Crystal Bridges, Bentonville, Arkansas
October 6, 2018-January 7, 2019
The upcoming exhibition, Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices 1950s to Now, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, highlights the work of modern Indigenous artists from the U.S. and Canada in their half dozen galleries that showcase the artwork, as well as views of the landscape. The museum itself is set into a ravine straddling Crystal Spring, from which it draws its name. The exhibition will host more than eighty distinct artworks in various media—from acrylic paintings to photography to sculpture and performance art. The range of work to be shown underlines the missions of Art for a New Understanding: to challenge the conventional narratives that surround Indigenous art and to confront stereotypes of what Indigenous art looks like. To that end, as the museum’s promotion materials say, visitors are able to “discover new stories.”
Artists carving out those stories include the likes of Dana Claxton, a feminist Lakota artist working in film, photography, and performance art, whose work asks questions about beauty, femininity, and the experiences and conceptions of Indigenous women in today’s world. A photograph of her piece Headdress, which Claxton created by disassembling her own jewelry to fashion a new piece, depicts the headdress on a model, a veil of beads obscuring her face. Its loaded imagery highlights the artist’s and the exhibition’s larger questions: Who is seen? Whose beauty and traditions are appropriated? How are Indigenous women recognized and understood today?
Performance art collective Spiderwoman Theater, based in New York City, will explore some of these themes, too, through workshops hosted by Muriel Miguel, who has directed most of the twenty-some plays the collective has created since the mid-’70s. Canvas work by Cree artist Kent Monkman is also on hand, urging viewers to consider the construction of history and challenging its entrenched hierarchies. His oil paintings hearken back to the old masters and cast contemporary Indigenous struggles, like at Standing Rock, into those scenes. The work considers, even now, how history will remember these events, while challenging the canon as it is known. Who does the gazing? And who is gazing back? The show builds a timeline by including, for example, the work of designer Lloyd Kiva New, who influenced Monkman, and, of course, has strong ties to New Mexico as one of the founders of the Institute of American Indian Arts.
Art for a New Understanding has a considerable run in Bentonville—from October 6 into the new year, closing on January 7, 2019. In conjunction with the exhibition are a series of educational workshops, discussions, and film screenings addressing the translation of Native languages, Indigenous identity, and more, as well as opportunities to take classes led by featured artists.