First Priority: Buy Art that Raises Questions and Makes You Think

The Other First Priority: Buy Native American or First Nations Art

Or maybe I got those in the wrong order

The official “market” part takes place on the streets on Saturday and Sunday, but people began gathering in town in the early part of this week. More artists, curators, scholars, writers, filmmakers, educator, non-profit employees, grantors, community organization representatives, art fans, skateboarders, clothing designers, reporters, bloggers, and socializers, arrive each day. Most everyone is a collector, too, even if we don’t always see ourselves that way. For example, I don’t know a single artist who doesn’t own work by other artists. Sometimes the works were acquired by trade, gifted, or purchased with cash. If you’re a collector not sure what to buy and want something that is “quality” art, look at what artists acquire from each other. What do artists tend to buy from each other? Scale is often a factor. Most artists don’t  have a huge amount of space unless they have been wildly successful. Room to display/store artworks, the likelihood of having to make frequent moves, all factor into the choices we make about what to collect. From casual discussions with artists, I hear that we usually buy pieces that are smaller in scale for exactly those reasons. Anyone who can “go big,” should, of course. Over the past year, I’ve steered a number of casual conversations with artists in the direction of what they themselves have collected from other artists.

SWAIA would prefer we spend all our art dollars inside the confines of the official Indian Market booths, for a number of reasons. From remarks at a series of public talks held at Collected Works Bookstore over the past few weeks, it is clear that there are still a large number of touristy shops (about 60!) in the vicinity of the plaza that claim to be selling “Native American” work but aren’t. Their prices are terribly low and it’s because the jewelry, pots, tchotchkes, etc., are made overseas, usually mass-produced. Some dealers from outside the region also set up trunk-show-type events. In these cases, the money spent on the art doesn’t benefit Native artists, and usually leaves the region or the country entirely. First priority: Buy Native American or First Nations. The Other First Priority, Buy Something that Raises Questions and Makes You Think, is a good piece of advice for art collecting in general. I heard Dorothy and Herbert Vogel speak about their collection of minimalist and conceptualist art years ago. Their story is very interesting; a librarian and a postal service employee in New York city managed to acquire an amazing collection of art over the years and they did it on a budget, buying directly from artists, sometimes in installments. They had a general guideline that the work had to fit into a taxi. The couple donated their collection of over 4000 works of art to the National Gallery of Art in 1992. In 2008, they started a program which donated 50 works to a museum in each of the fifty states. I attended a public talk by the Vogels at the Portland Art Museum in 1997. When they were asked what advice they would give aspiring collectors, Herbert Vogel said people should buy what they like. The couple with the enormously valuable collection advised people not to buy an artwork as an investment, but because they like the art and want to live with it. Their advice made sense to me. If it doesn’t go up in value, at least you can enjoy looking at the artwork and thinking about it for years to come.

Well over a thousand artists are in Santa Fe this week. There is an amazing diversity of kinds of art available. Some of the art is about experience and cannot be purchased at all: performances of music and dance, live paint events, temporary public art, performance art and performance poetry, and free film screenings. We can live with the memories. Other art is work you can take home much more literally, as jewelry, pottery, sculpture, clothing, basketry, textiles, paintings, drawings, photographs. You can take home work that speaks about the past and the future, happiness and sadness, anger and acceptance, wealth and poverty, silliness and seriousness, facts and fictions, boredom and fear, love and hope.

“Zombie Skins: Salon a Vie Morte” opening on Wednesday, August 15, 2012

So Many Artists in One Place

The artists with booths at Indian Market are required to remain in their booths while their booths are open. That makes for a long, tiring day, with no opportunity to visit with other artists during the actual event. Group shows with openings at other venues in the days leading up to market are one way that artists have been making sure they have chances to get together and see each other’s work. Two notable examples of this are the Zombie Skins: salon de la vie mort exhibition and Low Rez: Native American Lowbrow Art. The zombie-themed exhibition is located in the studio of artist America Meredith, who kindly made space available for work by more than twenty artists. Zombie Skins is on exhibition through August 19th, 2012 and is open from 2pm-6pm each day. It is operating something like an artists’ collective, with artists sharing in gallery-sitting duties at 2889 Trades West #E (just off of Siler near Cerillos. It’s an industrial space at the back of the row.) The Low Rez exhibition is at Eggman and Walrus at 131 W. San Francisco. The opening is Friday, Aug 17 from 5:30-9pm. The work will be on exhibit through September 1st. Some of the artists in these two shows also have booths at Market. Here is a handy graphic:


Artists in Low Rez: Jamison Chas Banks, Nani Chacon, Brent Greenwood, Amber Gunn Gauthier, April Holder, Topaz Jones, Randy Kemp, Linda Lomahaftewa, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Daniel McCoy, Jr., America Meredith, Chris Pappan, Keith Secola, Jeremy Singer, Monty Singer, Ryan Singer, Hoka Skenandore, Micah Wesley, Debra Yepa-Pappan.

Artists in Zombie Skins: Bryon Archuleta, Roy Boney, Lara Evans, Robert Garcia, Sam Atakra Haozous, Topaz Jones, Daniel McCoy, Melissa Melero, Mary Beth Nelson, Ji Hae Pappan, Colin L. singer, Monty Singer, Julius Badoni, Jamison Chas Banks, Tom Farris, Jeremy Gimmey, Frank Buffalo Hyde, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Marlon Melero, America Meredith, Chris Pappan, Joseph Sanchez, Jerrel Singer, Ryan Singer, Natasha Wagner.

The “A” Word

Anna Tsouhlarakis, “Aesthetically Speaking I”, 2011. Inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist.

“Whenever the term ‘ authentic’ is used in aesthetics, a good first question to ask is, Authentic as opposed to what?” –Denis Dutton[1]

SWAIA is hosting a series of panel discussions this summer on the subject of quality in current Native American art. How is quality discussed in relationship to art in general? What additional aspects of “quality” come to light when the conversation is about quality in art created by Native American artists? How can we talk about quality sensitively, collaboratively, and productively?

In a fundamental manner, talking about quality involves talking about how we make critical judgments – assessments of value, of the degree of excellence of an art object. The description of the first session, which takes place tonight (Thursday, July 12, 2012) at Collected Works bookstore in Santa Fe, sets up “authenticity” as one of the first determinants of “quality.”

A discussion of “authenticity” could go in numerous directions. I will use a passage from philosopher Denis Dutton to identify some distinctions in the use of the term authenticity: “Despite the widely different contexts in which the authentic/inauthentic is applied in aesthetics, the distinction nevertheless tends to form around two broad categories of sense. First, works of art can possess what we may call nominal authenticity, defined simply as the correct identification of the origins, authorship, or provenance of an object, ensuring, as the term implies, that an object of aesthetic experience is properly named. However, the concept of authenticity often connotes something else, having to do with an object’s character as a true expression of an individual’s or a society’s values and beliefs. This second sense of authenticity can be called expressive authenticity.”[2]

Nominal authenticity therefore involves verifying the identity of the artist, and in the case of Native American art, the tribal affiliations of the artist. Expressive authenticity includes consideration of cultural authenticity, though interest in this this type of authenticity has potentially negative ramifications when analysis of cultural authenticity is influenced by racism, nationalist narratives, and/or cross-cultural misunderstandings.

From the point of view of artists, we might consider the assertion that artistic value is dependent upon whether or not an artwork expresses the authentic values of its maker, especially when those values are also shared by the artist’s immediate community.[3] How “immediate community” gets defined is absolutely crucial for Native artists.

I started this essay with the artwork Aesthetically Speaking I by Anna Tsouhlarakis[4] because it very graphically communicates the experience of carrying on a dialogue about art. The complex visual patterns in the speech balloons convey both more and less to us as viewers than conventional text-filled speech balloons. The body language of the figures indicate one person is speaking earnestly and the other is listening, perhaps with some confusion or skepticism. The contents of their speech balloons appear to be somewhat in opposition, implied by the strong diagonal lines and the hierarchical placement of the two speech balloons. The differences between the contents of the balloons may initially leap out at a viewer, but the two patterns share some features in common. Both are organized in bands of parallel lines and contain repeated geometric patterns. The patterns take up the totality of the field for speech. Each elliptical form shows that the women are discussing a symbol arranged into a pattern, a specific context, not just a symbol in isolation. I am using this artwork to tease out relationships between discourse, interdependent complexity, formal relationships, and categorical distinctions we attempt to make around indigenous art.

Nancy Blomberg, curator for Denver Art Museum wrote in her introduction for the book [Re]inventing the Wheel, “If we accept American Indian art as a valid category for scholarly study, then it must no longer be studied solely in isolation––for it was never created in isolation. American Indian art did not develop in a vacuum. There were many, many influences among different tribes––and from non-Indians. We have all been complicit in a false narrative of purity, immutable tradition, and isolation. We must acknowledge and celebrate the complexities of cross-cultural exchange, because the Taos School, the Hudson River School, and the Santa Fe Studio School of artists did not develop in isolation. Our segregation of American Indian art has not raised awareness; instead we have unwittingly fragmented a common narrative to the detriment of the narrative.”[5]

On that note, SWAIA is bringing together panels of speakers to address “quality” in art. The first panel includes the following: Deborah Jojola (Isleta), Matthew Martinez (Ohkay Owingeh), America Meredith (Cherokee),  Alex Pena (Comanche) and Cannupa Hanska (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota, Austrian, Norwegian).


Event Announcement from SWAIA:

Authenticity in Native Arts, Lecture Series: What does “quality” mean?

July 12, 2012 6:00 pm, Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse 202 Galisteo St. Santa Fe

Free Admission. From its state flag and license plates to the romanticized ideology of the southwest, New Mexico is immersed in Native cultural influences; indeed, Native art is its central identity. With such a broad platform and visibility, the ubiquity and sale of Native art has the potential to be highly lucrative. SWAIA is producing a series of lectures that address these issues directly. As the producer of the Santa Fe Indian Market, SWAIA is the authority on authenticity issues in the Native art world. With panelists including artists, art dealers and experts, the lectures provide a broad and up to date view of the dialogue surrounding these controversial topics.

[1] Denis Dutton, “Authenticity in Art,” in The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics, ed. Jerrold Levinson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003). Also available online at

[4] More works from Tsouhlarakis’s Aesthetics series on can be seen in the catalogue We Are Here: The Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship, 2011, pp. 84-89. Additionally, an installation work, titled “Edges of the Ephemeral,” is on exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe until September 15th, 2012.

[5] Nancy J. Blomberg, “Advancing the Dialogue,” in [Re]inventing the Wheel: Advancing the Dialogue on Contemporary American Indian Art, ed. Nancy J. Blomberg (Denver: Denver Art Museum, 2005) pp. 19-24.

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: 

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!

“Bran Nue Dae” for Indian Art Market


I attended the Wednesday screening of the film Bran Nue Dae at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe and stayed for a Q&A session with Writer/Director Rachel Perkins and Jimmy Chi(?). First of all the film was very good. That is a huge compliment from me because I absolutely hate musicals. Musicals make me yawn and fidget. I know, it’s a terrible flaw in my personality. And yet, every once in a while somebody talks me into going to one, usually with something along the lines of “But this one will be different! You’ll love it!” But really, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and The Who’s Tommy are the only musicals I can stand – and I think purists probably don’t think of those as real musicals – I think the proper term for them is “Rock Opera?” Anyhow, I will tell you “This musical is different! You’ll love it.” It might not be totally perfect, there are a few moments that seem slightly belabored, but not enough to drag. I wish that the advertising for the event had included the fact that there would be a Q&A afterward. I ducked out to go the restroom and missed the beginning of the Q&A. I figured that one of the speakers was Rachel Perkins, but never got to hear the name of the man speaking along with her. If you know who that was, please make a comment below so I can add that info! 

And now for the real point of this essay: 1) Why is this film important? and 2) Why should it be at SWAIA Indian Art Market? 

1) Bran Nue Dae is based on a play written by three Australian Aboriginal writers. The play did very well in Australia and it has taken something like ten years to transform it into a screen play and get the film made and distributed. The screenplay was written by Rachel Perkins, Jimmy Chi, and Reg Cribb. The storyline centers around a young man who is sent to boarding school to become a priest. He runs away and the bulk of the movie consists of his adventures on the lam and his return to Broome where he must confront his mother. The movie deals with the violence and racism in boarding school environments that aim to acculturate indigenous peoples. Other heavy-duty issues come up: alcoholism, homelessness, sexual misconduct by priests, incarceration of aboriginal men in neck chains for long transports on foot. My understanding from hearing the Q&A session and from discussions with acquaintances more familiar with Australia than myself, is that these issues are usually only addressed in Australia with an air of remorse, tragedy, and a heavy dose of White guilt. In the Q&A, Rachel Perkins spoke about approaching those subjects with a full dose Aboriginal humor and irony. In the audience, I kept waiting for that horrible blow that would make me angry on the character’s behalf or that would make cry in sympathy/frustration. Nope. The filmmakers used humor, irony, musical sequences, and dance choreography to resist the master narrative of the tragic and pain-filled lives of Aborigines. Watch the trailer and you’ll see what I mean. A crucial sequence that sets the tone of the film occurs when Willy is standing before the priest about to get smacked with a board labelled “Thou Shall Not Steal.” After the priest uses some ethnic slurs and swings the board down for the first strike, Willy ducks out of the way and breaks into song and dance. (Lyrics: There is nothing I would rather be, than to be an Aborigine). The rest of the boys join in and the three priests are overwhelmed and outnumbered. Willy makes his escape instead of sticking around to nobly take his beating and get civilized by the church (I am using nobly and civilized ironically here, but you probably already know that). You can watch a preview of the film Here: Bran Nue Dae. 

I could write a great deal of analysis of the film, but I need to try to sneak in a siesta before I head off to the Poeh Museum for the AXIOM show…especially the fashion stuff. I learned my lesson earlier this week. I can’t do art art art all day without crashing and burning in the evening. And when can I write if that happens, eh? I will move on to question #2) Why does this film fit in with SWAIA’s Indian Art Market? To me, it seems like a no brainer that we should be building ties between international indigenous communities, including art organizations, markets, and individual artists and scholars. Our Native artists struggle financially regardless of the media we work in: jewelry, pottery, weaving, painting, photography, film, new media, literary arts. Why should we each fight individually for a place in the market, for greater understanding of our cultures and our aesthetics and the validity of our forms of knowledge. Sometimes, situations are set up that make it look like we are competing against each other. What we are really competing against is history, ignorance, and naiveté. On some occasions there is even unconcealed racism. 

Bran Nue Dae has been hugely successful in Australia, not just as an Aboriginal film, but as an Australian film. It is now beginning to have a small distribution in the US that may lead to a much wider distribution. The success of an indigenous-made film from anywhere in the world has the potential to develop a ripple effect, providing better opportunities and funding to other artists, writers, directors. Building ties – instead of competition – is crucial for us as Native peoples and as artists. 

I was having coffee (and yummy pinon pancakes) at the restaurant The Plaza this morning with artist Erica Lord and scholar Marianne Riphagen. Riphagen is from Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen and she specializes in contemporary Australian Aboriginal art. The subject of cultural protocol came up and we all a bit surprised that were no protocols happening as part of Indian Art Market. I suppose that is because of the nature and history of the Market. I teach at The Evergreen State College, where we have The Longhouse Education and Cultural Center. The Longhouse sponsors and hosts many gatherings of Native artists, including ongoing relationships with Maori artists and Hawaiian Native artists. Anytime there is a get-together, appropriate cultural protocols are devised to welcome our guests and begin our exchanges on a footing of honor and cooperation amongst all present. We come together and meet Nation-to-Nation. And then we meet individual-to-individual. These cultural protocols are a negotiated set of social ceremonies of welcoming based on the traditions of each of the groups involved. That sort of protocol probably isn’t practical for Market, but my ideas about why it is important for events like the screening of Bran Nue Day to be part of the overall programming come from my experiences of inter-tribal art events that include such welcoming protocols. Welcoming artists from other indigenous communities helps us build our networks and strengthens our communities.

The Market operates the way the Market operates,  but I will say that opening the official events to include film, video, and experimental work from all over this continent and from indigenous communities elsewhere in the world is building a foundation for cooperation, intercultural exchange, and ultimately a better presence for our Native artists globally… far beyond the weekend of SWAIA’s Indian Art Market. 

My cruddy snap of the Q&A session after viewing Bran Nue Dae. Rachel Perkins on the left and an unknown Cool Guy on the right.