Art History

International Museum Day

Today is International Museum Day, which raises awareness of museums as “an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples.” We’re happy to contribute to the cause by sharing some of our scholarship that celebrates and critically examines museums and their work.

978-0-8223-5897-8Prior to 1967 fewer than a dozen museum exhibitions had featured the work of African American artists. And by the time the civil rights movement reached the American art museum, it had already crested: the first public demonstrations to integrate museums occurred in late 1968, twenty years after the desegregation of the military and fourteen years after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. In Mounting Frustration Susan E. Cahan investigates the strategies African American artists and museum professionals employed as they wrangled over access to and the direction of New York City’s elite museums.

Bennett_pbk_cover.inddThe coauthors of the theoretically innovative Collecting, Ordering, Governing explore the relationships among anthropological fieldwork, museum collecting and display, and social governance in the early twentieth century in Australia, Britain, France, New Zealand, and the United States. With case studies ranging from the Musée de l’Homme’s 1930s fieldwork missions in French Indo-China to the influence of Franz Boas’s culture concept on the development of American museums, the authors illuminate recent debates about postwar forms of multicultural governance, cultural conceptions of difference, and postcolonial policy and practice in museums.

ddaaa_67_1Archives of Asian Art is a journal devoted to publishing new scholarship on the art and architecture of South, Southeast, Central, and East Asia. Articles discuss premodern and contemporary visual arts, archaeology, architecture, and the history of collecting.  Every issue is fully illustrated (with color plates in the online version), and each fall issue includes an illustrated compendium of recent acquisitions of Asian art by leading museums and collections.

Museum Frictions is a lavishly illustrated examination of the significant and varied effects of the increasingly globalized world on contemporary museum, heritage, and exhibition practice. The contributors—scholars, artists, and curators—present case studies drawn from Africa, Australia, North and South America, Europe, and Asia. Together they offer a multifaceted analysis of the complex roles that national and community museums, museums of art and history, monuments, heritage sites, and theme parks play in creating public cultures.

In Museum Skepticism, art historian David Carrier traces the birth, evolution, and decline of the public art museum as an institution meant to spark democratic debate and discussion. Carrier contends that since the inception of the public art museum during the French Revolution, its development has depended on growth: on the expansion of collections, particularly to include works representing non-European cultures, and on the proliferation of art museums around the globe. Arguing that this expansionist project has peaked, he asserts that art museums must now find new ways of making high art relevant to contemporary lives.

978-0-8223-5429-1In the late nineteenth century, Japan’s new Meiji government established museums to showcase a national aesthetic heritage, spur industrialization and self-disciplined public behavior, and cultivate an “imperial public” loyal to the emperor. By the mid-1930s, the Japanese museum system had established or absorbed institutions in Taiwan, Korea, Sakhalin, and Manchuria. Unsurprisingly, colonial subjects’ views of Japanese imperialism differed from those promulgated by the Japanese state. In Public Properties Noriko Aso describes how museums in Japan and its empire contributed to the reimagining of state and society during the imperial era despite vigorous disagreements about what was to be displayed, how, and by whom it was to be seen.

 The New History in an Old Museum is an exploration of “historical truth” as presented at Colonial Williamsburg. More than a detailed history of a museum and tourist attraction, it examines the packaging of American history, and consumerism and the manufacturing of cultural beliefs. Through extensive fieldwork, Richard Handler and Eric Gable illustrate how corporate sensibility blends with pedagogical principle in Colonial Williamsburg to blur the lines between education and entertainment, patriotism and revisionism.

ddnka_31 Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art focuses on publishing critical work that examines contemporary African and African Diaspora art within the modernist and postmodernist experience and includes scholarly articles, reviews (exhibits and books), interviews, and roundtable discussions. In “Nka Roundtable III: Contemporary African Art and the Museum,” contributors examine the role of museums in bringing the work of African artists to the consciousness of the contemporary world. The topics covered include the participants’ first meaningful encounters with contemporary African art, the role of the curator of contemporary African art in the museum, and the age-old question about presenting contemporary African art in art and/or ethnology museums.

Exhibitions and Spring Art Books

This spring, we’re distributing three gorgeous art books that correspond with exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, and the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. We’re happy to extend the reach of these important and beautifully designed catalogues, published by each respective museum, and we hope you can make it out to an exhibition or two.

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Faith Ringgold (American, born 1930). For the Women’s House, 1971. Oil on canvas, 96 x 96 in. (243.8 x 243.8 cm). Courtesy of Rose M. Singer Center, Rikers Island Correctional Center. © 2017 Faith Ringgold / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

A landmark exhibition on display at the Brooklyn Museum through September 17, We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85 examines the political, social, cultural, and aesthetic priorities of women of color during the emergence of second-wave feminism. It showcases the work of black women artists such as Emma Amos, Maren Hassinger, Senga Nengudi, Lorraine O’Grady, Howardena Pindell, Faith Ringgold, and Betye Saar, making it one of the first major exhibitions to highlight the voices and experiences of women of color. In so doing, it reorients conversations around race, feminism, political action, art production, and art history in this significant historical period.

The accompanying Sourcebook republishes an array of rare and little-known documents from the period by artists, writers, cultural critics, and art historians such as Gloria Anzaldúa, James Baldwin, bell hooks, Lucy R. Lippard, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Lowery Stokes Sims, Alice Walker, and Michelle Wallace. These documents include articles, manifestos, and letters from significant publications as well as interviews, some of which are reproduced in facsimile form. The Sourcebook also includes archival materials, rare ephemera, and an art-historical overview essay. Helping readers to move beyond standard narratives of art history and feminism, this volume will ignite further scholarship while showing the true breadth and diversity of black women’s engagement with art, the art world, and politics from the 1960s to the 1980s.

We Wanted a Revolution is curated by Catherine Morris and Rujeko Hockley. In addition to the Brooklyn Museum, it will also be on display at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles from October 13, 2017, through January 14, 2018; the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, from February 17, 2018, through May 27, 2018; and the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston from June 26, 2018, through September 30, 2018. Find more details about the exhibition or purchase the Sourcebook.

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Nina Chanel Abney, Incite (COM), 2015. Unique ultrachrome pigmented print, acrylic, and spray paint on canvas; 48 x 36 inches (121.92 x 91.44 cm). Collection of Isis Heslin and Jacqueline T. Martin. Image courtesy of Kravets | Wehby Gallery, New York, New York. © Nina Chanel Abney.

Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush, an exhibition at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, is a ten-year survey of one of the most provocative and iconoclastic artists working today. Abney is at the forefront of a generation of artists that is unapologetically revitalizing narrative figurative painting, and as a skillful story-teller, she visually articulates the complex social dynamics of contemporary urban life. Her works are informed as much by mainstream news media as they are by animated cartoons, video games, hip-hop culture, celebrity websites, and tabloid magazines. She draws on these sources to make paintings replete with figures, numbers, and words that appear to have tumbled onto the canvas with the stream-of-consciousness immediacy of text messages, pop-up windows, a Twitter feed, or the scrolling headlines of an incessant twenty-four-hour news cycle. By engaging loaded topics and controversial issues with irreverence, humor, and lampooning satire, Abney’s works are both pointed contemporary genre scenes as well as scathing commentaries on social attitudes and inequities.

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Abney poses with her work First and Last, part of the Nasher Museum’s collection and featured in the exhibition Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush. Photo by J Caldwell.

Abney’s first solo museum exhibition, Royal Flush comprises the artist’s large-scale paintings, along with smaller collages and watercolors. While her work has strong ties to important modernist forebears such as Robert Colescott, Stuart Davis, Romare Bearden, and Faith Ringgold, among others, its distinct and arresting visual articulation of the human condition is inherently suited to the rapid-fire and unceasing quality of the Digital Age. Her dense and colorful iconography, a skillful engagement with serious issues, and the provocative way in which she addresses them has brought this young artist increasing critical acclaim in the contemporary art world.

Royal Flush is on display at the Nasher Museum through July 16. The exhibition will travel to the Chicago Cultural Center (February 10–May 6, 2018) and then to Los Angeles, where it will be jointly presented by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the California African American Museum (September 23, 2018–January 20, 2019). The final venue for the exhibition is the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York (April 7–August 4, 2019).  Learn more about the exhibition or buy the catalogue.

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Jonathan Williams, Beauty and the Beast: Joel Oppenheimer and Francine du Plessix Gray, Black Mountain College, 1951, gelatin silver print. Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center Collection. Gift of the Artist. Courtesy of Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Collection. Permission to reproduce courtesy of Thomas Meyer.

During its relatively brief existence (1933–1957), Black Mountain College was an experimental liberal arts college that placed the arts at the center of its curriculum. Its faculty included leading members of the American avant-garde such as Josef and Anni Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller, Charles Olson, and Robert Creeley. While Black Mountain College is best known for its contributions to the visual arts, literature, music, and dance, Begin to See: The Photographers of Black Mountain College, curated by Julie J. Thomson, shows how photography was also an important part of the curriculum. Photography began as an informal workshop in the 1930s and was taught through 1953. Josef Albers and Hazel Larsen Archer played important roles in this, including inviting many notable photographers to teach during the college’s summer sessions.

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Nancy Newhall and Anni Albers, Untitled (Photogram), 1948, vintage gelatin silver print. ©1948, Nancy Newhall, ©2017, the Estate of Beaumont and Nancy Newhall. Permission to reproduce courtesy of Scheinbaum and Russek Ltd., Santa Fe, New Mexico. Courtesy of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.

While thousands of photographs were made at Black Mountain College, there has not been a detailed examination of photography at the college. Begin to See is the first in-depth exhibition and catalog devoted to this topic. Organized around the themes of Available Light, Bearing Witness, Performing for the Camera, Experimentation, and Place, this catalog includes essays, photographer biographies, and a chronology about photography at Black Mountain College. It features over 100 photographs by more than forty artists including Josef Albers, Hazel Larsen Archer, Harry Callahan, Robert Haas, Barbara Morgan, Beaumont Newhall, Nancy Newhall, Andy Oates, Robert Rauschenberg, Aaron Siskind, Cy Twombly, Stan VanDerBeek, Susan Weil, and Jonathan Williams.

Read more about the exhibition, on display through May 20 at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, or purchase the catalog.

Now Available: First Issue of Archives of Asian Art published by Duke University Press

ddaaa_67_1We are pleased to announce the first issue of Archives of Asian Art published by Duke University Press, volume 67, issue 1, is now available at asianart.dukejournals.org.

Archives of Asian Art, edited by Stanley K. Abe, is devoted to publishing new scholarship on the art and architecture of South, Southeast, Central, and East Asia. Articles discuss premodern and contemporary visual arts, archaeology, architecture, and the history of collecting. Submissions are encouraged in all areas of study related to Asian art and architecture to maintain a balanced representation of regions and types of art, and to present a variety of scholarly perspectives. Every issue is fully illustrated (with color plates in the online version), and each fall issue includes an illustrated compendium of recent acquisitions of Asian art by leading museums and collections.

Browse the table-of-contents for the current issue and read back content from 2001 to the present.

Nazi-Looted Art and Its Legacies

ddngc_44_1_130This special issue of New German Critique, edited by Andreas Huyssen, Anson Rabinbach, and Avinoam Shalem, examines the legacy of Nazi-looted art in light of the 2012 discovery of the famous Hildebrand Gurlitt collection of stolen artwork in Germany. When the German government declassified the case almost two years later, the resulting scandal raised fundamental questions about the role of art dealers in the Third Reich, the mechanics of the Nazi black market for artwork, the shortcomings of postwar denazification, the failure of courts and governments to adjudicate stolen artwork claims, and the unwillingness of museums to determine the provenance of thousands of looted pieces of art.

The contributors to this issue explore the continuities of art dealerships and auction houses from the Nazi period to the Federal Republic and take stock of the present political and cultural debate over the handling of this artwork. Topics include Socialist cultural policy, Gurlitt and his dealings with German museums, German restitution politics since the Gurlitt case, and the political aspects of the “trophy art” problem.

Read the introduction to the issue, made freely available.

November Events

November is a great time to head out to local bookstores and other venues and meet our authors.

spillReaders in Durham, Montreal, and Atlanta can all catch poet Alexis Pauline Gumbs this month.
November 1: Alexis Gumbs will read from her new book Spill at The Regulator.
7:00pm, 720 Ninth Street, Durham, NC 27705

November 9:  The Concordia Centre will host a workshop Alexis Gumbs and Rachel Zellars around her book Spill.
6:00pm,  H-763, Hall Building,  1455 de Maisonneuve West, Annex V-01, Montreal, Quebec H3G 1M8

November 18: Spill author Alexis Gumbs will be at Charis Books to discuss her book.
7:30pm, 1189 Euclid Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA 30307

978-0-8223-5931-9November 5: Shane Greene will participate in a panel discussion at Cornell University for their Musicology Colloquium.
3:00pm, Klarman Hall Auditorium KG70, 232 East Ave, Ithaca, NY 14850

November 7: Shapeshifters author Aimee Cox will be at the University of Miami to discuss “Black Girlhood.”
12:00pm, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33143

November 10: Christina Sharpe speaks at Northwestern University on her book In the Wake.
12:00pm, Northwestern University, TGS Commons, 2122 Sheridan Road, 1st Floor, Evanston, IL 60208
Followed by a conversation with Alex Weheliye.
5:30pm, Harris Hall 108, Evanston, IL 60208

Cahan cover image, 5897-8November 12: Susan Cahan will be at Laumeier Sculpture Park to discuss and sign copies for her book Mounting Frustration.
1:00pm, 12580 Rott Road, Adam Aronson Fine Arts Center, St. Louis, Missouri 63127

November 14: Susan Cahan in conversation with Lowery Stokes Sims at the Museum of Modern Art on her book Mounting Frustration.
7:00pm, Education and Research Center, Theater 3, 11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019

November 17: Hettie Jones will discuss her new book, Love, H, at the Poets House. This is a ticketed event.
7:00pm, Kray Hall, 10 River Terrace, New York, NY 10282

November is also a huge month for conferences. Be sure to come by our booths at the National Women’s Studies Association, Society for Ethnomusicology, American Studies Association, American Anthropological Association, American Academy of Religion, American Society for Theater Research, American Society for Ethnohistory, Middle East Studies Association, and African Studies Association. Save 30% on all our titles in the booths and meet our staff members.

Two Duke University Press Authors Named MacArthur “Genius” Fellows

We are excited and proud to learn that two of our authors, Kellie Jones and Josh Kun, have been named 2016 MacArthur Fellows.

Kellie Jones, 2016 MacArthur Fellow, New York, New York, September 9, 2016

Kellie Jones is Associate Professor of Art History at Columbia University and author of EyeMinded: Living and Writing Contemporary Art (2011) and the forthcoming South of Pico: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s (April 2017). The MacArthur Foundation praises her for “deepening our understanding of contemporary art of the African Diaspora and securing its place in the canons of modern and contemporary art.”

Josh Kun, 2016 MacArthur Fellow, USC, Los Angeles, CA, Thursday, Sep. 1, 2016.

Josh Kun, Professor of Communication at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, is a longtime collaborator with Duke University Press. He is a co-editor of our popular series Refiguring American Music, which publishes bold, innovative works that pose new challenges to thinking about the nature and character of American Music. He is also co-editor of Tijuana Dreaming: Life and Art at the Global Border (2012). He has also written for our journal Public Culture. The MacArthur Foundation says ,”In work that spans academic scholarship, exhibitions, and performances, Kun unearths and brings to life forgotten historical narratives through finely grained analyses of material and sonic manifestations of popular culture.”

The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.

We’re pleased to offer a special discount on Eyeminded and Tijuana Dreaming in honor of this award. Please use coupon code GENIUS16 on our website to save 40% on these books. Congratulations again to these two authors!

New Books in September

It’s finally September, and we’re just as excited for the start of the school year as you are. Add these great titles, coming out this month, to your fall reading list:

Cultural Studies 1983With the publication of Cultural Studies 1983 we launch our new series Stuart Hall: Selected Writings. A touchstone event in the history of Cultural Studies, the book is a testament to Stuart Hall’s unparalleled contributions. Unavailable until now, these eight foundational lectures present Hall’s original engagements with the theoretical positions that contributed to the formation of Cultural Studies.

No Tea, No Shade, edited by E. Patrick Johnson, follows up the groundbreaking Black Queer Studies by bringing together nineteen essays on black gender and sexuality. Topics include “raw” sex, pornography, the carceral state, gentrification, gender nonconformity, social media, the relationship between black feminist studies and black trans studies, the black queer experience throughout the black diaspora, and queer music, film, dance, and theater.

Life and Death on the New York Dance FloorAs the 1970s gave way to the ’80s, New York’s party scene entered a ferociously inventive period characterized by its creativity, intensity, and hybridity. Tim Lawrence chronicles this tumultuous time in Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, charting the sonic and social eruptions that took place in the city’s subterranean party venues as well as the way they cultivated breakthrough movements in art, performance, video, and film.

Focusing on artwork by Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri, and Piero Manzoni, Jaleh Mansoor demonstrates in Marshall Plan Modernism how abstract painting, especially the monochrome, broke with fascist-associated futurism and functioned as an index of social transition in postwar Italy.

GeontologiesIn Geontologies, Elizabeth A. Povinelli continues her project of mapping the current conditions of late liberalism by offering a bold retheorization of power. Finding Foucauldian biopolitics unable to adequately reveal contemporary mechanisms of power and governance, Povinelli describes a mode of power she calls geontopower.

As the 2011 uprisings in North Africa reverberated across the Middle East, a diverse cross section of women and girls publicly disputed gender and sexual norms. In a series of case studies ranging from Tunisia’s 14 January Revolution to the Taksim Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, the contributors to Freedom without Permission, edited by Frances S. Hasso and Zakia Salime, reveal the centrality of the intersections between body, gender, sexuality, and space to these groundbreaking events.

Love, HLove, H: The Letters of Helene Dorn and Hettie Jones is a remarkable selection from a forty-year correspondence between two artists who survived their time as wives in the Beat bohemia of the 1960s and went on to successful artistic careers of their own. Revealing the intimacy of lifelong friends, these letters tell two stories from the shared point of view of women who refused to go along with society’s expectations.

One of the classics of twentieth-century Marxism, Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks contains a rich and nuanced theorization of class that provides insights that extend far beyond economic inequality. In Gramsci’s Common Sense, Kate Crehan provides an overview of Gramsci’s notions of subalternity, intellectuals, and common sense, putting them in relation to the work of thinkers such as Bourdieu, Arendt, Spivak, and Said.

Only the RoadFeaturing the work of more than fifty poets writing across the last eight decades, Only the Road / Solo el Camino is the most complete bilingual anthology of Cuban poetry available to an English readership. The collection, edited by Margaret Randall, is distinguished by its stylistic breadth and the diversity of its contributors, who come from throughout Cuba and its diaspora and include luminaries, lesser-known voices, and several Afro-Cuban and LGBTQ poets.

Reprinted in paperback, Songs of the Unsung is the autobiography of Los Angeles jazz musician and activist Horace Tapscott (1934–1999). It is the story of Los Angeles’s cultural and political evolution over the last half of the twentieth century, of the origins of many of the most important avant-garde musicians still on the scene today, and of a rich and varied body of music.

Want to make sure you don’t miss a new book? Sign up for Subject Matters, our  e-mail newsletter.

 

New Books in May

We have some great new titles coming out in May. To be sure you never miss a new title from us, and to be first to know about special sales and promotions, subscribe to our email newsletter, Subject Matters.

Activist archives

Doreen Lee’s Activist Archives investigates the origin, experiences, and legacy of the radical Indonesian student movement that helped end Suharto’s thirty-two year dictatorship in May of 1998, showing how student activists claimed their rich political and historical inheritance passed down by earlier generations of activist youth.
In The Brink of Freedom David Kazanjian revises dominant understandings of nineteenth-century conceptions of freedom by examining the letters of black settler colonists in Liberia and the letters and literature of Mayan rebels and their Creole antagonists in Yucatán, showing how they disrupted liberal formations of freedom.

 

endangered

Tell Me Why My Children Died narrates the efforts to identify a strange disease that killed thirty-eight people in a Venezuelan rainforest between 2007 and 2008 and sketches out systematic health inequities regarding the rights to produce and circulate knowledge about health throughout indigenous communities.

In Endangered City Austin Zeiderman focuses on the new political imperative to govern the present in anticipation of future disasters in Bogotá, Colombia, where the state works to protect the lives of poor and vulnerable citizens from a range of threats, including environmental hazards and urban violence.

In The Minor Gesture Erin Manning develops the concept of the minor gesture to rethink common assumptions about human agency, the ways we experience the everyday world, and the possibilities for new political praxis. This is the first book in the new series Thought in the Act, edited by Manning and Brian Massumi.

TVAnikó Imre’s TV Socialism provides an innovative history of television in socialist Europe during and after the Cold War, finding a variety of programming and economic practices that exceed state propaganda and challenge conventional understandings of culture and politics under socialism.

My Life with Things is Elizabeth Chin’s meditation on her relationship with consumer goods and a critical statement on the politics and method of anthropology in which she uses everyday items to intimately examine the ways consumption resonates with personal and social meaning.

Robert Bailey’s Art & Language International reconstructs the history of conceptual art collective Art & Language to show how its international collaborations with dozens of artists and critics between 1969 and 1977 laid the foundation for global contemporary art, all while highlighting how conceptual art exceeds the visual to impact the philosophical and political.

blacktinoContaining nine performance scripts by black and Latino/a queer playwrights and performance artists—each accompanied by an interview and essay, Blacktino Queer Performance approaches the interrelations of sexuality, blackness, and Latinidad.

In Biocultural Creatures Samantha Frost brings feminist and political theory together with findings in the life sciences to create a new theory of the human that explains the mutual constitution of the body, environment, biology, and habitat, while offering new resources for responding to political and environmental crises.

In The Value of Comparison Peter van der Veer highlights anthropology’s continuing ability to gain insights on the whole through the comparative study of the particular and unique while critiquing the quantitative social sciences for their sweeping generalizations.

hope

In Hope Draped in Black Joseph R. Winters responds to the belief that America follows a constant trajectory of racial progress, using African American literature and film to construct an idea of hope that embraces melancholy in order to acknowledge and mourn America’s traumatic history.

In Ghostly Desires Arnika Fuhrmann examines post-1997 Thai cinema and video art to show how vernacular Buddhist notions, stories, and images combine with sexual politics in figuring current struggles over gender, sexuality, personhood, and collective life.

College Art Association, 2016

We enjoyed selling books and mingling with our authors at the 2016 annual meeting of the College Art Association in Washington, DC. It was especially exciting to celebrate our authors winning two awards for distinction.

Postcolonial Modernism

We were thrilled that Chika Okeke-Ogulu won the Frank Jewett Mather Award for Art Criticism for his book Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria.

And congratulations to Krista Thompson, whose book Shine: The Visual Economy of Light in African Diasporic Aesthetic Practice won the Charles Rufus Morey Book Award. Here’s the proud author with her book in our booth.

Thompson

It was great to see Susan E. Cahan, whose book Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power is brand new.

Cahan

And Kobena Mercer stopped by, too. His book Travel & See: Black Diaspora Art Practices since the 1980s will be published in April.

Mercer

If you weren’t able to get to this year’s CAA but you love art books, you can still save 30% on all our great art and art history titles by entering coupon code CAA16 at checkout.

Q&A with Bill Anthes

FAC-Bill-AnthesBill Anthes is a Professor in the Art Field Group at Pitzer College. His latest book, Edgar Heap-of-Birds, is the first book-length study of contemporary Native American artist Edgar Heap of Birds. Anthes analyzes Heap of Bird’s art and politics in relation to Native American history, spirituality, and culture, the international art scene, and how his art critiques the subjugation of Native Americans. Anthes is also the author of Native Moderns: American Indian Painting, 1940-1960 (2006).

When did you first learn of Edgar Heap of Birds and his art? What was the first work of his that you saw?

I first became aware of Heap of Birds’s art in the early 1990s, as a handful of native NorthEdgar Heap of Birds American artists were breaking into the contemporary art world, through exhibitions such as the Decade Show in New York, and in the writing of critics such as Lucy Lippard, whose work has always advocated for artists of color, feminists, and others outside of the commercial mainstream. Heap of Birds’s works were also shown alongside a cohort of native artists in a series of exhibitions in the United States and Canada mounted in 1992 to counter official commemorations of the Quincetennial of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. Heap of Birds and native artists including Carl Beam, Rebecca Belmore, Jimmie Durham,  Bob Haozous, George Longfish, James Luna, Alan Michelson, Edward Poitras, Kay Walkingstick, Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie, and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith exhibited works that were fully engaged with the critical discourses of contemporary art as they mounted powerful critiques of the settler colonialism and its legacies.

The first work I saw would have been either the Native Hosts series – placards which recognize the native nations that claim sovereignty over the places where they are installed as well as defamiliarize the settler names for those places—or perhaps his Building Minnesota, which honors Dakota warriors who were hanged by the United States for their efforts defending their homelands during the Sioux War of 1862. As a descendent of settlers and immigrants, I grew up on what I learned much later was the traditional Cheyenne and Arapahoe homeland along the front range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. For a non-native westerner, Heap of Birds’s artworks offered a quick and disorienting American history lesson.

Additionally, these works taught me a lot about contemporary art—as a critical and activist practice—and about what Native American art might be in a contemporary context. Native Hosts and Building Minnesota were machine-fabricated metal placards that, like many of Heap of Birds’s public art installations, appropriated the look and voice of state or corporate authority. Heap of Birds’s projects are sometimes criticized—or more often just misunderstood—because they don’t “look like” Native American art, which means they don’t conform to many non-native viewers’ expectations that art made by a Native person will be made with natural materials. (Of course we usually forget that many of the materials most commonly associated with Native American art and culture were imports—horses, glass beads—that were readily adapted by native peoples as they faced a changing landscape a new political situation. There’s a quote by artist Jimmie Durham that I like to share with my students and which nicely sums up the native ability to appropriate foreign objects, languages, and ideas to use in the struggle to protect and nurture native communities and people: “Every object, every material brought in from Europe was taken and transformed with great energy. A rifle in the hands of a soldier was not the same as a rifle that had undergone Duchampian changes in the hands of a defender, which often included changes in the form by the employment of feathers, leather, and beadwork.”

How did your conversations with Edgar Heap of Birds allow you to understand his work in ways that differed from when you started?

Native ModernsWhen I began this project, I had recently completed my first book, Native Moderns, in which I had tried to argue that Native American artists had produced a kind of modernist art in the mid-twentieth century, and that this was an important episode in the history of American modernism, even as it unsettled certain assumptions and habits of thought about the modernist canon (for example the assumption that modernism is primarily an urban cultural expression). I had also been thinking about contemporary Native American artists who had since the early 1990s begun appearing in some of the major venues and institutions of the contemporary art world, including the new biennials and art fairs that we associate with our current global moment. But despite these appearances on the global contemporary art stage, the work of native artists was not figuring into the discourses that were coming to define the moment—issues of transnationalism and exile, for example, which figure in the work of many artists today from Africa or Asia. I had planned, based on the thinking that had lead me to write Native Moderns, that a book about Heap of Birds’s art would argue first and foremost for his global currency, and to an extent this book still attempts to do that. But based on my being in conversation with the artist over many years, and based on a close study of his practice, and perhaps most profoundly on my experience of being with Edgar and his family as he took part in the Cheyenne Earth Renewal ceremony (sometimes called the Sun Dance) on the Cheyenne-Arapaho homelands in Oklahoma, I wrote a book that focused on the work’s grounding in a specific place and a profoundly indigenous and Cheyenne way of seeing and being in the world. As in Native Moderns, this led me to argue that attention to Heap of Birds’s work—and the work of contemporary Native American artists (and by extension the work of indigenous artists globally)—suggests other key terms and framings of the contemporary than are currently part of the conversation about contemporaneity.

As you mention in the book’s introduction, four is an important number in Cheyenne and other Plains Native cultures. How did you come to decide on using a structure of four chapters for your book? Was it clear from the start, or something that you developed during your research and writing?

That decision was very much a product of time spent with the work and the artist and the experience of the Earth Renewal ceremony, which is organized around repeated units of four—referencing the four seasons and the four directions—to ensure the efficacy of the ceremony. It started becoming clear to me after that how much of Heap of Bird’s work is organized in multiples of four, and that his ongoing series of abstract landscape paintings are also called Neuf, or four in the Cheyenne language. I was looking for an organization for the book that would allow me to approach the work in some way other than by chronology, or in terms of specific media (like painting, prints, and public art) as it became clear that Heap of Birds’s artistic thinking travels backwards and forwards in time. Key phrases and ideas appear in various media at many different points in his career, and I began to see this as an artistic practice that was centered in a place, more so than in time, or rather that the timeline one could follow in the work was more a spiral than a future-oriented trajectory. It was “always returning back home,” as Heap of Birds writes in several projects. That’s very much an idea, I think, that is taught in the Earth Renewal and in Plains and native cultures generally, and it was important to me that the book find an organization that come from a native epistemology, rather than the (now standardized and conventionalized) historiography of the contemporary in art history.

The thematic approaches of your chapters—Land, Words, Histories, Generations—provide generous containers for discussing the complexities of Edgar Heap of Birds’s work. For instance Land allows you both the Neuf paintings—abstract paintings inspired by landscape—and Heap of Birds’s conceptual signs in the Native Hosts series. For an artist who works in such a wide-variety of media, what was your process for distilling it down to these themes?

Indeed Heap of Birds has maintained an ongoing practice in a range of media, and it would have been possible, I suppose, to write a chapter on the paintings, and another on the public art installations, and another on the prints, for example. But the main themes—land or sovereignty, the power of language, history and ideas about historicity, and a commitment to the next generations, which is different, I think, than the notions of futurity one finds in modernism, or the “end of history” as figured in much contemporary art and theory—these themes cut across all of Heap of Birds’s practice and conceptual touch stones. I wouldn’t necessarily call Heap of Birds a conceptual artist, or a “post-studio” artist, as there is a daily practice of art making—painting, but often research and writing, as well—in which these key themes are explored and developed and returned to over and over again, regardless of the medium.

Often a drawing is a collection of words or phrases, and Heap of Birds also exhibits works in diverse media together in one space. So it was a matter of finding those themes, and then selecting works that spoke to them in a compelling way. I rearranged my choices for each chapter a few times, and some bodies of work do reappear in more than one chapter—I liked how that seemed to resonate with the idea that Edgar’s artistic trajectory is a spiral, rather than a timeline. There would have been many ways to arrange works to speak to those themes because, I think, all of Heap of Birds’s works speak to each of those four themes. So I tried to find works that would speak in a particularly compelling way, and not worry too much about media, although in the Words chapter, for example, I do follow something like a chronological or biographical path because Edgar has at various points made specific decisions about media and materiality to express those ideas as they evolved in his artistic thinking. And I as wrote in the introduction, I never imagined this a catalog raisonné. I imagined the book as the four interconnected essays that might open up Heap of Birds’s practice for new readers as well as audiences who have followed his work for many years.

You mention how Heap of Birds’s describes his artwork as a ‘puncture.’ Do you think that the provoking and political nature of Edgar Heap of Birds’s work is a factor that causes some museums to shy away from showing it? A contrast to this is Wheel, a large outdoor sculpture commissioned by the Denver Museum of Art, which you also discuss as one of Heaps of Birds’s most ambitious works to date. 

I don’t think it’s so much that museums and institutions shy away from art that makes a political statement, or introduces a “puncture.” That would rule out all but the most banal and formalist contemporary art. I wrote in the introduction that I think the main reason that Heap of Birds and other contemporary Native American artists lack a certain visibility in the contemporary art world is that their politics are, in a sense, illegible to mainstream audiences. Native (and more broadly and globally indigenous) experiences of settler colonialism and the very powerful and important concepts of sovereignty are just not, or not yet, part of the conversion around contemporary art today. Native artists espouse a connection to place that seems at odds to the always-on, interconnected world of globalization and neo-liberal political economy. Tuscarora artist and critic Jolene Rickard refers to this as a “shared ancient imaginary,” and I think that it’s in some ways antithetical to the ways in which we currently imagine contemporaneity. In some ways it’s the old stereotype that Native Americans are a “people of the past” and thus not part of contemporary art. When native artists do appear on the contemporary art world’s global stage, they often do so under limited and prescribed circumstances and pretexts – as exemplars of a kind of anti-modernity, fulfilling fantasies of a primitive spiritual wholeness or environmentally-harmonious life ways. These one-dimensional representations suggest that native people are not part of the shared time of globalization. I think we need to reframe those notions – of the contemporary and of the key terms for global contemporary art. If Heap of Birds’s political statements strike some viewers or museum or gallery professionals as unthinkable (or unexhibitable) perhaps it’s because it remains nearly impossible for many audiences to imagine a contemporary Native politics.

You write, “Looking outward from a lodge on a hilltop in Oklahoma to the global spaces of the contemporary art world, we might begin a different conversation about the contemporary.” You’re making an important point by writing about art that is made outside of major art centers. Why in our global and virtually connected society is this still such a challenge? These different conversations seem necessary and vital.

I agree, and I think that especially in a global art world it is very important to not grow complacent about what we think we know. There is an emerging historiography of the contemporary and I think the notion that the art world has been decentered might lead us to think that artists and communities everywhere have equal access to its institutions. But of course there are many art worlds and what we think of as contemporary art is really just one, elite sector (with very good PR!). Artists in countless locations and perspectives have taken many different and in some cases mutually incomprehensible positions vis-à-vis contemporaneity. This isn’t to say that the many art worlds are “separate but equal,” which of course is never true. There is of course inequality. And then there are artists who might choose to travel through many art worlds, like I think Edgar has done. The experience of witnessing the Earth Renewal was, for me, one of the most powerful contemporary art experiences I have ever had, but even to say that kind of trivializes it because we have such limited notion of what contemporary art is or can be. The view from a lodge on a hilltop in Oklahoma is, for me, very important because it suggests something about what a contemporary art practice and a history of contemporary art can be, something that is global – and perspective changing—in the most meaningful sense.

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