A major exhibition (Exhibition location: Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, Second Floor, Gallery 999) featuring extraordinary works created by Native American people of the Plains region will go on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, beginning March 9. Bringing together more than 150 iconic works from European and North American collections—many never before seen in a public exhibition in North America—The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky (made possible by the Enterprise Holdings Endowment, an Anonymous Foundation, and the Diane W. and James E. Burke Fund and organized by the Musée du quai Branly, Paris, in collaboration with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and in partnership with The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City ) will explore the beauty, power, and spiritual resonance of Plains Indian art. Ranging from an ancient stone pipe and painted robes to drawings, paintings, collages, photographs, and a contemporary video installation, the exhibition will reflect the significant place that Plains Indian culture holds in the heritage of North America and in European history. Many nations are represented—Osage, Quapaw, Omaha, Crow, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Lakota, Blackfeet, Pawnee, Kiowa, Comanche, Mesquakie, Kansa and others. It will also convey the continuum of hundreds of years of artistic tradition, maintained against a backdrop of monumental cultural change. A selection of modern and contemporary works not seen at other venues of the exhibition will provide a compelling narrative about the ongoing vitality of Plains art. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky.
The exhibition was previously on view at Musée du quai Branly, Paris (April 7–July 20, 2014) and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (September 19, 2014–January 11, 2015) before arriving in New York City. In New York, the walls of the galleries –as a special feature of the exhibition–will be decorated with panoramic photographs of earth and sky printed on theatrical scrim. The photographs were taken by Shania Hall, an enrolled member of the Blackfeet tribe, on Molly’s Nipple Road on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Ms. Hall lives in Missoula, Montana.
Drawn from 81 institutions and private collections in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States, the exhibition will represent the art traditions of many Native Nations. The distinct Plains aesthetic will be revealed through an array of forms and media: sculptural works in stone, wood, antler, and shell; porcupine quill and glass-bead embroidery; feather work; painted robes; ornamented clothing; composite works; and ceremonial objects, works on paper, paintings, and photography.
Organized chronologically, the first gallery will showcase pre-contact works, including important sculptural pieces in stone and shell. One of the highlights in this room will be the 2,000-year-oldHuman Effigy Pipe made of pipestone, depicting a deified ancestor or mythical hero. Influential works from adjacent regions are included in this section.
The 19th-century works in the exhibition will include key pieces long associated with westward expansion. Among them are calumets, the long and elaborate pipes shared and given as gifts in the systems of protocol that were developed to establish diplomacy and trade between Europeans and the inhabitants of the “New World” whom they encountered on the Plains.
The reintroduction of the horse to North America by the Spanish, beginning at the end of the 16th century, revolutionized Plains Indians cultures in many ways—particularly as a boon to the buffalo hunt. In the exhibition, there will be a section presenting some of the best examples of 19th-century horse gear, weapons, clothing, and shields associated with a florescence of culture in the area. One highlight among them is a Lakota horse effigy, believed to honor and memorialize a horse that died in battle as the result of multiple gunshot wounds.
The substantial changes brought on by reservation life, beginning in the 19th century, engendered various artistic responses, ranging from instances of assimilation to acts of resistance to confinement. They will be conveyed by several masterworks in the exhibition, including important regalia used for the practice of prophetic religions. Among them are an elaborate bead-embroidered Otoe-Missouria Faw Faw coat with symbols, associated with ceremonialism and the desire to restore balance in a world that had become untenable; and a richly painted Arapaho Ghost Dance dress with visionary symbols associated with ritual practices.
Record books, paper, pencils, and ink were introduced on the Plains during the last quarter of the 19th century by settlers and traders. Among many fine examples of those included in the exhibition, the highlight will be The Maffet Ledger, a book consisting of 105 drawings, created by more than 20 Northern and Southern Cheyenne warrior artists to record their exploits in battle.
Modern and contemporary works of art will be exhibited near the end of the exhibition. Traditional-style works were still produced in the early 20th century for Wild West shows, agricultural fairs, and Fourth of July parades, and for the powwow, inter-tribal opportunities for the celebration of culture, dance, and art. Watercolors and “easel paintings” grew from long-standing Plains graphic traditions and through dialogue with other Native North American regions by the mid-20th century. Many fine examples of paintings from the era will be presented in the exhibition. Brilliantly executed beaded works by such artists as Joyce and Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty (b. 1950 and b. 1969, both Assiniboine-Sioux), Rhonda Holy Bear (b. 1959), Sans Arc, Two Kettle and Hunkpapa Lakota), and Jodi Gillette (b. 1959, Hunkpapa Lakota) will also be included in the exhibition.
The final gallery will also shed new light on 20th- and 21st-century works by artists of Plains descent, as well as by Native American artists from outside the region who have been inspired by its traditions. On view in this gallery will be one element of Edgar Heap of Bird’s (b. 1954, Cheyenne and Arapaho) site-specific installation Building Minnesota (1990), as well as a captivating four-channel video installation piece by Dana Claxton (b. 1959, Hunkpapa Lakota) called Rattle (2003) that incorporates the rhythmic images, colors, and sounds of artistic and spiritual life on the Plains, a perspective that endures in the exhibition galleries through the application of 21st-century media.
Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum, said: “Through outstanding works of art from the Plains region, this ambitious exhibition demonstrates the long history of change and creative adaptation that characterizes Native American art. It is an important opportunity to highlight the artistic traditions that are indigenous to North America and to present them in the context of the Met’s global collections.”
The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky is curated by Gaylord Torrence, Fred and Virginia Merrill Senior Curator of American Indian Art at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. In New York, the exhibition is organized by Judith Ostrowitz, Ph.D., Research Associate in the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the Metropolitan Museum. In conjunction with the exhibition, an array of education programs will be offered, including a Sunday at the Met (March 15) panel discussion with contemporary artists Edgar Heap of Birds and Dana Claxton, moderated by Mario A. Caro. It will be followed by comments from Jodi Gillette, artist and Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs for President Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, as well as by an original performance with video projections composed for the Metropolitan Museum by Ms. Claxton. A gallery talk by Native American artist Brad Kahlhamer (March 13) and a printmaking workshop by Edgar Heap of Birds (March 14) will also be presented. The Audio Guide program (supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies), offers a tour of the exhibition, the curators and contemporary Native artists discuss the rich artistic traditions of Plains culture as seen in painting, drawing, embroidery, and sculpture.