Sunday, August 28, 2016

One More Fair: The Zuni Show

Bear with me here.  You have read before in my missives comments on too many fairs.  This year Santa Fe went over the top when it came to shows for Native American Art.  First there were three shows organized by 2 different managers to have dealers who showed non- contemporary Native Art.

As I wrote last week the Ralph T. Coe Foundation opened an exhibition of mostly contemporary Northwest Coast Native art.  I won’t list all the galleries that had their own Native American shows to take advantage of the 150,000 visitors who come for Indian Market, run by The Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) which this year seemed to be far larger with far fewer standards than in the past.  There were the fabulous artists but there was quite a bit of mediocre material, which depreciates the show.

Then there was the Indigenous Fine Art Market (IFAM) which split  from SWAIA a couple of years ago and, at least last year, there were a number of Northwest Coast artists who are sorely lacking at Indian Market.  This does not include 2 out of town shows within commuting distance, which we did not attend.  Here is the view of our local cartoonist Ricardo Caté ...

The Zuni pueblo is located in Western New Mexico, 55 miles fro, Gallup, a town that is at the apex of three Southwest reservations, The Hopi, The Navajo and the Zuni.   The Zuni tribe has the largest population of any of the pueblos with 12,000 members and it is believed  that 80% of them make their living from their art. 

Robin Dulap, one of the founders of the Zuni Coop in 1981, taught at Zuni, and her daughter Bronwyn Fox who spent formative years on the pueblo, runs the Santa Fe gallery Keshi: The Zuni Connection and they both were instrumental in establishing the Keshi Foundation.  When the Zuni felt neglected by SWAIA which had dropped a number of them from Indian Market last year without explanation, Keshi , tried to take up some of the slack by doing 10 individual shows during the very brief Indian Market week in order to help the artists make some sales.  This year they decided it was necessary to do their own show and they took over The Scottish Rites Temple, a most impressive building in Santa Fe.

The Zuni used to do a lot of work in silver with inlaid semi precious stones but as silver became more and more expensive they turned to carving as their primary art form.  They are noted for their small animal or bird fetishes that they carve out of semi-precious stone.  These carvings serve a ceremonial purpose with special qualities attributed to certain carvings.   The most important and numerous fetishes are bears.  They are felt to have curative powers, and white bears have especially powerful healing.  Not everyone agrees on the powers of the fetishes.  Owls and other birds are sometimes thought of as harbingers of death while others believe that they are guardians of home and village, hooting when an enemy is approaching.  There are many other animals and beliefs and one can find books listing them, though they may not always be consistent.

I remember when we first went to Zuni many years ago there were white limousines on the street with Middle Eastern men sitting inside waiting for the store owners to bring them fetishes which they would take home for sale as the fetishes are popular all over the world.

Here is a typical table of fetishes with the work of three carvers Todd, Sheldon and Nancy Westika, and, at another table that of Herbert Him, Sr. He has shown in the front row of his carvings the process of carving a fetish at each stage.

In my opinion one of the most innovative artists, who I would actually designate more as a jeweler that a carver, is Gomeo Bobelu   He does not live on the pueblo but keeps up with their traditions.  On his table I was particularly taken by the bolo tie clasp which was missing its leather cord and could just as well been hung as a pendent.  It is the piece in the center carved with the woman’s white face and dark hair.  Here are images of the artist and his display.

The Zuni Show had more visitors than they imagined would come.  Probably 8.000 potential clients came during their two-day show.  The best part is that the artists were extremely happy with sales, which one hardly ever hears no matter what kind of an art show it is!

When you are in Santa Fe I would recommend visiting the Keshi, the Zuni Connection, as you will know you are buying form a shop that truly represents these artists.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A View From Here

The Ralph T. Coe Foundation is a very young organization having only opened its doors in 2013.  It is therefore extremely fortunate to be able to host an exhibition from the collection of Joan & Richard Chodosh, “A View from Here: Northwest Coasts Native Arts”.  It is the first exhibit of modern Northwest Coast Native American Art in Santa Fe.  All art is regional so most of what you see in the Southwest is from the Southwest.  From this concept the title for the show was derived.

The Coe is a research center but I have mentioned that in the case of new museums I feel they have arrived when collectors are willing to entrust their personal collections to be shown or  to donate material as several individuals have to the Coe.  Dick Chodosh is a retired dentist from Rochester, New York and he and his wife Joan now live in Santa Fe.  They have spent forty years building their collection of Northwest Coast Native American Art.  Most of the objects lent to the Coe Foundation are modern with a few older examples.

The President of the Coe Foundation, Rachel Wixom with the executive director/curator, Bruce Bernstein visited the Chodosh home, at their invitation, and subsequently the curator picked over forty pieces out of a couple of hundred to exhibit at the Coe.  The Foundation has a wonderful but not a huge space and it was agreed that two small contiguous galleries would be used for the show.   Dr. Bernstein was aided by the Coe’s assistant curator Bess Murphy.  Nancy Allen a museum exhibition designer in Santa Fe worked with Dr. Bernstein to come up with an excellent concept  and installation for the objects chosen.  Basically, the first gallery would include the large masks and the second gallery would have most of the smaller objects.

I particularly enjoyed what Dick Chodosh said about the beginning of their collection because it is so much what I have said about our collecting and that of others.  “Our journey began… with the purchase of a single mask.  …this art genre was unknown to us.  This led to on-going research and visits to the artists, museum and galleries in the Pacific Coast of Washington, British Columbia and Southeastern Alaska.  We always select an object that appeals to us emotionally, historically, and aesthetically.”   That is just the advice I have given to so many potential collectors who have asked me how to get into collecting.

Even before it opened the show proved to be a success since an arts writer, Michael Abatemarco, for The New Mexican newspaper (founded in 1849) wrote a cover story about it for the weekly culture magazine section, “Pasatiempo”, of the paper.  Needless to say the Coe had a very full house for that opening.

Photo by Bess Murphy

The masks depicting humans, animals and mystical creatures from the Northwest Native oral traditions are most striking with their fantastical shapes and unusual bright coloring.  One of my favorites in the show is by Tony Gulbrandsen, a Triple Beak Hamatsa Mask done in 1987.  He is a member of the Tsimshian First Nation, currently located in the upper part of Vancouver Island.  The Hamatsa is part of their winter dance cycle danced by men’s religious societies.

Taking up a wall of the exhibition space is an extremely impressive red cedar Eagle Sun Mask, 1992 by Richard Hunt.  The Sun Mask is used in the Klasala, or peace dance of Hunt’s Kwakwaka’wakw tribe.

A personal favorite is another work by Richard Hunt and one of the smaller pieces in the show.  It’s called a Kwa-Gulth Frog bowl, 1990.  The bowl is carved in the shape of a frog with a small frog on the accompanying spoon.  The artist recounts that his mother owned the Tukwid, or supernatural frog dance and passed it on to his sister.  He was taught never to question the judgment of this supernatural frog.

Button blankets are worn by men, women and children.  They illustrate the clan and crest of the wearer.  The space at the top that is devoid of buttons goes around the wearer’s neck.  The Chodosh blanket is particularly fine and was made by another member of the talented Hunt family, Shirley Hunt Ford.

To end on a historical note the exhibition includes a group of Argilllite carvings all dating around 1860.  These are traditionally created by the Haida people.  The Europeans brought with them the metal tools that allowed the Haida to carve this fine-grained sedimentary rock. It is dark grey to black because of its high carbon content.

The show is up through March, 2017 and we would welcome you at the Coe.  Do please call first for an appointment unless you are in town on the first Friday of every month between 1 and 4pm when we there is always staff available.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Jicarilla: Home near the Heart of the World

Another missive focusing on the Wheelwright museum where you can view both the Jicarilla exhibition and the Eveli show at the same time.  The Jicarilla, pronounced Hicarrriya, are Apache Indians living near what is now the New Mexico/Colorado border since at least the beginning of Spanish written records.

The exhibition includes, “baskets and beadwork from the Goodman Collection. Purchased by the Jicarilla Apache Nation in 2011, the collection consists of items collected by Hortence Goodman, owner of Goodman’s Department Store in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, between about 1920 and the 1960s. Hortence acquired crafts from Jicarilla customers who frequented her shop, sometimes trading baskets for blankets and other supplies. She tagged many pieces with their makers’ names, and the resulting record provides a means for tracing the history of Jicarilla arts through the first half of the twentieth century.” (Press Release from the Wheelwright)  Other objects come from the Wheelwright’s own collection and other Southwest institutions.

Like so many tribes the Jicarilla found their land reduced both by the advance of the Anglos and also hostile tribes that were forced to move west ahead of the white man.  In 1887 they became the last indigenous people to be placed on a Reservation.   As the land was unsuitable for farming they turned more and more to the arts for survival.  The artists were traditionally women.

A civil war veteran Thomas Varker Keam acting as an interpreter for the Apache agency in Cimarron reported that the Jicarrila Apache women were making clay pots which were in demand by the Mexicans and baskets.  He also recorded the demand for baskets like these:  the large hamper dates around 1940 and comes from the Wheelwright’s own collection and the square one is earlier from around 1920 and was lent by the Center for Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College.

When Duane Anderson was director of the Indian Arts Research Center at the School of American Research (today known as The School of Advanced Research) in Santa Fe, he brought together 10 Native American potters from various pueblos to create works using micaceous clay.   They were to discuss what was happening to the tradition in recent times.   Interestingly but not surprising a member of the Jicarilla tribe said that they had made the first micaceous pottery but the pueblo potters countered that they had always used micaceous clay in their pottery.  In Anderson’s book “All that Glitters” based on the seminar he concluded that there is no reason to say that one group was first.  Here are two micaceous pieces by Jicarilla potters.  The first by Emanuel Vigil is just called a Free-form pot, 2015 and the other a water jar, 2015 is by Shelden Nuñez-Velarde, both are lent by their respective makers.

I was taken with this woman’s dress, moccasins and legging by Lesao Garcia Velarde from the Goodman collection.  It is dressed with a beaded cape by Taizanita Velarde as are the free standing pair of moccasins (boots) on the side from a private collection.  To see the whole outfit was almost as good as seeing a Jicarilla model in the gallery. Also, the lovely beaded necklace by Thelma Velarde from a private collection shows another of the skills of the Jicarilla artists adding to the impact of the piece.

My final image is something of irresistible appeal, children’s clothing.  These items were collected by Margret J. Voorhees around 1890 and are lent from a private collection.

It is well worth seeing this exhibition.  The arts of the pueblos of the Southwest is generally well known but the culture of the Jicarilla Apaches far less so.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Kiki Smith - Woven Tales

Tony Smith (1912-1980) was famous for his large geometric steel sculptures. While they could be very effective in a sculpture garden, I cannot say I was ever really drawn to them.  For me they were too cold. Not true of his daughter Kiki (1954- ) who was born in West Germany and came to South Orange, New Jersey as an infant.

Kiki Smith has gone in a different direction as an artist.  Her subjects involve sex, birth and regeneration.  In the late 80’s and 90’s after the deaths of her father and her sister she addressed such subjects as AIDS, gender and race.  In recent times her focus has been the human condition in relation to nature.

For me Kiki Smith’s work has been rather haunting and I cannot make up my mind if the exhibition I saw on its last day at the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe was haunting or enchantingly beautiful.

Kiki Smith, together with another of my favorite contemporary artists Chuck Close (1940-), known for his over life size portraits, has revitalized the art of tapestry weaving by turning their digital work into textiles using a programmable loom.

Chelsea Weathers wrote in Art Forum that in Kiki Smith’s talk at Peters Projects she cited the medieval French Apocalypse Tapestry and the weavings of the “hippie movement” as examples of the long tradition to which the eleven tapestries in this show belong.  To make the tapestries she scanned her mixed media collages to create over 9 foot tapestries and programmed a Jacquard Loom to weave a draft of each composition.  She made several revisions as she refined her technique making the images in the words of Ms. Weathers “Other Worldly”.  That is what I believe attracted me.

I have discussed before that you can make up your own mind as to what an image represents and means.  Kiki Smith gave single word titles to her woven images and did not want them on walls next to the hangings so they would not interfere with their visual impact.

Taking four of them chronologically, the first is called “Sky” 2011 and is the least atmospheric, with a figure that appears to me to be more under water than in the sky.  One of my art history teachers in college was an artist and I drove him most days to school and home again.  I remember being in his studio when he was going to have a gallery exhibition and he had all the work done but had not put titles on the pictures, so we rushed around his studio slapping names on the backs of the paintings.  I do not know Kiki Smith’s methodology but it does not matter.  While I am looking at a work of art it is mine and no one else’s, and I am free to decide what I am looking at.

In “Underground” 2012 I thought that the naked man was entwined in tree limbs or roots, but was the artist thinking of some kind of hell since it is underground.  Who knows?

To the artist “Spinners” is clearly about webs, but to me it’s like a light show with moths and bursts of light in between, maybe turning them into butterflies.  At least that is what I see.

Last but not least, “Harbor” 2015, water, rocks and soaring birds.  Are they circling for prey or have they spotted a carcass or is it just a beautiful day to circle around the rock?  There are stars there are clouds is it night or day?  So much to wonder about.

There are ten  tapestries in each edition at the pricey figure of $75,000 each, but if you hang one of these on your wall you don’t need anything else to occupy the space