Visual Arts Review | Thru Jan. 19 The West is not what it used to be. Or was it ever what we once thought it was? The truth of a place is often portrayed best by the artists who reflect upon and capture it; and the biennial New Art of the West exhibition, currently on view at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, has long been a venue for eloquently exploring contemporary Western ideas of identity and place. This year"s New Art of the West, the museum"s eighth installment of the national, juried show, does not disappoint. Once again, the exhibition"s jurors have selected artists whose work is timely, aesthetically strong and meaningful.
"New Art of the West" is on view at the Eiteljorg Museum.
The museum purposefully rejects romantic notions of the West, at least those of a celebratory nature: Hollywood stereotypes, which still exist in abundance, are not perpetuated, but instead are rejected or satirized. Further, various cultures define today"s West. New Art includes the work of artists of Native American, Latino, Asian and Euro-American heritage. Each artist, whether he or she lives in the West, creates from a unique confluence of background, environment, culture and experience. As Curator of Contemporary Art Jennifer Complo McNutt points out, the exhibition has always included broad-reaching media as well as ideas. These usually are reflective of larger trends in the art world. Realist painting, for example, continues to be prominent but, like sculpture, photography, conceptual art and other mixed media, is simply one of many tools used to express unique ideas. And yet, "The theme of landscape always comes up when you"re dealing with the West," McNutt adds, pointing to a painting by Kathryn Schmidt from Boseman, Mont. Schmidt"s landscapes are sparse; in "We Ride Out Alone," a nude, expressionless figure is sprawled on the back of a deer, precariously balanced, as if the deer is in control and he is not. "Her pieces really relate to isolation, more than anything else," McNutt remarks. In the same category, Pat Kikut"s landscapes, which are also realistic but possess a remote, darkly impressionistic quality, speak to a bleakness of spirit. As a take on Remington"s more romanticized and yet beautiful depictions of the West, Kikut"s "Remington Residue" series depicts these same landscapes, absent the feuding figures. As Kikut writes, "What"s left is an enduring landscape with guns, knives, smoldering fires and the bodies of dead men and horses strewn about." Kikut points out, citing the Unabomber and Columbine as examples, "It seems that the West is a place where violence isn"t just a thing of past myths, but an enduring part of the culture." Julie Buffalohead, an emerging artist who studied with Kay Walking Stick, also comments on stereotypes. "She"s able to communicate some complicated ideas about Native American culture," McNutt explains. "It"s a pretty complex thing to do in a narrative painting." Her paintings are also moody. In "The Skin Shifting," a woman sits back in a chair in a suggestive pose, while the figures in the background are evocative of some unseen tension. We, as viewers, metaphorically shift in our seats; what I see is the imbalance of power, the prostitution of the disempowered. Armand Lara, on the other hand, takes a lighter approach but an equally complex one. His marionettes combine cultures through the use of iconographic materials reflective of various belief systems. The face of a Buddha, the body of a deer, Tibetan prayer beads, hides and an assortment of baubles are all fair game in creating these humorous figures that at once serve as animal spirit guides and jokesters. Two Indiana artists are included among the 19 artists from across the country. Patte Owings" black-and-white photographs are vaguely realistic images of objects and spaces: A vent depicted in "Brest-Litovks-AZB" is suggestive of a rib cage. Red Rohall, on the other hand, paints hyper-realistic depictions of the roadside diner as Western icon. Norman Akers speaks to the chaos of our individual symbolic life and how it interplays with the larger cultural symbols. In "Rebirth," a tree is the centerpiece of activity; all around it, scenes are played out in a disconnected narrative. This disconnection is the thread that ironically binds the work in this exhibition. The West, then, is a symbol for the tension between the need to break free and the need to stay connected to something meaningful. Overall, the artists in this collection tend to employ traditional forms, and yet, as McNutt says, these are used "to convey contemporary themes and ideas." We are reminded, most poignantly, of our humanness; how people of all cultures struggle to maintain a place and hold onto long-held values. New Art of the West 8, which runs through Jan. 19, is designed to make today"s finest Western art available to a Midwestern audience. The works are available for sale, and patrons are also invited to purchase pieces as gifts to the museum"s permanent collection. This year"s jurors are Hamza Walker, a curator and writer who serves as director of education for the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, and Jean Robertson, critic, curator, art historian and assistant professor of art history at Herron School of Art. A complete list of artists includes: Norman Akers (Osage/Pawnee), Connie Borup, Julie Buffalohead (Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma), Ruchard Buswell, Don Crouch, Beverly Beck Glueckert, James Holmes, Pat Kikut, Armond Lara, Ajean A. Lee, Gordon McConnell, Greg Moon, Tony Ortega, Patte Owings, Red Rohall, Kathryn Schmidt, Sergio Tapia, Theodore Waddell and Walt Wooten. For more information, call 636-WEST or visitwww.eiteljorg.org