Changing Hands fills four rooms—about half of the Weisman’s gallery space. The show, the second in a series organized by the Museum of Arts & Design in New York, features about 150 words by 130 artists. It’s a dense and highly diverse snapshot of contemporary Native American art.
All of the artists are from west of the Mississippi, including Alaska and Hawaii. Most of the work is recent (produced within the last seven years). The show is organized around four broad themes that touch on ideas, materials, and practices in contemporary Native art. But that’s where easy characterization of the exhibit ends. The show verges on overwhelming with its sheer variety of styles and statements. The upside is that while not every piece will resonate with every person, you’re unlikely to walk away without at least a handful of images in mind.
One of the pieces still swirling round in my own is Sonya Kelliher-Combs’ Guarded Secrets. Composed of walrus stomach and porcupine quills, the piece looks a little like a menacing pile of discarded paper lanterns artfully heaped in a pile, or maybe the outer layer of a cactus that’s shed its skin. Kelliher-Combs’ piece falls into the category of “Material Evidence,” which spotlights the relationship of artist and materials, and specifically those linked to the visual heritage of Native North Americans.
Another standout for me: Teri Greeves’ Khoiye-Goo Mah, a pair of beaded Converse sneakers that suggests a mix of whimsy, nostalgia, reinvention, and adaptation. The piece, part of the “Beyond Function” section of the exhibit, turns attention to cultural meaning and status in recent Native American art. The shoe is an apt metaphor for a journey, and Greeves’ Converses offer us a chance the opportunity to “walk” in another’s shoes.
Two other memorable pieces were Marcus Codman’s Kachina: Bingo Sheet ‘Please God Let Me Win’ and Judy Marchand’s Metis Soup. The latter echoes Warhol’s famous print of Campbell’s soup cans, except Marchand’s are ceramics painted half red, half white with names in English and Cree. Instead of Chicken Noodle, the cans bear labels such as “Elk” and “Turtle” and “Antelope” as well as “Indian Agent” and “Hangover.” Codman’s three-dimensional collage evokes a Hopi kachina doll plastered with dollar bills, bingo sheets, and topped with a small plume of feathers.
It feels highly unfair to mention only four of the pieces in this show, but there it is.
Changing Hands continues through January 13 at the Weisman Art Museum.