This year, when collectors flood in for
, casting countless shutter lenses, interpretations and intentions on Native art, it will be amid the ongoing celebration for the 400th anniversary of Santa Fe’s founding by Spanish colonialists. As such, the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts has rallied a response—and not a century too soon.
Of the six diverse and uneven exhibitions that opened concurrently at the museum,
’s is the most notable. The American Indian arts collective takes on the celebration of the 400th in a three-part exhibition. The collective’s conceptual piece, “If History Moves at the Speed of Its Weapons, Then the Shape of the Arrow Is Changing,” is a sound installation of eight stereo channels and loudspeakers in a gold-painted room. A ballistic analysis of four Pueblo Revolt-era weapons creates a “sonic ambush” that feels like the moment before one is struck by a car.
“That’s where that noise is coming from,” one museumgoer said as he entered and quickly exited the room.
Equally snarkily titled and destabilizing is “It’s My Second Home, But I Have a Very Spiritual Connection with This Place,” a four-channel video and sound installation. Footage from sundry Santa Fe locales is displaced by incongruous sounds, creating less a longing for a calmer distant past than a nauseating sense that nothing is right in the land.
The crown-jewel of PostCommod-ity’s intentionally repellent artwork—a taxidermied mule deer cut down its center, strung 15 feet in the air and left visible to downtown crowds—will only be up from Aug. 18-22.
During a test run in late July, the piece met complaints. “They’re not seeing a beautiful Navajo rug being weaved; they’re seeing the brutality of our existence,” PostCommodity member Kade L Twist
Twist says the complaints had no bearing on the exhibit’s duration, which always was intended just for Indian Market. Like a deer hung after a hunt, it’s a time-sensitive affair, Twist says.
But the complaints amassed during the piece’s test run demonstrate its raison d’être: to illustrate the boundaries in which Native art and expression are acceptable—sovereign to a point. The piece is brash, sensational and completely effective—that is, while it’s installed. Revisionist history can’t be combatted in four days.
Nicholas Galanin, fortunately, is in for the long haul. His Imaginary Indian series has Northwest Coast totems and masks—and masks within masks—parade beneath a blanket of pastoral red-and-white wallpaper.
Like artist Kara Walker—whose famous work reduces racial identity to silhouettes of grotesque racial stereotypes—Galanin pares down the Northwest Coast’s identities to masks and totems, and hides them outrageously below toile featuring idyllic tableaux of happy white families.
Both artists take back appropriated representations and make a play of rendering them invisible. The attempt to sequester, however, makes them even more distinct.
Nearby, The Curtis Legacy references photographer Edward Curtis and his noble savages. Within the blown-up photos, faintly lit female nudes stand provocatively while wearing Indonesian Tlingit masks that resemble the aforementioned nested Northwest Coast masks. The photos’ soft edges and risqué poses come off like ’50s calendar pinups of the behind-the-counter variety.
Regardless of whether the works cheapen, explode or advance their subject matter, the photos—especially in conjunction with the other exhibitions—are obviously loaded.
The works are glib, uncouth and irreverent—perfect for a museum open to making statements that will be meaningful long after Indian Market patrons head home.