Eiteljorg Museum

Indianapolis, IN

(317) 636-9378


Gifts of the Spirit: Works by 19th Century and Contemporary Native American Artists


"People take art and Native American culture so seriously. But there's humor there, and one can learn from it," said Jennifer Complo, curator of contemporary art at the Eiteljorg Museum.

Complo was referring specifically to the next exhibition coming to the Eiteljorg. Gifts of the Spirit: Works by Nineteenth-Century and Contemporary Native American Artists opens June 6. The exhibit features some of the finest ancient artworks in existence, as well as works by today's foremost Native American artists.

Several pieces will make viewers smile or even laugh out loud. A "Winking Mask," made by an Inuit artist in the late 19th century, is a fox who appears to be winking. The mask may have been used in a ceremony where the wearer assumed the role of the animal. Is he teasing the hunter? And is Richard Glazer-Danay teasing viewers with his "Bingo War Bonnet"? It's a construction worker's hard hat decorated with stars, leather, a watch face, letters that spell BINGO and plastic eyes that roll.

As the "Winking Mask" pokes fun at the underlying seriousness of the foxhunt, "Bingo War Bonnet" takes a playful look at the serious problems and ironies associated with being a Native American living in mainstream society.

These two pieces illustrate the past and the present - and the parts of each that remain constant no matter what the era in which they were made. Gifts of the Spirit consists of 187 pieces spanning the 18th, 19th and 20th" centuries. Historical and contemporary images are juxtaposed to explore three concepts: the individuality of artistic expression, the tradition of innovation in Native American art, and creativity as a spiritual gift that helps people share ideas and values.

Abobe Right: Winking Mask, Inuit, late 19th century. Wood and paint. Collection of the Peabody Essex Museum. Gift of Ellen A. Stone, 1908. Photograph by Mark Sexton. The wearer of this mask may have assumed the role of the fox in a pantomime of the hunt. Its half-closed eye gives the fox a sly look and adds a spark of humor to the serious subject matter.

Above Left: Bingo War Bonnet, Richard Glazer-Danay (Caughnawaga Mohawk), 1995. Hardhat and acrylic paint. Loaned by the artist. Photograph by Mark Sexton. "One should not take this business of art too seriously. I often wonder why humorous art is not accorded the legitimacy that so-called 'high art' [has]," wrote the artist.

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rev. 11/26/10

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