional dress. While there is a two-dimensionality to Crumbo's work, there is also a remarkable movement, capturing the feeling of the dancers in a swirl of feathers.
The exhibition also shows artists who later on fought against expectations as to what Native art was supposed to be. For example, Fritz Scholder broke barriers by creating works that "surprised and shocked and sometimes offended people," Reynolds-White Hawk says. "He was really fearless in how he portrayed Native people, he gave people permission to do what they wanted rather than adhere to the market." In Indian at the Bar (1971), Scholder depicts a man in a brimmed hat and sunglasses, holding a Coors beer can. The image is humorous -- almost cartoonish -- with the figure's torso containing an absence of color, as if he were a ghost.
Indian at the Bar (1971) by Fritz Scholder
Other artists in the show -- such as John Nieto, Kevin Red Star, R.C. Gorman, and Alec Houser -- pull from various movements and styles, in turn forming styles that are now seen as Native art.
Historically, the market for Native American contemporary art has generally been made up of people outside of the culture, Reynolds-White Hawk says. Those people "generally have been looking to buy portions of that culture, to collect portions of that culture," she says. What it means to be authentic has changed throughout time, and Native artists have responded to the market in order to survive. "The market has been wanting to buy something that's the most authentically Native or traditional," she says. Movements like the Dorothy Dunn School was what became accepted at that time, and became expected. Throughout Native American history, moments become traditions, and the artists in turn fought against those expectations. Contemporary Native artists simultaneously were adhering to Native aesthetics and influences, and also creating things that have become traditions in the contemporary art field.