April 03, 2015

The Plains Indians Exhibition


I have many books, fiction and non-fiction, as well as movies and music CD's concerning Native American culture as I have been learning about it for many years. Sadly some of the movies are no longer available in DVD format, but some thoughtful person has posted some on You Tube. I have seen a lot of art and artifacts from the South West tribes and have some beautiful Zuni jewellery  but sadly I have not been to any locations where the Plains Indians lived.
Some of my favourite movies are "Dances With Wolves","The Last of the Mohicans","Crazy Horse", "The Broken Chain" and "Sqaunto", and some of these are biopics. 

Two of them are impossible to get on DVD.

Top picture - Daniel Day Lewis and Eric Schweig in "The Last of the Mohicans".
Middle Picture - Michael Greyeyes as "Crazy Horse".
Bottom picture - Adam Beach as "Squanto.

I have had these pictures for years.


Today, March 9th, The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky, a ground-breaking exhibition of Native American art, opens to the public at the Metropolitan Museum. Although indigenous art from North America has been presented at the Museum before, both in the permanent galleries in the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing and in smaller-scale temporary exhibitions, this project represents a certain milestone in the Museum's history.

It focuses on a single region and includes more than 150 works of art that range from ancient stone sculptures made before European contact through painted buffalo hides and items of prestigious regalia to more recent works on paper, paintings, photographs, and a contemporary video installation piece. 

The scope of this exhibition is extremely ambitious, and I am delighted to have been a part of this project as the organizer for the venue here in New York.

The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky was curated by Gaylord Torrence, Fred and Virginia Merrill Senior Curator of American Indian Art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. 

The exhibition first opened at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris almost one year ago and was on view at the Nelson-Atkins Museum last fall. It is not unusual for traveling exhibitions to vary to some extent at each venue. In New York, we have added eleven works of art, most of them from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, that were not seen in earlier versions of the exhibition. In doing so, our goal has been to provide a compelling narrative about the ongoing vitality of Plains art.


Even very early works in the exhibition indicate the importance of cross-cultural dialogue in the Plains region and, as a result, the ongoing transformation and evolution of art practices. For example, the woman's side-fold dress shown (in the clip)  incorporates what must have been considered exotic new media at the time it was made.

In a similar vein, Plains artists of the last quarter of the nineteenth century used recently introduced materials to address persistent concerns, recording their personal histories through narrative art, usually images of battle exploits or visionary experiences made by men. This tradition may be traced to representational images that were carved and painted on cliffs and caves thousands of years ago. Similarly, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and perhaps earlier, biographical images were painted on shields, men's shirts, and tipi covers as a record of their owners' achievements.


A number of such works painted on hide are included in the Plains exhibition. For example, the man's shirt seen above, made by more than one artist from the Missouri River Region, records the war honors of perhaps two individuals in the form of thirty-five warriors drawn in pictographic style, each identifiable by his headgear, clothing, tattoos, body paint, and coiffure. 

Each carries substantial weaponry—bows, arrows, powder horns, and guns—to illustrate the formidable victories of the warrior-artists who kept a tally of their victories and created a visual record of them on this shirt. Paintings like these would have been taken out on the occasion of important social and ceremonial gatherings and brought to life by the recitation of these battle histories.


By Judith Ostrowitz

Much more information and pictures -  with many thanks to The Met. 

Above: Scenes from a buffalo hunt, from the movie, 'Dances with Wolves'.

The others possibly from 'Into The West'.

Music by "Earthsong" by Karunesh (Google PlayeMusiciTunes)                                                                        


 Red Hawk of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on horseback, 1905
 Cited here.

Rare Colour Photos Of Native Americans From The 19th And 20th Century

10 Quotes From a Lakota Indian Chief

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