On a recent trip to Phoenix, Arizona for the annual American Alliance for Museums convention, I was able to visit the Heard Museum in downtown. The Heard Museum offers one of the largest spaces in the country dedicated solely to Native American art. Since its founding in 1929, the museum has been dedicated to the advancement of American Indian art, presenting their stories from a first-point perspective, as well as showcasing a massive permanent collection of traditional artifacts. Through this mission, the Heard Museum has provided visitors with a distinctive perspective from the Native populations of the United States, and specifically those of the Southwest.
Among their stunning permanent collections and numerous exhibition spaces, the Heard had also just opened their mid-career retrospective on Native Alaskan and Tlingit-Unangax artist Nicholas Galanin. Galanin's mainly conceptual work discusses the misappropriation of American Indian aesthetics, colonialism, and issues of authority and agency. Through various mediums including installation, video and sculpture, Galanin provides provoking material that is rife with context and history. Forgotten stories of past transgressions and current horrors of modern society, Galanin utilizes associative imagery that is frequently seen, and commonly misrepresented, to set the platform for these dialogues.
Suspended from the high ceiling, porcelain arrows fly in an arc, casting shadows on the opposite wall. A familiar tool used by the American Indian, reimagined through material. In I Dreamt I Could Fly, Galanin uses porcelain covered in blue deltware patterns to symbolize the colonial restrictions placed on Indigenous cultures. Usually a weapon for survival, these fragile arrows would be useless in combat, shattering on contact. This metaphorical use of the arrow links to the dream of sovereignty and the institutional and historical restrictions that make up the inherent challenges of its success. A systemic problem that is shared by many cultures within the United States.
Galanin uses this element to reclaim many lost histories and aspects of his colonized culture. In the Imaginary Indian Series, Galanin utilizes several mass-produced Native Alaskan-looking objects made in Indonesia to discern past events through their association. As a part of this series, Imaginary Indian Totem, inhabits a corner of the gallery space that is covered in a vibrant, fruit wallpaper. This wallpaper is from 1866, produced by Britain's Morris & Co., which is then matched with a Indonesian-made totem. The wallpaper, and the totem, showcase the forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples under the colonial rule and the resulting misappropriation of their traditions that we still frequently see today.
Endlessly steeped in thoughtful narrative, Galanin's pieces work to give new perspective to its viewers, altering the lens towards a more acknowledged future.
See more of this exhibition at the Heard Museum and more of Nicholas Galanin.
Title Image: Nicholas Galanin, Imaginary Indian Totem, 2016. Courtesy of Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.
I must say however, I rekindled my love for Hockney through his photography collages, or as he called them "joiners". Beginning with Polaroids and subsequently moving onto 35mm color prints, Hockney shot an image at slightly different perspectives and different times, and then patching the photos back together to create a composite image. As a study of movement, Hockney was interested in understanding human vision and these subtleties can be seen throughout the work. While some are more straight forward, such as Chair (above), where there are clear delineations between the lines, the only tell tale sign that it is not one image cut into pieces is the apparent shadow movement. There are then pieces such as Pearblossom Highway, 11-18th April, 1986, #2, in which Hockney used 800 color prints to create a massive, more abstracted scene. Layered skies and deserts create its own semblance of an image while producing an insanely structured texture. With a similar saturated color palette, Hockney's observing takes on a new light and is once again playful, stimulating, and ever so unique.
Although this was a small selection of Hockney's ever-increasing experiments, it only further established how Hockney has successfully embraced and evolved with mediums throughout his career. In his eightieth year of life, Hockney continues to astound and remains an international gem.
A long standing program curated by the Orange County Museum of Art, the California Pacific Triennial began as a biennial focused on featuring contemporary art from artists working along the Pacific Ocean rim. In this second Triennial year, OCMA is showcasing 25 artists, a comprehensive mix of residents from Victoria, Canada all the way over to Brisbane, Australia. In this very interactive show, these artists delved into the concepts of architecture and how it relates to our society and histories. Among the themes were thoughts on home and displacement, elements of preservation and innovation, and its temporary nature that is continually evolving around us.
This installation heavy show offered many opportunities to interact with the work. From Carmen Argote's sculptural inspired garments that the viewers can actually wear to Super Critical Mass's floor game that spanned a whole hallway, California Pacific Triennial allowed these artists to encompass these spaces and even transform the building itself. Santiago Borja's multiple interpretations of a poem about graves as architectural mounds led to a cut hole in the concrete floor, a physical representation of the grave itself. As an ode to the exhibition's main theme, the temporary and transformative nature of architecture, each installation felt free from any artistic hindrance.
My favorite room space included two artists, both exploring architecture's evolution and relationship with society. Centrally located within the room resides a large, steel skeleton structure. Silent videos describe how the structure can provide a multi-purpose space for communities that could benefit from a "town square" or cultural area. Created by Estudio Teddy Cruz and Forman, the structure acts as a farmer's market, gallery, town hall, meeting room, auditorium, and the list goes on. The construction of the building allows the inhabitants a versatile shelter unit that is minimal, but highly effective. Inspired by their work in Tijuana, this San Diego-based artistic collaboration centers their creation on the need for community.
On the walls surrounding this piece, Alex Slate's photographs depict a different scene, one in which urban development is changing the landscape of Los Angeles. Large, beautiful and unyielding, Slate's photographs offer a look into the evolutionary movement that architecture in cities is taking. In complete contrast with one another, these two works showcase the societal difference that is displayed through architecture.
Just like any successful triennial or biennial should, the artists involved discuss important themes and elements that are critical to consider from all angles of the planet. Rare opportunities such as these bring these voices together allowing the participants a space to examine a worldwide perspective seen through visual art.
One of my all time favorite artists of the era, Jay DeFeo, was featured multiple times in the exhibition. The minimal use of Frankenthaler's oils are completely juxtaposed with DeFeo's outlandish use of the medium. Infamous for pieces that are six inches thick, DeFeo utilizes the material more like frosting than paint. The result is otherworldly texture that depicts the visceral feelings of DeFeo's gesture. Always a presence in the room, Defeo's pieces are impossible to contain visually and infinitely entertaining to view.
Women Of Abstract Expressionism proved to be as historically critical as advertised, signifying the need to continue examining art historical movements with a different gaze and featuring minority individuals who are rarely seen.