Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 3/Contemporary Native North American Art From the Northeast and Southeast, Selected Works, Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, 108 Cathedral Place, 983-1777; through December
This show marks the conclusion of a comprehensive series of traveling contemporary Native art exhibitions. Art Without Reservation 3 is abbreviated from its original inception at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, where more than 100 works by 85 artists were presented. The focus for this third exhibition in the series, guest curated by Ellen Taubman, is art east of the Mississippi, stretching from the Great Lakes region to the Northeast and Southeast regions of the United States and including parts of the subarctic region of Canada. The previous Changing Hands exhibitions, Art Without Reservation 1 and 2, focused on the arts of the Southwest, West, Northwest, and Pacific regions. While those exhibitions had a strong emphasis on traditional arts, the latest Changing Hands is squarely in the realm of the contemporary, but it does draw on the cultural background, personal histories, and issues facing Native artists and their communities.
Art Without Reservation 3 is an exhibition of new media, sculpture, painting, jewelry, ceramics, textiles, and work in other mediums. An exhibition survey of contemporary Native artwork is a daunting task, and dividing the show into separate exhibits was necessary. The presentation at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts is only a selection, but the selection is large, offers variety, and is high quality almost all the way around.
Several works in the show, including Jamasie Pitseolak’s carved stone and antler motorcycle Tiger Roars Again, are finely crafted objects that delight with their intricate details. Fiber arts, ceramics, and jewelry stand out in this regard, but so do beaded works such as Kenneth Williams Jr.’s The Beauty of a Maiko, a bag depicting an apprentice geisha. Traditional tanning techniques were used for the leather, and vintage beads and glimmering Swarovski crystals decorate the borders and ties. Two works reference Mohawk ironworkers, whose dangerous occupation took them high above the streets of New York City, straddling girders on high-rise construction jobs. Carla Hemlock’s Tribute to the Mohawk Ironworkers is a mix of photographic imagery, beadwork, appliqué, and quilting, and Donald Hemlock’s Mohawk Ironworker Cradleboard takes a traditional cradleboard design and decorates it with contemporary, narrative imagery. Hemlock’s cradleboard offers a bird’s-eye view above an ironworker balanced on an I-beam at a dizzying height.
Strong examples of sculptural works also call attention to cultural forms. Several of Canadian artist Robert Tannahill’s pieces, for instance, reference the masks of the False Face Society of the Iroquois. Tannahill’s are rudimentarily carved wooden faces that retain a treelike appearance. The interiors are filled with blown glass that bulges from the mouths and eye sockets, a fluid medium inhabiting the masks like amorphous spirits. A nearby piece by Floyd Kuptana, Bear-Man Shaman Mask, similarly references an aspect of Native spirituality, in this case of the Inuit. The shamanic mask is a grotesque and fascinating work in soapstone that suggests metamorphosis or transformation from human to animal. Other sculptures are more abstract, such as Jason Quigno’s serpentine limestone sculpture Pillar of Tranquility.
Among the works in new media is Barry Ace’s Bandolier, an atypical mix of beaded textile and video. An illuminated digital display of floral designs, partially obscured by mesh fabric, blends with similar imagery rendered in beads. Textile work and weaving are also well-represented. Gail Tremblay’s It Was Never About Playing Cowboys and Indians uses 16 mm film stock, drawing inspiration from basketry designs, and may reference the history of typecasting and stereotyping of Native people in film and photography. It must be noted that MoCNA ’s concurrent exhibition by Cannupa Hanska Luger, Stereotype: Misconceptions of the Native American, humorously riffs on the topic with a selection of portable stereos, stand-ins for objectified Native peoples, decorated with items that suggest preconceived notions of what defines “Native.” Changing Hands, for the most part, focuses on aesthetics.
It’s a credit to Taubman that she shows off such a large range of talent and includes several artists with exhibit histories at MoCNA, such as Richard Glazer-Danay, whose solo exhibition Shake, Rattle & Roll was displayed there last year. If you followed the last two Changing Hands exhibitions, which also passed through Santa Fe, then you can expect the same object-oriented, well-mounted presentation. There is no one emergent theme, which is a challenge when presenting a large selection of works by many artists. Instead, this final chapter emphasizes the beauty of form.