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The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky
March 9 - May 10, 2015
A major exhibition featuring extraordinary works created by Native American people of the Plains region is on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, from March 9 to May 10, 2015. Bringing together more than 150 iconic works from European and North American collections -- many never before seen in a public exhibition in North America -- The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky explores the beauty, power, and spiritual resonance of Plains Indian art. Ranging from an ancient stone pipe and painted robes to drawings, paintings, collages, photographs, and a contemporary video installation, the exhibition reflects the significant place that Plains Indian culture holds in the heritage of North America and in European history. It also conveys the continuum of hundreds of years of artistic tradition, maintained against a backdrop of monumental cultural change. A selection of modern and contemporary works not seen at other venues of the exhibition provides a compelling narrative about the ongoing vitality of Plains art.
The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky was organized by the Musée du quai Branly, Paris, in collaboration with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and in partnership with The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City.
(above: Painted Robe, ca. 1700-1740. Eastern Plains artist, probably Illinois, Mid-Mississippi River basin. Native tanned leather, pigment. Paris (France), Musée du quai Branly, 71.1878.32.134)
Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum, said: "Through outstanding works of art from the Plains region, this ambitious exhibition demonstrates the long history of change and creative adaptation that characterizes Native American art. It is an important opportunity to highlight the artistic traditions that are indigenous to North America and to present them in the context of the Met's global collections."
The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky is curated by Gaylord Torrence, Fred and Virginia Merrill Senior Curator of American Indian Art at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. In New York, the exhibition is organized by Judith Ostrowitz, Ph.D., Research Associate in the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the Metropolitan Museum.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated 320-page catalogue, The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Skywith essays by leading experts, edited by Torrence.
The exhibition is made possible by the Enterprise Holdings Endowment, an Anonymous Foundation, and the Diane W. and James E. Burke Fund.
Works on View
Drawn from 81 institutions and private collections in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States, the exhibition represents the art traditions of many Native Nations. The distinct Plains aesthetic is revealed through an array of forms and media: sculptural works in stone, wood, antler, and shell; porcupine quill and glass-bead embroidery; feather work; painted robes; ornamented clothing; composite works; and ceremonial objects, works on paper, paintings, and photography.
Organized chronologically, the first gallery showcases pre-contact works, including important sculptural pieces in stone and shell. One of the highlights in this room is the 2,000-year-old Human Effigy Pipe made of pipestone, depicting a deified ancestor or mythical hero. Influential works from adjacent regions are included in this section.
The 19th-century works in the exhibition include key pieces long associated with westward expansion. Among them are calumets, the long and elaborate pipes shared and given as gifts in the systems of protocol that were developed to establish diplomacy and trade between Europeans and the inhabitants of the "New World" whom they encountered on the Plains.
The reintroduction of the horse to North America by the Spanish, beginning at the end of the 16th century, revolutionized Plains Indians cultures in many ways -- particularly as a boon to the buffalo hunt. In the exhibition, there is a section presenting some of the best examples of 19th-century horse gear, weapons, clothing, and shields associated with a florescence of culture in the area. One highlight among them is a Lakota horse effigy, believed to honor and memorialize a horse that died in battle as the result of multiple gunshot wounds.
The substantial changes brought on by reservation life, beginning in the 19th century, engendered various artistic responses, ranging from instances of assimilation to acts of resistance to confinement. They are conveyed by several masterworks in the exhibition, including important regalia used for the practice of prophetic religions. Among them are an elaborate bead-embroidered Otoe-Missouria Faw Faw coat with symbols, associated with ceremonialism and the desire to restore balance in a world that had become untenable; and a richly painted Arapaho Ghost Dance dress with visionary symbols associated with ritual practices.
Record books, paper, pencils, and ink were introduced on the Plains during the last quarter of the 19th century by settlers and traders. Among many fine examples of those included in the exhibition, the highlight will be The Maffet Ledger, a book consisting of 105 drawings, created by more than 20 Northern and Southern Cheyenne warrior artists to record their exploits in battle.
Modern and contemporary works of art are exhibited near the end of the exhibition. Traditional-style works were still produced in the early 20th century for Wild West shows, agricultural fairs, and Fourth of July parades, and for the powwow, inter-tribal opportunities for the celebration of culture, dance, and art. Watercolors and "easel paintings" grew from long-standing Plains graphic traditions and through dialogue with other Native North American regions by the mid-20th century. Many fine examples of paintings from the era are presented in the exhibition. Brilliantly executed beaded works by such artists as Joyce and Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty (b. 1950 and b. 1969, both Assiniboine-Sioux), Rhonda Holy Bear (b. 1959(?), Sans Arc, Two Kettle and Hunkpapa Lakota), and Jodi Gillette (b. 1959, Hunkpapa Lakota) will also be included in the exhibition.
The final gallery also sheds new light on 20th- and 21st-century
works by artists of Plains descent, as well as by Native American artists
from outside the region who have been inspired by its traditions.
On view in this gallery is one element of Edgar Heap of Bird's (b. 1954,
Cheyenne and Arapaho) site-specific installation Building Minnesota (1990),
as well as a captivating four-channel video installation piece by Dana Claxton
(b. 1959, Hunkpapa Lakota) called Rattle (2003) that incorporates
the rhythmic images, colors, and sounds of artistic and spiritual life on
the Plains, a perspective that endures in the exhibition galleries through
the application of 21st-century media. (right: Jamie Okuma, Shoshone,
b. 1977, Glendale, California. Adaptation, 2011 Shoes designed by
Christian Louboutin, Paris (Chaotic 100 ankle boots), glass and 24k gold-plated
beads, and polyester tassels, each: 6 1/2 x 3 3/8 x 8 1/2 inches. The Nelson-Atkins
Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Purchase: the A. Keith Brodkin Fund
for the Acquisition of Contemporary American Indian Art. 2011.42.a,b.)
In conjunction with the exhibition, an array of education programs are being offered
On March 15, 2015 there was a Sunday at the Met panel discussion with contemporary artists Edgar Heap of Birds and Dana Claxton, moderated by Mario A. Caro. It was followed by comments from Jodi Gillette, artist and Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs for President Obama's Domestic Policy Council, as well as by an original performance with video projections composed for the Metropolitan Museum by Ms. Claxton. A gallery talk by Native American artist Brad Kahlhamer (March 13) and a printmaking workshop by Edgar Heap of Birds (March 14) was also presented.
In the Audio Guide program, which offers a tour of the exhibition, the curators and contemporary Native artists discuss the rich artistic traditions of Plains culture as seen in painting, drawing, embroidery, and sculpture. The Audio Guide is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
About the Exhibition's Photographic Backdrop
In New York, the walls of the galleries will be decorated
with panoramic photographs of earth and sky printed on theatrical scrim.
The photographs were taken by Shania Hall, an enrolled member of the Blackfeet
tribe, on Molly's Nipple Road on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Ms. Hall
lives in Missoula, Montana.
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