“Tonto’s Revenge Dance Party” by Tom Huff

detail view of Tom Huff’s “Tonto’s Revenge Dance Party,” 2011.

“Tonto’s Revenge Dance Party” by Tom Huff

A number of exhibitions at Santa Fe’s Museum of Contemporary Native Arts are about to close on July 31st. I’ve seen images of Tom Huff’s piece elsewhere on the web, but took a short video showing the work from all sides while the turntable is in motion. Perhaps this documentation would be useful to a scholar or student interested in the work who did not get to visit the museum in person.

Tom Huff, who is Seneca, created this artwork for the exhibition  Under the Influence – Iroquois Artists at IAIA (1962-2012). IAIA is the acronym for a college in Santa Fe:  Institute for American Indian Art. IAIA began as a two-year college in 1962 and celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year. It has changed a great deal over the years, including growing from a two-year to a four-year college and expanding its campus, acquiring and renovating an historic building into a museum, and building new, state-of-the-art collection storage facilities for its museum, MoCNA.[1]

The exhibition Under the Influence is part of museum programming this year that brings to light some of IAIAs history through the use of artworks in their collection and artworks solicited from former students. Once the current exhibitions come down, 50/50: Fifty Artists, Fifty Years goes up just in time for the 2012 Indian Art Market, on August 17th.

There is a strong sense of very positive regionalism associated with IAIA and its museum. Santa Fe’s art market in general has a strong sense of regionalism. Strong artistic and artisanal practices from the state’s pueblos help maintain that sense of regional identity. The exhibition Under the Influence – Iroquois Artists at IAIA (1962-2012) foregrounds the college’s role as an educational center responsible for bringing together Native American (and First Nations) students from a wide variety tribes and cultural traditions into a shared location. Tom Huff’s turn-table based artwork, titled Tonto’s Revenge Dance Party, has stuck in my mind since seeing the exhibition, not just because it has a central location at the entrance to the exhibition space, but because it has a strong narrative component in addition its moving parts.  The fictional sidekick “Tonto” is currently at the center of debates around the representation of Native peoples through television and movies.[2] As in television and film, the Lone Ranger is the center of the universe. While other parts are in motion and have context, Huff’s Lone Ranger stands immobile – no “ranging” involved. Tonto is represented by a plastic toy Indian  riding a skateboard around the perimeter of the record player’s turntable. The title makes Tonto the center of the action, claiming both revenge (very serious) and dance party. The dance party may actually be equally serious. Reading the text written over the case for the record player reveals a seriousness to the party – putting the “party” into context with the history of IAIA and the history of Native American art. Huff learned stone carving while at IAIA and continues to work with stone as well as mixed media. The text reads in part,


Another section includes a photograph of Allan Houser with the caption “THE GODFATHER OF CONTEMPORARY NATIVE AMERICAN SCULPTURE.”

Tom Huff attended IAIA in 1979 and then earned a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design in 1984. He’s been involved with Atlatl, exhibited his stonework internationally, and curated the exhibition Haudenosaunee Elements at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, NY. Huff was Artist-In-Residence at SUNY Empire State College in 2011.

Tom Huff was only at IAIA for one year, but that year clearly had a lasting impact. If you have the chance to visit MoCNA before Under the Influence closes on July 31st, I highly recommend it. If you can visit the museum again during SWAIA’s 91st Indian Art Market in August, even better! Tom Huff’s Tonto’s Revenge Dance Party is definitely a work worth hunting for, as are many others in the exhibition.

[1] A major resource for the history of IAIA is Joy L. Gritton’s book, The Institute of American Indian Arts: Modernism and U.S. Indian Policy, published in 2000 by University of New Mexico Press. The notes and bibliography are extensive and useful, although the book only covers the inception of the school through 1968. An accounting of the college’s history and analysis of its role in art and education deserves greater attention and scholarship than it has yet received.

[2] The blog Native Appropriations has a number of postings on the subject of Tonto. http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2012/03/why-tonto-matters.html from March 2012 contains links to a number of other articles/blogs related to the subject.

The Digital Dome at IAIA

Installation view of the Digital Dome at IAIA, Santa Fe, NM

As I am preparing to go to campus to look at options for installing a two-channel video projection piece in our college’s gallery, I see this video posted on facebook. I am not yet able to embed video in my blog (it costs money, apparently). It’s worth it to click on this link to view the short video on youtube. I heard about the Digital Dome at IAIA while I was in Santa Fe last month, but didn’t get to go see it. I’m sure I’ll be seeing it on my next trip to Santa Fe.

The basics? Instead of creating video art that must adhere to Western culture’s preference for the rectangle and for walls set at 90 degree angles, the digital dome is just that, a complete dome form, with a fabulous computer that can crunch the data to project over the curved surface. This is a form that fits well with pre-existing, fairly widespread native significance of dome, spherical, or circular forms, as found in oral tradition in many traditional architectural forms, and forms of material culture.

Thinking about the aesthetic potential of the Digital Dome has my mind spinning (sorry for the bad pun).

Digital Dome, IAIA

How does art-writing happen?


Newspaper reviews, journal articles, exhibition catalogues, gallery guides…art criticism blogs? How does art-writing happen? Who pays for it? How does anyone make a living doing it? For the most part, we don’t make a living writing about art. For example, I make my living teaching. When I help my students with guidance about doing research on artists and artworks, I guide them to journal articles and give them a caution about the beautiful picture books on the library shelves. Most of the exhibition catalogues take a very conservative approach – controversies are usually glossed over. Exhibition catalogues exist to improve the reputation and value of a museum’s collection. If you want dirt, try for journal articles from academic journals. Drawback to journal articles: it can take a while for work to get published… maybe a couple years. And nobody really gets paid for publishing in academic journals. Good art-writing is hard to find… and especially hard to find if you are interested in Native American art (historic period, traditional, or contemporary – there’s a lot of rubbish, and then there are gems mixed in with it).  I bring all this up because I just read an interesting post on the blog wittily called Bloggy

Here is the text of the post:

“Given my lack of time for blogging, and knowing more people would see it and discuss it there, I shared my notes from my rant on the last night of #class with Art Fag City. Don’t miss the comments.

Part of the point of #class was to propose solutions, not just whine, so here are my thoughts. As the number of culture critics and writers decline in the printed media, the online world is replacing them, but getting paid enough to write is a big problem, even for relatively well-known writers such as Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City. As the co-founder of Culture Pundits and Idiom, it’s something I worry about quite often, and both were founded to find some support for good writing.

My proposal: arts organizations such as The Art Dealers Association of America and the New Art Dealers Alliance should use a portion of their membership dues to fund arts writing. I’m sure similar groups exist for theater and dance as well, but the area I know best is the visual arts. In the long run, they need people to write about art, including their artists and exhibitions, and if people are too broke or busy freelancing to do so, no one wins. For a fraction of the cost of attending even a single art fair, the pooled resources could make a big difference in the quality and quantity of art criticism. Heck, perhaps some of this money could even fund some good editors to work with bloggers and other writers who would like that assistance!

Implementation details, such as an advisory committee for handing out the money, can be discussed. I would strongly recommend against a big proposal process, as I think that takes away from the time writers could use for better purposes. Writers who are interested in being considered could fill out a simple web form with a link to some samples of their writing for a committee to consider. In the interest of smoothing cash flow for all parties involved, the awards could even be monthly payments rather than lump sums. PayPal works very nicely for that.”

The Comments that follow the Bloggy post were also interesting. You should check them out.

The main objection to Bloggy’s proposal is that if those organizations are paying the writers, then the authenticity of the writing is corrupted…we turn into a bunch of gagged yes-men(and women), because what funder is going to risk having us give them BAD reviews about the artists and exhibitions they have an interest in? This argument overlooks one important fact: any press is good press. Randy Gragg, an art critic in Oregon, once told me that when he gives a show a bad review, MORE people go see the exhibition. For some reason, we are fascinated to go see what BAD art looks like. It’s not like going to a movie that you read a bad review about. Going to a gallery is usually free. Going to an art museum can be free or cheap depending on when you go. You’re also not held captive for 1.5 hours. You can leave anytime you like. Mr. Gragg said that he got thank you letters from artists, even for a bad review, because at least it was free advertising, and the artist knew more people came to see the work for themselves.

But back to Bloggy’s idea of trade organizations pooling funds to support art writing… I think it’s an interesting idea and I have been thinking about it for the last month or so, independently, but in regard to art-writing specifically about contemporary Native American art. We in the US have been operating under a handicap in comparison to the kind of support our counterparts in Canada have.  When a Native art institution in the US is looking for Native writers about Native art, they run out of writers if they are looking for more than 10 or so, and have to turn to Canadian First Nations writers. This is because we don’t have institutional support to make a living, develop our careers, or even hang on by tooth and nail here in the US (see my picture above). If IAIA,  MoCNA, the Denver Art Museum, NMAI, the Heard Museum, the Southwest Museum, SWAIA, and other institutions with a stake in Native American art pooled their funds, they could support a number of independent arts-writers, without having to start their own publishing houses. I’m just planting a seed here… someone with a better head for business could figure it out. Me, I’m here for the art, and the blogging.

TOMS Shoes by Jason Garcia – Wearable Art

Michelle McGeough kindly sent this photo in of the art shoes created by Jason Garcia (Santa Clara Puebloe) that she purchased at MoCNA during the Vital Strides fundraiser. Vital Strides was a great event that happened toward the end of SWAIA’s Indian Art Market in Santa Fe last week. Please see the previous two postings for more information about the event and about TOMS Shoes.

 Jason Garcia is best known as a ceramic artist from a  family of clay artists from Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico. There is an example of his work below. Here is a link to more examples of his work: http://www.kinggalleries.com/Jason_Garcia_Pottery.htm 

Jason clearly designed the shoes to be worn, with the design oriented toward someone other than the wearer of the shoes. To make the drawing on the shoes more visible, I reoriented and cropped the photo. Hopefully, that helps.

TOMS Shoes painted on by artist Jason Garcia (Santa Clara Pueblo) for Michelle McGeough

Jason Garcia, Tales of Suspense, nd. Detail of Jason Garcia's work.

Detail of shoes by Jason Garcia

 Considering that I sail off on a schooner for the next several days(see post from earlier today), this is probably my last post until Thursday – unless I get more images before dark-thirty in the morning!

Art in Additional Sizes (more TOMS Shoes from the IAIA fundraiser Vital Strides)

Sherry Farrell-Racette kindly sent in these photographs of TOMS Shoes that she won at auction last week. For the background on this story, please see the previous entry: Art in a Size 7.5. Here is one pair of shoes by Teri Greeves, a Kiowa beadwork artist who resides in Santa Fe. For more information on Teri Greeves, you can visit this Craft in America website. Please feel free to click on links in this article – they open in a separate window! 

TOMS Shoes, by Teri Greeves (Kiowa), 2010.

Detail of Teri Greeves' beadwork.

 The second pair are artworks meant for display more than actual wearing. This pair of shoes by photographer/installation artist Will Wilson (Navajo), is titled The Rose by any other name is the name of the Toes, as it says on the shoebox below. 

The shoebox for Will Wilson's art shoes (TOMS Shoes).

 Each shoe has a set of photographs inset in the footbed. You can remove the set of photographs and fan them out into a circle because they are attached at a pivot point in the “heel” area. 

A view of Will Wilson's art shoes with photographs in the footbed.

Detail of Will Wilson's "The name of the rose by any name is the name of the Toes." Each set of photographs is fanned out in this view.

 Wilson’s project plays upon feet as objects renown for their odor, just as roses are renowned for their own odor. Of course, since this pair of shoes won’t actually be worn, they aren’t likely to acquire “rosiferousness.” Way to go, Teri Greeves, Will Wilson, and IAIA’s ASU for such an inventive fundraiser!

Art in a Size 7.5

In Santa Fe, on August 22nd, I attended the Vital Strides: IAIA ASG Live Paint Event and Fundraiser at IAIA’s Museum of Contemporary Native Art (MoCNA). They had a lot of neat TOMS Shoes done up by prominent Native artists associated in some way with IAIA, either as students or faculty. Those were pretty much out of my economic range (yeah, budget). But I turned around and saw artist Heidi Brandow set-up at a table ready to paint on a pair of shoes for the low low price of $60. I couldn’t resist! Heidi was one of the women involved in the School for Advanced Research project that resulted in the book Art in Our Lives: Native Women Artists in Dialogue. I really like her work, so I asked her to make some shoes for me. Here they are:

TOMS Shoes, painted by artist Heidi Brandow as a fundraiser for IAIA's Associated Student Government Program.

So, what are TOMS Shoes? The company has a one-for-one policy, meaning that every pair of shoes sold results in a pair of shoes being donated to a child in a developing country. Aside from providing shoes for reasons of health and safety, most schools require shoes. If a child can’t come up with shoes, education is refused. Shoes seem to be key tools for education, for avoiding parasites, and for preventing cuts/infections, etc. Since I just got mine and haven’t worn them much, I can’t comment yet on their durability, ergonomics, comfort, or suitability for hard work. Am I participating in Corporate Colonization? I love the term I saw on a post at Sociological Images: Conspicuous Conservation. Maybe I just participated in Conspicuous Doo-gooder-ism. But at least TOMS Shoes is demonstrating the profitabilty of Corporate Responsibility. At any rate, I can say that an artist I really like (Heidi Brandow), embellished these shoes for me, including a personalized inscription and signature on the interior. It gives me the opportunity to drop her name relentlessly into conversations when I am wearing these shoes. Part of my $60 also went to students at IAIA, and that’s a good thing. The good of those two things hopefully outweighs the small possibility that giving someone in a so-called developing country  a pair of donated Toms Shoes is a colonialist/assimilationist act. I will enjoy my shoes and talk up Heidi, IAIA, and MoCNA, and even Toms Shoes.

P.S. I hate the term “developing.” It sounds like it’s inevitable, like puberty.

P.P.S I am hoping that others who bought shoes at this event will send pictures to share! Hint hint! My e-mail address is on the About Page.

Postcommodity Speaks

Postcommodity collective artists Raven Chacon, Kade L. Twist, Steven Yazzie and Nathan Young speak at IAIA’s Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe (108 Cathedral Place, Santa Fe, 87501) from 11:30am-1:00pm on Friday August 20th. Here are photographs from their work P’oe iwe navi ûnp’oe dînmuu (My Blood is in the Water), taken on Wednesday. I’ll probably have new photos on Friday. Questions about the work? Come see the work in person and hear the artists speak.

Postcommodity Collective, P’oe iwe navi ûnp’oe dînmuu (My Blood is in the Water), MOCNA, Photograph by Lara Evans

Detail of P’oe iwe navi ûnp’oe dînmuu (My Blood is in the Water), Note the drop of blood suspended in the air. Photo by Lara Evans.