“Unbound: Narrative Art of the Plains” Offers Rarely Seen Historic Native American Masterworks and Unveils Contemporary Works by 16 Artists

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The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian Exhibition Traces Evolution of the Narrative Tradition

Vibrant storytelling of society, war and peacetime, repression and expression is found within the historic narrative artworks of Native peoples of the Great Plains. “Unbound: Narrative Art of the Plains,” an exhibition opening Saturday, March 12, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, George Gustav Heye Center (located at One Bowling Green in New York City), presents rarely seen works by some of the most important figures to have used this style, including Bear’s Heart (Southern Cheyenne), Zo-tom (Kiowa) and Long Soldier (Hunkpapa Lakota). Their narratives exist along a continuum that carries tradition through to artists working in this style today.

Unbound” celebrates these narratives with the debut of nearly 50 new works by contemporary Native artists commissioned exclusively for this exhibition. Often referred to as “ledger art” because of the many Plains artists who illustrated ledger notebooks in the 19th century, narrative art employs a dynamic range of imagery to express the ‘now’ of generations of Native people—voices too strong to be bound to any medium.

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Blackfeet elk skin robe with painted decoration depicting war honors of Mountain Chief, ca. 1920. Attributed to James White Calf (Blackfee, ca. 1858-1970). Elkhide, paint. Photo by Katherine Fogden, National Museum of the American Indian

The narrative tradition takes root in warrior artists of the 18th century who recorded visionary experiences and successes in battle on buffalo-hide tipis, robes and shirts. Artists also began pictorially recording significant events from each prior year; these became known as “winter counts.” As trade with settlers broadened in the 19th century, new media and tools became available to artists, including pencils, crayons, canvas, muslin and paper.

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Bear’s Heart (Nock-ko-ist/James Bear’s Heart/Nah-koh-hist), Southern Tsitsistas/Suhtai (Cheyenne), 1851–1882), Cheyennes Among the Buffalo, ca. 1875. Paper, graphite, crayon. Drawing titled in pencil by Lt. Richard Henry Pratt, later the founder of the Carlisle Indian School. On view in “Unbound: Narrative Art of the Plains,” opening March 12, 2016, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York. Photo by Carmelo Guadagno, National Museum of the American Indian

The beginning of the Reservation Era (1870–1920) saw a transformation in narrative content. As policies set by the U.S. government encroached upon the Native identities of people of the Plains, pictorial drawings became a crucial means of addressing cultural upheaval. Many Native artists recorded their experiences in surplus government accounting notebooks, leading the style to be referred to as “ledger art,” which today is used interchangeably with “narrative art.” This style was revived in the 1960s, burgeoned during the American Indian Movement of the 1970s and continues in various media to this day.

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Terrance Guardipee (Blackfeet), Mountain Chief, 2012, depicting Blackfeet leader Mountain Chief. On view in “Unbound: Narrative Art of the Plains,” opening March 12, 2016, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York. Photo by Ernest Amoroso, National Museum of the American Indian

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Exclusive U.S. Viewing of Pierre Bonnard: Painting Arcadia at The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Pierre Bonnard: Painting Arcadia Will Offer a Fresh Interpretation Of Bonnard’s Repertoire, And a Reconsideration Of The Artist as One of the Foremost Practitioners of Modernism.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco will play host to Pierre Bonnard: Painting Arcadia (February 6–May 15, 2016, at the Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, 34th Avenue & Clement Street, San Francisco, CA 94121 ), the first major international presentation of Pierre Bonnard’s work to be mounted on the West Coast in half a century. The exhibition will feature more than seventy works that span the artist’s complete career, from his early Nabi masterpieces, through his experimental photography, to the late interior scenes for which he is best known.

Pierre Bonnard, “Self-Portrait”, ca. 1904. Oil on canvas. Private collection

Pierre Bonnard, “Self-Portrait”, ca. 1904. Oil on canvas. Private collection. All images provided by The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. 

The exhibition celebrates Bonnard as one of the defining figures of modernism in the transitional period between impressionism and abstraction. Several themes from Bonnard’s career will emerge, including the artist’s great decorative commissions where the natural world merges with the bright colors and light of the South of France, where windows link interior and exterior spaces, and where intimate scenes disclose unexpected phantasmagorical effects.

Pierre Bonnard, “Dancers”, ca. 1896. Oil on cardboard. Musée d'Orsay, Paris; acquired in 2013, RF 2013-20

Pierre Bonnard, “Dancers”, ca. 1896. Oil on cardboard. Musée d’Orsay, Paris; acquired in 2013, RF 2013-20. All images provided by The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. 

Born just outside of Paris in 1867, Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947) was the son of a high-ranking bureaucrat in the French War Ministry. In 1887 he enrolled in classes at the Académie Julian in Paris, where he became a student and follower of Paul Gauguin. Gauguin’s teaching inspired a group of young painters known as Les Nabis (after the Hebrew words navi or nabi, meaning prophet), with whom Bonnard joined. By the early years of the 20th century, the Nabis had disbanded, and for the remainder of his career, Bonnard resisted affiliation with any particular school. Instead, he alternated between the themes and techniques of the Impressionists and the abstract visual modes of modernism.

Pierre Bonnard, “The Large Garden”, 1895. Oil on canvas. Musée d'Orsay, Paris; gift of Jean-Claude Bellier in memory of his father, Alphonse Bellier, 1982, RF 1982-58

Pierre Bonnard, “The Large Garden”, 1895. Oil on canvas. Musée d’Orsay, Paris; gift of Jean-Claude Bellier in memory of his father, Alphonse Bellier, 1982, RF 1982-58. All images provided by The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. 

Bonnard worked in many genres and techniques, including painting, drawing and photography. From the domestic and urban scenes of his early Nabi period to the great elegies of the 20th century, Bonnard’s output is grounded in a modernity that was transformed by his knowledge of works from other cultures, including Japanese woodblock prints and Mediterranean mosaics.

Pierre Bonnard, “House among the Trees (“My Caravan” at Vernonnet)”, ca. 1918. Oil on canvas. The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Pierre Bonnard, “House among the Trees (“My Caravan” at Vernonnet)”, ca. 1918. Oil on canvas. The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. All images provided by The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Bonnard’s arcadia is filled with poetry, wit, color and warmth,” said Esther Bell, curator in charge of European paintings. “This selection of highlights from his career will make clear the artist’s important role in the history of French modernism.”

Pierre Bonnard, “The Dressing Table”, 1908. Oil on canvas. Musée d'Orsay, Paris; Mr. and Mrs. Frédéric Lung Bequest, 1961, RF 1977-86

Pierre Bonnard, “The Dressing Table”, 1908. Oil on canvas. Musée d’Orsay, Paris; Mr. and Mrs. Frédéric Lung Bequest, 1961, RF 1977-86. All images provided by The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. 

Among the many significant paintings on view will be Man and Woman (1900, Musée d’Orsay), in which the artist has depicted his lifelong companion and one of his constant subjects, Marthe de Méligny. Also featured will be such masterpieces as The Boxer (Self-Portrait) (1931, Musée d’Orsay) and The Work Table (1926–1937, National Gallery of Art); and decorative panels and screens, including View from Le Cannet (1927, Musée Bonnard) and Pleasure (1906–1910, Musée d’Orsay).

Pierre Bonnard, “Woman with Cat”, or “The Demanding Cat”, ca. 1912. Oil on canvas. Musée d'Orsay, Paris; Baroness Eva Gebhard-Gourgaud Bequest, 1965, RF 1977-84

Pierre Bonnard, “Woman with Cat”, or “The Demanding Cat”, ca. 1912. Oil on canvas. Musée d’Orsay, Paris; Baroness Eva Gebhard-Gourgaud Bequest, 1965, RF 1977-84. All images provided by The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. 

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