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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Contemporary Native American Art

Boundary expanding exhibit at Madison’s Chazen Museum

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Mention Native American art and images of clay bowls, basketry and beading come to mind. Those aspects do have a place in “Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 3,” now on display at the Chazen Museum of Art on the UW-Madison campus. But that’s just the beginning.

Changing Hands, organized and curated by New York’s Museum of Arts and Design, is an exploration of contemporary indigenous art crated by Native American craftspeople from east of the Mississippi River. Incorporating new as well as traditional media, the artists explore imagery from their native cultural heritage, as well as the political and social pressures that had an impact on their lives.

“Indian schools,” which many young Native Americans were required to attend against their will, play a prominent role in the imagery. Individual pieces and tableaus also honor the extensive role that Mohawk tribesmen played in the 1930s in erecting the “high steel” that forms the foundation for New York City’s towering skyscrapers.

The 130 pieces represent the work of 85 indigenous artists from the U.S. and Canada. No tribal affiliations are named for the artists. The lack of tribal affiliation has upset some Native Americans visitors to the exhibition who want to know the roots of the individual artists. The exhibition’s subtitle, “without reservation” is a cross-reference both to the cultural reality of the artists and the lack of limitations on the individual works.

The various pieces explore the cultural evolution of North America’s indigenous people, explode the stereotypes surrounding the “Indian” in popular culture, and turn a lens on nature and its influences. An openwork sculpture of willow branches by Truman Lowe, professor emeritus of sculpture at the UW- Madison School of Art, is one of the exhibit’s most engaging and profound pieces.

“Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 3,” the third and final exhibit in the Changing Hands series, runs through April 27 at the Chazen Museum of Art, 750 University Ave., in Madison. Info: www.chazen.wis.edu