Home Arts An awaited retrospective for an artist in contact with the dark “belly” of America

An awaited retrospective for an artist in contact with the dark “belly” of America

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The Whitney Museum of American Art’s latest retrospective features works evoking artists the institution has championed for decades. There are canvases reusing advertising iconography in the manner of Andy Warhol. There are paintings structured around the map and flag of the United States that evoke Jasper Johns. And there are multimedia works incorporating newspaper clippings and other printed images that evoke Robert Rauschenberg’s collage aesthetic. They are all by Yellow Quick-to-See Smith, an artist and citizen activist from the Confederate Salish and Kootenai Nation, whose retrospective is the first by a Native American artist the Whitney has held since it opened 92 years ago. It comes at a time of institutional awareness and self-reflection for American museums.

“The biggest thing that happened was Black Lives Matter, George Floyd, and Standing Rock — which started shaking up some of the institutions in this country and shaking their cages,” Smith said. “It was clear there was a belly in this country that wasn’t happy with the way things are.”

Organized by Laura Phipps, Assistant Curator at the Whitney, Memory card brings together more than 100 paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings made over nearly five decades. Quite rightly, a place of honor in the exhibition is given to Indian map (1992), Smith’s first painting structured around the map of the United States.

“I started with the premise that the map didn’t belong to Jasper Johns, the map was an abstract image of stolen land in this country, so how could I turn the map into a new story?” says the artist. “I had a real struggle with that.”

Smith layered the canvas with fragments of newspaper headlines, entire articles, advertisements and more. The toasty composition is dominated by thick strokes of red, orange and pink that evoke smeared blood but also petroglyphs like those near Smith’s home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The composition is punctuated by collaged photographs of Native Americans taken by ethnologist Edward Curtis, who helped disseminate images and an idea of ​​his sitters as historical subjects of a bygone era.

Throughout the exhibit, Smith strives to resist Euro-American narratives and stereotypes about Native Americans, often relying on satire and humor. His 1994 lithograph Modern times, for example, appropriates the logo of an industrial apple grower – an icon of a generic native figure wearing a colorful feathered headdress – and affixes it to the body of a man in a business suit. Indigenous peoples are complex, contemporary individuals living today, the work slyly asserts, not static signifiers of ancient history.

For Smith, the colonization of the Americas, the systemic mistreatment of Indigenous peoples and people of color, and the destruction of the environment are all connected, and some of the largest paintings in the exhibition bring all of these themes together with great force. . Among them is Canoe trade for the North Pole (2017), a 13-foot-wide painting of a canoe navigating icy blue waters. On board are three palm trees, drawing fragments and pasted-on elements including some of Smith’s distinctive animal figures such as the buffalo and the coyote. Near the bow of the canoe, a pasted newspaper clipping issues a stern warning: “Listen to the humans.

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