Early 20th-century Navajo Yei rugs can be artistic, soulful masterpieces and a real find for collectors.
WHEN IT COMES TO THE NATIVE AMERICAN TEXTILE MARKET, THE CLASSIC CHIEF’S BLANKETS ARE THE SUPERSTARS. But early 20th-century Yei rugs are the real sleepers. Yei iconography is related to Navajo religious sandpaintings, which blend the visual with the metaphysical.
Navajo religion has a reverence for nature and is based on maintaining a balance in the universe. If your daily rhythm is thrown off-kilter, a lot can go wrong. For instance, if you accidentally kick over an anthill or cross the path of a bear without offering him a prayer of respect, you could upset that sense of harmony and an illness might befall you. Traditionally when that happened, Navajos called in a medicine man.
Much like a Western doctor, the medicine man examined the patient and suggested a cure. The remedy involved a combination of chanting, herbal medicines and a sandpainting ritual. A member of the sick person’s family would agree upon a fee, which was often paid in sheep, silver jewelry or other forms of barter. Then the healer got to work. He would scoop up various colored sands and sprinkle them on the ground until they formed a specific Yei (holy person), based on the god he was trying to summon. When the sandpainting was completed, it was sanctified by spreading corn pollen over it.
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With her fearless interpretation of the natural world, Phyllis Shafer is redefining the American landscape.
I used to think if I saw one more Southwestern landscape, I’d go crazy. Then I came across my first Phyllis Shafer painting.
Landscape painters strive to create a mood through a sense of place. Works can conjure awe, like viewing a majestic Albert Bierstadt painting of the Yosemite Valley or a Thomas Moran romantic sunset over the Hudson River. By contrast, Neil Welliver’s impressions of Maine offer moments of quiet contemplation. What unites all of the great landscape artists is how they awaken long-dormant feel- ings in viewers. Phyllis Shafer’s work makes me want to call my travel agent.
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I admit it; I’m a tremendous Fritz Scholder fan. I was hooked the day I stumbled upon the exhibition catalogue from the artist’s National Museum of the American Indian retrospective, enigmatically titled Indian/Not Indian. At the time, I had been hunting for art books at Green Apple, in San Francisco, when the volume seemed to leap out at me. After carefully studying the reproductions, I felt the poignancy of the work and began to appreciate Scholder’s authenticity.
Fritz Scholder’s career was star-crossed. He was a Native American painter whose prime work from the 1960s and 1970s was exhibited in the serious Manhattan contemporary art world—a phenomenon which had never occurred before and hasn’t since. Though he died a multi-millionaire, and received more honors and accolades than you can imagine, he was conflicted over his very identity. Was he an artist or an Indian artist? It was a conundrum he would never resolve and one that haunts many Native American painters to this day.
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From Walter Hopps to Irving Blum, and Billy Al Bengston to Andy Warhol, a small Los Angeles art gallery transformed the Modern art scene in a single decade.
The rumors about New York not taking the Los Angeles art scene seriously have always been true, with one exception — the Ferus Gallery. Until a recent slew of books appeared on the subject, the gallery’s accomplishments had been tucked away as ancient folklore.
Stories about the Ferus years were swapped among local artists as if they had happened centuries ago. In reality, the tale of the Ferus Gallery can be traced back to 1957 when the eccentric curator, Walter Hopps, teamed up with the even more eccentric artist, Edward Kienholz, to open a gallery on La Cienega Boulevard. What began as a ploy to exhibit their friends’ work wound up rewriting art history. Continue Reading>Ferus Gallery AprilMay 13
It had been a long time coming.
Between 1939 and 1942, an illiterate ex-slave from Montgomery, Alabama, by the name of Bill Traylor created approximately twelve hundred spectacular drawings of local street life. He was befriended by a young white artist named Charles Shannon, who preserved his work and helped bring recognition to Traylor’s art. Since the early 1960s, when Traylor gradually became known, there have been only five new discoveries of significant Outsider artists: Joseph Yoakum, Martin Ramirez, James Castle, the Philadelphia Wireman, and Henry Darger. Given this country’s rapid march toward homogeneity, the chances of an encounter with a great self-taught artist are as slim as the phone book of Silver City, New Mexico. Which is one of a number of reasons why a trip to Silver City, during the summer of 2010, had been the furthest thing from my mind. Continue Reading> Bill Kaderly-Under_the_radar
THE magazine is a visually oriented, free periodical concentrating on the local, regional, and national art scenes, as well as featuring articles, reviews and interviews on the performing arts, books, films, music, and important cultural issues of the day. THE magazine uses the resources of its community, the artists and writers living and working in New Mexico, as its primary editorial contributors. THE magazine is the eyes, ears, and voice of the art community throughout New Mexico.
Perspective: Fritz Scholder [1937-2005]
The enigmatic painter changed everything about our perspective of Native American art.
In 1969, Fritz Scholder completed the modest canvas Indian with Beer Can — and Native American art was never the same. In fact, back then there was no such thing as Native American fine art. Classic Navajo chief’s blankets and Mimbres pictorial pots were relegated to dusty displays in anthropology museums. Even Maria Martinez’s wonderful black-on-black ceramics were condescendingly written off as high-end crafts. Indian with Beer Can changed everything.
Today, the question lingers in the air like an unfinished argument: How did an artist, who often denied his Indian background, blossom into a painter who came to define that very category of art? All Scholder ever wanted was to be appreciated as an artist, rather than an Indian artist. Perversely, he discovered he could only make a living if he was perceived as a Native American who painted Indian imagery. It would remain a lifelong source of frustration.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING. I had traveled to Santa Fe, in part to see as many Gustave Baumann prints in person as time would allow. My first stop was The Owings Gallery. No sooner had I walked into their elegant space, than out walked a Baumann print. Nathaniel Owings, the gallery’s proprietor, was literally handing a bubble-wrapped package to a smiling client, containing a copy ofThree Pines. I couldn’t have choreographed my visit any better.
It turned out that Three Pines was inspired by a grove of conifers that still exists in the town of Chama, two-and-a-half hours from the gallery. Baumann’s pictorial genius exerted such a strong pull that I briefly gave thought to hopping in the car and driving to that very spot to experience the profound connection between nature and artist. Though I decided to stick around the gallery, I marveled at how Baumann’s woodcut compelled me to even consider making the 150-mile drive. Such is the power of his art.
“I give it a thumbs down,” Richard says. “It never has worked. There’s a history of this stuff. The closest it ever came to working was the British Rail Pension Fund. They did everything right: bought the right material and timed it right. And still, they would have been better in the S&P 500.”
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By now, you’ve probably reached the saturation point reading about the Damien Hirst “Spot” paintings road show. The thing nobody seems to be talking about is the credibility of the market for Hirst’s art. Though it’s been widely reported that he’s one of England’s wealthiest citizens, it’s hard to get to the truth over how much work he’s actually sold. Specifically, the 2008 Sotheby’s London $200 million auction extravaganza of his own art, consigned by him, which aced out his middle-men dealers Larry Gagosian and Jay Jopling.
When the sales results were originally reported, the press panted over the incredible numbers, all the more extraordinary given that international financial markets were cratering. Since then, various stories have trickled out indicating there was more to the auction total than meets the eye. For openers, there’s been talk that Hirst himself, through proxies, supported some of the lots, thereby propping up prices. But even more revealing, there have been rumors of legitimate sales where the buyers never bothered to pay for their purchases. If true, it certainly makes you wonder about the $200 million figure. Finally, right before the Sotheby’s auction took place, Hirst tried to hype the sale by announcing he would no longer be fabricating any more creature-filled tanks of formaldehyde, Butterfly paintings, and Spot paintings — a promise which he failed to keep. In fact, Hirst recently bragged about a work in progress that will contain one million spots and take another nine years to complete.
At this point, although I admire Hirst and agree that he is immensely talented, I’d be leery of investing in his work. Like the proverbial moving target, his story keeps changing.