Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art presents the debut of Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now on view October 6, 2018 to January 7, 2019. Tickets are available here, and general admission is free.
The exhibition, organized by Crystal Bridges, features approximately 80 artworks from the 1950s to today, including paintings, photography, video, textiles, sculptures, performance art, and more, created by 40 Indigenous US and Canadian artists. Artists include Tulsa-based Shan Goshorn, who makes social critiques through baskets, Spiderwoman Theater, three performance-artist sisters who challenge heavy topics with humor and heart, and Cannupa Hanska Luger, creator of the Mirror Shield project for Oceti Sakowin Camp near Standing Rock, North Dakota to be used by the water protectors. Other influential American artists in the exhibition include T.C. Cannon, Kay WalkingStick, as well as Fritz Scholder, Anita Fields, and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, who are part of Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection.
“With sponsored admission, we are excited to welcome all to this exhibition that helps us more actively seek out and include Indigenous voices in contemporary art,” said Rod Bigelow, executive director and chief diversity & inclusion officer of Crystal Bridges. “Art for a New Understandingwas a natural fit for us to develop as an American art museum focused on representing inclusive stories that celebrates diverse perspectives and cultures.”
Recognizing the unique position of Crystal Bridges as a new museum of American art from which to launch a different narrative, Manuela Well-Off-Man, then curator at the museum, proposed a survey of contemporary art by Indigenous artists in 2014. Two years later, independent curator Candice Hopkins and Crystal Bridges curator Mindy Besaw joined her effort to develop Art for a New Understanding.
Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now is organized by Crystal Bridges, and curated by independent curator Candice Hopkins (Tlingit, citizen of Carcross/Tagish First Nation), Mindy Besaw, Crystal Bridges Curator of American Art, and Manuela Well-Off-Man, Chief Curator at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. After the exhibition debuts at Crystal Bridges, it will travel to IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, New Mexico: January 25 – July 19, 2019, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, North Carolina: August 22, 2019 – January 5, 2020, and Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis: February 22 through May 17, 2020.
“This exhibition tells another history of the development of contemporary art and the significant contributions made by Indigenous artists whether it be in expanding the Modernist canon, or questioning the very definition of what constitutes Indigenous art, and with this, American history,” said Candice Hopkins.
“The exhibition is an excellent opportunity for broad audiences to experience the innovative, unique, and personal narratives and processes Native American artists have employed to confront the complexities of contemporary Indigenous life and the contributions they have made to modern and contemporary American art,” said Manuela Well-Off-Man.
“Art for a New Understanding makes critical strides toward supporting important voices, practices, and histories that have informed the art-historical canon but have been largely left out of the canon itself,” said Mindy Besaw. “Like many other institutions, we are taking a hard look at historical bias in an effort to broaden our understanding of contemporary American art and expand our expectation of art made by Native peoples.”
The exhibition is organized chronologically, charting the development of contemporary Indigenous art. The exhibition takes its title from a series of 23 sculptures made by artist Brian Jungen between 1998 and 2003. His Prototypes for New Understanding take consumer items (Nike Air Jordans) and transform them into sculptures that reference Northwest Coast masks. Jungen’s sculptures call attention to the ways images in popular culture shape an understanding of Indigenous peoples.
This exhibition aims to provide a new understanding of contemporary art by bringing Indigenous voices front and center. All of the artists in this exhibition are Indigenous—Native American, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. The artists come from different parts of what is now known as the United States and Canada and bring many distinctive perspectives, traditions, and contemporary experiences to their art, sometimes reexamining history in the process.
Artist Athena LaTocha created her painting, Ozark (Shelter in Place) (2018), on site in Northwest Arkansas after spending a week in the bluff shelters of the Pea Ridge National Military Park where she made drawings and lead impressions of the rock. The entire cultural history of the land impacts LaTocha’s work—in this case, the Trail of Tears and the Civil War.
“One thing that is important is being in the land, really being present there inside the landscape itself,” said LaTocha. “Landscape is not merely something you look upon or look at from a window.”
Artist Kent Monkman takes inspiration from nineteenth-century American art in his painting History is Painted by the Victors (2013). He reimagines a landscape, based on an Albert Bierstadt painting. But, unlike Bierstadt’s vision of a landscape that was pristine and unpopulated, Monkman populates his work with figures representing Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his men enjoying a relaxing moment prior to their defeat by Plains Indian tribes at the Battle of Greasy Grass (also called the Battle of Little Bighorn) in 1876. Monkman uses American art history to expose the immorality of Manifest Destiny, a European-American belief that justified the expansion of the US throughout the continent. In reality, the American West was already populated by millions of Indigenous peoples and the settlers’ expansion led to government policies of annihilation, assimilation, and widespread removal of Indigenous peoples from their lands. Monkman tells the story from the Indigenous perspective, questioning the dominant narrative told by the victors.
“Most of my work challenges history, or rather dominant versions of history. Western artists looking at indigenous art, indigenous people, indigenous cultures,” said Monkman.
Spiderwoman Theater, also featured in the exhibition, has challenged stereotypes and championed feminism for more than 40 years, using humor, history, and heart. Founded in 1976 by sisters Lisa Mayo, Gloria Miguel, and Muriel Miguel, Spiderwoman Theater is the oldest continually running women’s theater company in North America. Bridging cultural art forms of storytelling, dance, and music with the practice of contemporary Western theater, the troupe calls their technique, “story weaving.” Their name comes from the Hopi legend of Spiderwoman, who taught the people to weave–a metaphor for the practice of weaving stories within theater.
Art Installations Found Outside the Gallery
An art installation called Freeze will be featured in the museum’s courtyard beginning October 5 until the structure melts. Freeze, a time-based artwork first performed in 2006 by Rebecca Belmore and Osvaldo Yero, incorporates a large block of ice carved with the name “Stonechild,” the name of a Native teenager left to freeze to death by Saskatoon police. Over time, the ice will melt—evidence that the body, too, will disappear. Freeze will be on display until it melts. Then, a time-lapse video of the installation will represent the piece for the exhibition.
On the corner of Second and Main Streets in downtown Bentonville, visitors can experience a large-scale mural painted by artist Yatika Fields (whose mother, Anita Fields, is also in the exhibition). Fields will also be a featured artist in Fort Smith’s The Unexpected public art festival running October 22-28, with a gallery show of his paintings. The museum and the festival have collaborated to ensure that visitors to both exhibitions are able to view a wide range of art and diverse perspectives.
Opening Week and Programming
The opening week includes the Art for a New Understanding member preview and opening lecture on Friday, October 5. Throughout the duration of the exhibition, Crystal Bridges is offering a full roster of programs inspired by the show with many classes that feature Art for a New Understanding artists as the instructors. The exhibition programs include:
In addition, the museum offers resources designed to provide access to enriching art experiences:
Admission sponsored by The Christy and John Mack Foundation. Sponsored by Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, National Endowment for the Humanities, Annenberg Foundation, Bass Pro Shops, National Endowment for the Arts, ConAgra Brands, Arkansas Humanities Council, Becky and Bob Alexander, Frank and Pat Bailey, James and Emily Bost, Government of Canada, Randy and Valorie Lawson / Lawco Energy Group, Kyle, Maury and Finn Peterson, and The Sotheby’s Prize.
This exhibition has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit www.arts.gov.
This project is supported in part by a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art was recognized as part of the inaugural Sotheby’s Prize with a commendation that applauds the breadth and depth of ambitious exhibition research for Art for a New Understanding. The Sotheby’s Prize jury believes this exhibition will be a turning point in our understanding of this field.