- Ndn Art: Contemporary Native American Art
Ndn Art: Contemporary Native American Art comes after an exhibition by the same name curated by Charleen Touchette at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). Unlike a number of exhibition catalogs, Touchette takes a hands-off approach to critical essays or commentary about the individual work. In her introduction she traces a social history of ndn art, making long stops at the influential IAIA and Indian markets and galleries in New Mexico.
Suzanne Deats's one-page artist profiles start with an epigraph and then go into biographical information showing the kind of connection an artist has had with New Mexico and/or IAIA as well as blood ties to other ndn artists. Each profile ends with a list of the artist's educational and professional trajectory, important exhibitions, and collections/collectors. Deats's writing is often poetic and elegant although occasionally clumsy or monotonous; for example, using a quote from one of Dorothy Grandbois' photographic subjects as Grandbois' epigraph seems whimsical, since it says little to nothing about Grandbois. However, Deats's quest to write a unique epigraph for each artist would tax the most well versed writer.
Ndn Art shows beautiful photographic reproductions of the artwork in the five color pages following the profile of each artist. Of course, photographs more successfully capture two-dimensional works. The texture of Fritz Scholder's paint and the stitches of Margaret Woods's quilts show clearly here. Conversely, we get only a slim approximation of sculpture and other three-dimensional [End Page 229] works. Even so, most of the three-dimensional pieces come off well, such as the dynamic undulations of lava in Christine Noffchissey McHorse's Vesuvius, a micaceous clay vessel, and the sheen and fur texture of Michael Naranjo's bronze figure The Deer Hunter. The exceptions are Charlene Teeter's installations, which I felt I viewed through blinders, and the flat feel of Armond Lara's mixed media paintings.
The book shows work from persons from a wide range of tribal affiliations and geographic starting points, although the majority are from the Southwest. Joanna Bigfeather, a past curator/director of the American Indian Community House Gallery in Manhattan, once said that "everyone passes through here," meaning Native American artists of all kinds come through New York City. Charleen Touchette posits that New Mexico—specifically, the IAIA and various Indian markets and galleries in Santa Fe and elsewhere—is another place through which many ndn artists pass. In Ndn Art she includes artists with some affiliation to New Mexico, whether as members of the IAIA start-up faculty in 1962 or coming later, as IAIA students over the years, or as ndn artists looking for a beneficent marketplace. Many of the artists profiled are from the Southwest.
While I find Touchette's reason for making New Mexico her center valid, so much of what many assume to be "Indian" or "Indian art" draws on southwestern images. And even though the works of the ndn artists included are individual both to a person and to his or her tribal affiliation, the idea of the Southwest—the hot dry air and colors that Georgia O'Keeffe painted and D. H. Lawrence described in essays—being the birthplace of ndn art permeates this volume. This privileging of place gets in the way of some of Touchette's more important points and the fact that the works and artists represent many tribes and traditions.
If Touchette and Deats attempt, like Jamake Highwater and others, to move ndn art out of natural history museums and the tourist curio trade and into the fine art world in the minds and purses of readers and viewers, they capitalize on tradition. Tradition can be familial, as the authors highlight the artistic dynasties of both male and female parents and children, with some grandchildren and other relatives. One example features the work of painter Dan Namingha, son of noted potter Dextra Nampeyo Quotskuyva, and the sculptures of Dan's son Arlo Namingha...