Sunday, March 17, 2024

Coast to Coast to Coast

If you have followed my Missives for a while, you know that we collect Native American Art, the vast majority of the pieces being Hopi with a fair number of others from Pueblos in the Southwest. Needless, to say there is Native American art from many other areas. “Coast to Coast to Coast; Indigenous Art from the McMichael Canadian Art Collection” currently on view at the Albuquerque Museum presents particularly striking examples. The title is not a misprint, for this exhibition looks at both historic and contemporary Indigenous art from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic coasts.

The source of the art in this show is a museum that was started by private collectors, photographer Robert McMichael, and his wife, Signe. They started collecting Canadian art in 1952 and in 1965 donated not only 194 paintings but also their house to the province of Ontario. At first, the McMichael’s continued to live there as unpaid curators and open by appointment and to the public on Sundays. Over the years both the building space and collections grew into many different areas of Canadian and Indigenous art ...

The exhibition is absolutely stunning with works of art in many media. There is so much to draw from that I am illustrating just a few of my favorite things.

One of the first to greet you is a painting by Kent Monkman, Cree, “Wedding at Sodom”, 2017. Here the artist focuses on the allegory of the American frontier to speak about transgender and gender nonconformity at the forefront of contemporary culture.

One of the earliest pieces in the show is a Raven Rattle created around 1860. Good that it was protected in a vitrine because I was so tempted to make off with it.😎. It is attributed to Albert Edward Edenshaw, Haida, because of its similarity to a similar piece attributed to the artist in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The label tells us that “This reclining bear figure usually signifies a shaman in the process of transformation from human into an animal form. It denotes the connected tongues of the transfer of esoteric knowledge between the animal and human spirit worlds.”

I am far from an expert, but this Transformation Mask made by Art Thompson in 2002 is the greatest I have ever seen. It was made for trade but recalls a ceremony in which one being can suddenly be transformed into another. The label informs that it illustrates a popular story in Coast Salish culture, “Here the whale on the exterior of the mask opens to reveal Pook-Ubs, the spirit of a drowned sailor who has been eaten by the whale”.

Button blankets are always fascinating and, as far as I know, it is a unique art of the Pacific Northwest. Here is one by Jut-Ke-Nay, Haida, in 1997 called “Legend of the Golden Spruce”. This button blanket is part of a series about a 300-year-old tree of special significance to the Haida which was cut down by a non-indigenous logger in that year.

“Iceberg Ice” is by Timootee (Tim) Pitsiulak, a skilled Inuit hunter as well as an artist. Unfortunately, he died the year after creating his masterpiece in 2015. He was a keen observer, and this is clearly a commentary on climate change in our world today. The large-scale image is created entirely with colored pencil on paper.

Finally, there are three stunning masks made in 2005 by the artist Henry Speck, Jr. hereditary chief of the Tlowitsis people. “They evoke 3 stages of transformation of the Hamat’sa Raven, a great cannibal bird that came from the north and would scoop people up and take them away”. Speck danced these masks in various villages in Alert Bay. The dance occurred at important occasions such as weddings when loved ones were lost, and at naming ceremonies.

You have one month left to see “Coast to Coast to Coast” and pick your own favorites. I urge you to make an effort to get to the Albuquerque Museum before the show closes on April 21, 2024.

No comments:

Post a Comment