Sunday, April 23, 2017

I-Witness Culture

May I start out with a couple of generalizations that I will apologize for before hand.   Artistic talent tends to be passed down in Native American families from generation to generation.  As an even larger generalization, Native American artists tend to be more articulate about their art than their Anglo counterparts.  This is borne out by the painter Frank Buffalo Hyde.

My wife, Penelope Hunter-Stiebel, writes a regular column for El Palacio, the magazine of the new Mexico state museums, called “Why This?” and just finished a draft on a sculpture by Doug Hyde, called “Sharing Knowledge”,  that stands in front of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture on Santa Fe’s “Museum Hill”.  For her article she needed to measure the piece and since we were there we went into the museum for the exhibition of the paintings of the sculptor’s son, Frank Buffalo Hyde.   In fact, I had seen his work in galleries around town before and admired it.  All the pieces in the exhibition that I have illustrated are on loan from Tansey Contemporary.

Needless to say, much of Frank Buffalo Hyde’s subject matter revolves around the buffalo, but there was a lot else, and this show has little to do with that noble beast.  It is called “I-Witness Culture” and both the images and the text accompanying it left me with a lot to think about it.   In a recent issue of El Palacio the artist writes a brief article in which he thanks the museum for allowing him to co-curate the show, making this an even more personal exhibition and portrait of the artist.

Hyde’s thesis is that we miss viewing reality because there is always a recording device, most often the I-Phone, between the viewer and the subject matter.  He wrote “We don’t witness anything first hand any longer.  Our first reaction to anything that happens in real life is to record it.”  I must admit that I felt a pang of guilt at that moment because as soon as I saw the first painting in the show I photographed it and then its label.  So much easier that copying the label onto a pad and then having to ask the museum department for images which I may or may not receive in time for publication.   I had to admit that Hyde had a point, but, in my defense, I did always look at the image first because I would have to make the editorial decision later of which images would fit the story that I would write.


Hyde painted the picture above called The New New, 2017 as an introduction to his show in order to guide the viewer.  What is reality?  The dancers?  The viewer holding the I-Phone or the image in the phone?   He believes it is the new way of seeing.

Zombie Nation, 2016 is interesting to me since our son, Hunter, an actor and screen-writer has always been into this subject which I am still not sure I understand.  Clearly, however, it has been absorbed into the Native American culture as well.  Maybe it is our fascination with what comes next.


Just the Fax, 2017 seems to sum up the exhibition very nicely.  Before the iPhone and before we could send images by email, there was the fax machine.  I remember very well working on catalogs with our publisher in the early 1990’s when we were in Santa Fe and she was in New York.  Back then we relied on FedEx and the fax.


To end on a point of humor, which I choose to believe the artist meant, I am illustrating his Buffalo Burger Study, 2014 for which I will include the artist’s whole label, “Like Native Americans, the buffalo are often relegated to mythology of America’s past.  They have made a comeback in the last two decades, but only as a low-fat beef alternative”.  Sometimes the most poignant statements are couched in humor.

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