The Cree artist Kent Monkman stood under the soaring ceiling of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Great Hall this week wielding a laser pointer. With its beam, he indicated historical characters on the huge canvas behind him, stopping briefly on the figure of a beaver with an olive branch in its mouth as he decoded his latest painting for the assembled media. Europeans came to this continent seeking beaver pelts, he reminded them.
Toronto-resident Monkman, a member of Manitoba’s Fisher River Band, is one of a trio of international artists given an unusual assignment by America’s pre-eminent museum: The Met has asked them to address its encyclopedic collection by creating new art for its most prominent spaces. So, in the museum’s vast but always bustling front hall, Monkman takes the bull by the horns with a pair of canvases that cleverly appropriate Western history painting to expose romantic myths about Indigenous people. He is asking the Met and its many visitors to confront North America’s murderous colonial history – as Canada tries exporting Indigenous perspectives and the hope of reconciliation to the United States.
Borrowing the heroic poses and dramatic expressions from history paintings in the Met’s collection, Monkman calls his project mistikosiwak (Wooden Boat People), extending the Cree word for the French to include, by implication, all European settlers. The work is a diptych, depicting the arrival of Europeans in North America on the left and the resilience of contemporary Indigenous culture on the right. The first painting features a group of shipwrecked Europeans clambering onto a rocky shore where Indigenous characters variously welcome or repulse them. The second shows a boat paddled by contemporary Indigenous figures while two African-Americans pull white people from the water as though rescuing migrants from the Mediterranean. On a rock in the distance, armed men flash the white-power symbol and wave their guns.
These paintings, created by a team of 10 painters under Monkman’s direction and based on photo shoots that employed about 40 models and actors, represent the artist’s increasingly sophisticated deployment of a revisionist history painting. As he resurrects the genre once considered the pinnacle of Western art before it was displaced by modernism, he exposes 19th-century history painting’s assumptions about North America as an empty continent ready for exploitation and Indigenous people as a noble but tragically disappearing breed.
”Here is this incredible vocabulary that I felt could be very relevant to speak about Indigenous experience both historical and contemporary,” he said in an interview at the Met this week. “It has been a way for me to engage with a very complex and sophisticated language of image-making and it ties into those themes of erasure that were present in the 19th-century [art]. Those themes have been supported and upheld by museums because they canonized that work.”
But no longer. As Monkman unveiled his paintings in a symbolically charged place – the entry point to the Met’s sprawling, global collection at the heart of a city that is a magnet for both tourists and migrants – Met leaders talked about the need to expand the stories the museum tells.
“Museums can no longer maintain a position of neutrality,” said Sheena Wagstaff, head of the Met’s modern and contemporary art department, as she launched into a rare land acknowledgement: Manhattan is Manahatta and traditional territory of the Lenape or Delaware nation.
As part of the current contemporary project, the Met has also mounted four striking female bronze figures by the Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu in niches on the façade of its 1902 Beaux Arts building, the first time art has ever been placed there. The third participant in this program is the Icelandic multidisciplinary artist Ragnar Kjartansson, who mounted an immersive video installation in the courtyard of the museum’s Robert Lehman wing last summer.
Both of Monkman’s paintings in the Great Hall include something of a self-portrait: The central figure of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, the artist’s gender-fluid trickster alter ego (whose memoir he is currently writing.) In the first painting, she is the one figure who looks directly at you as Monkman turns the tables on viewers of Western art, subjecting them to the Indigenous gaze. In the second painting, she stands at the prow of the boat, her pose directly borrowed from that of George Washington in the Met’s most popular American painting: Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware.
Monkman continuously adapts and undercuts these historical antecedents. He takes Eugène Delacroix’s The Natchez, in which the French artist depicted a Natchez couple and their new-born baby as the last of their kind, and purges the painting of its melancholic irony. Monkman’s first painting shows the couple joyfully welcoming new life; in the second, the parents are two women. Similarly, the figure of Mexican Girl Dying, a 19th-century sculpture by the American artist Thomas Crawford, has become a woman who appears to be in the throes of orgasm rather than death. Meanwhile, a group of Indigenous children in the boat was inspired by the biblical subject The Massacre of the Innocents, but their cropped hair is a reference to the residential schools where they were forced to assimilate.
More than three metres high and almost seven metres wide, the paintings are not Monkman’s largest; that honour still belongs to Miss Chief’s Wet Dream in the collection of the Nova Scotia Art Gallery. But they do represent his most sophisticated work yet. Where once the politics of his interventions might seem obvious – for Canada 150, he simply inserted Miss Chief into a familiar painting of the Fathers of Confederation – here his mastery of the Met’s collection lifts his art. The result is a complex iconography stuffed with references to historic art, Indigenous culture and contemporary politics as Monkman beats Western history painting at its own game.
Initiated by Met curator Randall Griffey, mistikosiwak has developed into a stealthy Canadian attempt to insert Indigenous perspectives deeper into the American cultural consciousness, long dominated by the troubled legacy of slavery.
“In Canada, museums are further ahead in engaging with Indigenous perspectives,” Monkman said. “There’s a huge difference: They are about a generation behind here. It’s a big moment for the Met to offer diversified perspectives.”
That was part of what attracted contributions from Canadian philanthropists Rosamond Ivey, and Marilyn and Charles Baillie, all of whom were already supporters of the Met and helped finance this project.
“It was a huge opportunity for Kent’s career and recognition for Canada’s artistic community,” Ivey said. “And the message is not really Canadian, it’s North American.”
The first of the millions who will see the paintings over the next four months got a look Tuesday as the media took their leave and the Met’s massive front doors opened to the public. The paintings hang immediately overhead at the coat-check queues, so visitors have plenty of time to consider them. Some began debating their merits and pointing out figures to each other from below. Others gazed up in silence, seemingly amazed.
mistikosiwak (Wooden Boat People) is on show at The Metropolitan Museum in New York until April 9.
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How Kent Monkman works
Inglewood home of limited augmented reality art exhibition – CTV Toronto
Local artists will be bringing their works to augmented reality in the windows of businesses in Inglewood during a limited six-week exhibition.
Northern Reflections is four years running and is an augmented reality exhibition that will feature 11 teams of artists celebrating the power that music, art and business have.
It will run from Jan. 21 through Feb 25.
“It brings business, it brings activation to a neighborhood, this is super COVID safe and it’s also making people think maybe what the future of art is and what that means in terms of participation and engagement,” said Maud Collective creative festival producer, Kevin Jesuino.
Rebecca O’Brien, executive director of the Inglewood Business Improvement Area (BIA) was excited to bring this exhibit to the Inglewood community.
“I was like yes, this makes total sense because one of the main roles of the BIA is to bring vibrancy to the main street which is very challenging during a pandemic,” said O’Brien.
The exhibit will showcase the works of painters, animators and there will be murals paired with music produced by local and international entertainers.
“People can walk up and down the street, check out the murals, see the magic of the augmented reality but at the same time listen to this music that’s made by local musicians,” Jesuino said.
This is the first time the art will all be held within the one community for viewing.
“You can do a walk and see all 10, all 11 murals in one go, within 40 minutes you can see them all,” said Jesuino.
Uii Savage, an emerging artist in Calgary did the animating art for the exhibition.
“I’m really pleasantly happy with it, this is my first-time being part of the festival, so I am someone who works alone, I don’t really work collaboratively but this was a really great experience to work with other people,” Savage said.
Savage created 3D hands that reach out from the branches of the mural and coming together to hold each other which brings attention to the importance of human contact and how it’s missed during the pandemic.
Inglewood resident Dawn Warner was highly impressed by the artistry on display.
“It was just amazing, I’ve never seen anything like that in a picture in my life, like a bunch of hands were moving coming in to the picture, it was really cool,” said Warner.
Participants can download the free Augle app onto their phones to get involved with the interactive element of the exhibit.
The Northern Reflections exhibition is a part of a large winter art festival, Chinook Blast, taking place throughout the city from Feb. 11-28.
With files from Ty Rothermal
Art Beat: Rogue Arts Festival goes virtual on Saturday – Coast Reporter
The music and cultural gathering that is the Rogue Arts Festival was among the many arts cancellations last summer, thanks to the pandemic. But the funkiest annual festival on the Coast is bringing last summer’s planned lineup of acts back for a mini-fest this weekend, online. “We are thrilled to be able to showcase a diverse sampling of 2020 Rogue Fest artists while remembering the volunteers, vendors, staff and supporters that have made us who we are today,” Rogue Fest said in a Facebook post. On Saturday, Jan. 23, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. you can catch Bits of String, Disco Funeral, Parlour Panther, Sadé Awele, Sarah Noni, Stephen Hamm, and Tetrahedron. “Hosted by the ever-awesome Ndidi Cascade.” Go to roguefest.ca for details on the performers and information on how to link up on Saturday afternoon.
Also online this weekend is an opening reception, art exhibit, and meet-the-artist session all in one. On Sunday, Jan. 24, Sechelt artist Lynda Manson presents Tracing Footsteps, a collection of paintings based on sketches by her uncle, Bruce Black, who was killed in action in the Second World War. Manson will show Black’s sketches made while he was off-duty in the U.K., her re-imagined and elaborated takes on them, plus other works related to the theme. Proceeds from the exhibition will go to the bursary fund of the Sunshine Coast branch of the Canadian Federation of University Women. Tickets are $10 at eventbrite.ca or at cfuwsc.org.
The pandemic has been just as hard on the arts community as other parts of the community and economy since early 2020, so the B.C. government has come up with a new grant program to help out. “Together with the arts sector, we are working hard to make sure that dancers, writers, painters and other artists can continue being resilient and finding innovative ways to keep creating through COVID-19,” B.C. Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport Melanie Mark said in a news release. The ministry has created a new, $500,000 Pivot for Individuals program through the BC Arts Council. B.C. residents can apply for up to $12,000 to learn new skills or adapt their practices. The program is available to professional artists and cultural workers, including: dancers and choreographers; visual artists; writers; actors; multi-media artists; and arts administrators. To learn more, go to bcartscouncil.ca and follow the links.
Due to the pandemic, all listed live events are subject to change. Check ahead. Space is limited in Art Beat but please let us know about your events at email@example.com
President Biden Picks Oval Office Art, Inauguration Spotlights Paintings, and More: Morning Links from January 21, 2021 – ARTnews
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PERFORMERS WERE THE STARS OF YESTERDAY’S INAUGURAL ACTIVITIES, with singers like Lady Gaga, Jon Bon Jovi, and Bruce Springsteen participating in the celebration of President Biden and Vice President Harris, and poet Amanda Gorman delivering an address that stole the show, but visual art is playing a symbolic role in the transition of power, as well. Washington Post reporter Annie Linskey and photographer Bill O’Leary got a look inside Biden’s Oval Office, and found that a portrait of Benjamin Franklin had taken the place of one of President Andrew Jackson (a favorite of President Trump). The presence of Franklin, who was an inventor, writer, scientist, and more (really a jack of all trades), is “intended to represent Biden’s interest in following science,” Linskey writes. Also present: busts of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, a moon rock, and a 1917 Childe Hassam flag painting that President Obama also displayed in the office. (Trump had it on view for a stretch, but eventually removed it.) As it happens, historian Jon Meacham, who’s known to have Biden’s ear, used another Hassam for the cover of his 2018 book, The Soul of America.
PRESIDENTS CAN BORROW ART FROM THE SMITHSONIAN TO DECORATE the White House, as Smithsonian magazine detailed in 2009. Obama’s picks included pieces by Ed Ruscha and Glenn Ligon. It’s not known yet what the Bidens may have picked, but Alex Greenberger reported in ARTnews that First Lady Jill Biden did help select a landscape by the pioneering Black painter Robert Duncanson to serve as the official painting of the inaugural. The work is owned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in D.C., and its inclusion signals “a new administration with an insightful understanding of art’s potential power,” Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight writes in a column. It was not the only painting getting some special attention. Olaf Seltzer ’s 1927 painting Lewis and Clark with Sacajawea at the Great Falls of the Missouri, 1804 was printed in the inaugural’s official program, Tulsa World reports. It’s in the collection of the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, and was just put on view yesterday in an exhibition called “Americans All!”
One last Inauguration-related item: street artist Adrian Wilson was responsible for transforming a New York subway sign at 46th Street in Queens to read “46th Joe”—an image that spread quickly around the world. [Gothamist]
Collector Roberto Polo, a “financier whose roller-coaster career included a major art fraud scandal that landed him in prison,” is showcasing his holdings in new art spaces in Toledo, Spain, Raphael Minder reports. [The New York Times]
Australian artist Adrian Jones has died at the age of 63. The cause was pancreatic cancer. [ArtAsiaPacific]
Ruben Suykerbuyk has been tapped by the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to be its new curator of Old Masters . . . [Press Release]
. . . and collectors Laurens Vancrevel and Frida de Jong have donated a number of Surrealist paintings and publications to the museum. [The Art Newspaper]
The Hyundai automobile company is partnering with the digital-art group Rhizome on a series of projects, online and off. [Aju Business Daily]
Canon has launched a website that allows users to take photographs of space via satellite technology. [Hong Kong Tatler]
Since many art museums are closed in the United Kingdom amid lockdown restrictions, The Guardian is taking a tour of their collections in a series of articles. Today’s focuses on a Rose Wylie work. [The Guardian]
Musician and artist John Lurie is the subject of a new show, which “is like an apprenticeship with a crotchety bohemian Yoda,” James Poniewozik writes. [The New York Times]
Curator Robert Storr has a new compilation of essays out—and he is as pugnacious as ever in a new interview. [Artnet News]
Hong Kong–based artist Phoebe Hui Fong-wah has been working on a new project with curator Kwok Ying that has involved collaborating with NASA. Sadly, though, just when she was about to see moon dust at one of NASA’s buildings in Houston—she was in her hotel room there!—officials told her not to come, citing coronavirus precautions. “I basically refused to leave until Ying convinced me to fly back,” she tells the South China Morning Post. “I didn’t want to bullshit. I wanted to see moon dust myself. I was gutted. But, of course, we managed in the end with Zoom and emails.” [South China Morning Post]
Thank you for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.
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