Installing “I.M.N.D.N” with curator Todd Clark

The newest Art Gym exhibition focuses on the world Native artists see

Rick Bartow, "From Nothing Coyote Creates Himself," 2004

Rick Bartow, “From Nothing Coyote Creates Himself,” 2004

I arrived at the Art Gym on the afternoon of the morning that 50 delicate porcelain arrows made by Nicholas Galanin had arrived from a museum in Montreal. This was a problem: All 50 were supposed to hang in a curve from the high ceiling of the Art Gym above the exhibition area for “I.M.N.D.N.—Native Art for the the 21st Century,” and the show was opening on Sunday.

As I walked in curator Todd Clark was holding a slim, two-foot length of wood as a stand-in for the arrows, just making sure how they’d line up and hang before committing the porcelain to the heights. The 50 arrows were arranged on a long table, white with a blue pattern on them, like an old Victorian wallpaper design. The metaphor was complicated: beneath the colonial trappings, the tribal arrow survived; on the other hand, it had become very breakable. “The warrior in the colonial condition,” as Clark describes it.

Not all the objects are quite that symbolic, at least on the face of it. Wendy Red Star, a Portland artist, offers a little room full of book covers that she’s collected from the “White Squaw” pornographic novel series and reentered photographically. That’s Red Star herself playing the “White Squaw” making faces both fearful and lascivious. Otherwise the titles and subtitles are the same. In White Squaw #19, “Badman’s Climax: She licks her enemies at their own game,” Red Star closes her made-up eyes as she starts to place a big spoonful of Land O’ Lakes butter in her mouth between her fire engine red lipsticked lips. So, yes, a send-up, though once you start pulling those covers apart a little bit, both individually and as a set of 25(!), maybe you’ll be led down some serious lines of thought.

Wendy Red Star, "Badman's Climax," 2013

Wendy Red Star, “Badman’s Climax,” 2013

Clark himself is a member of the Wailaki tribe of northern California, and his father was an artist in the ’70s, involved in the Red Power politics of the time. Clark’s interest in music and art led him to Los Angeles, UCLA, and work installing art for several museums, including the LA County Museum of Art and the Autry Museum of Western Heritage. He wasn’t that interested in tribal art until he moved to Portland four years ago with his wife and children and started noticing how many interesting Native artists there were in the Northwest as he worked at the Portland Art Museum, Art Gym, and the Lumber Room.

When another show at the Art Gym cancelled early last summer, outgoing gallery director Terri Hopkins picked up on conversations she’d been having with Clark and suggested he curate “I.M.N.D.N.” (and yes, just say the initials aloud quickly). Some of the seven artists in the show he knew he wanted from the beginning, Rick Bartow (represented by four sculptures and new painting on paper, Bird Bird Bird), Joe Feddersen, and Red Star. Others were recommended to him as he plunged into the show, Terrance Houle and Peter Morin. The set of signs by Edgar Heap of Birds, Native Hosts, was offered from the collection of the Regional Arts and Culture Council once word of the exhibition started to spread.

Clark’s original organizing principles were pretty simple. First, he didn’t want to show traditional art (“old moccasins”) or modern interpretations of traditional tribal art; he wanted contemporary art by artists working in a contemporary vein. Second? “My initial vision was to present how each artist saw the world today.” As he worked on the show and with the artists, his focus became more particular. The idea for the Bartow painting arrived late, fresh from Bartow’s studio, for example. The shimmering curtain of glass symbols (guns, booze bottles, crutches, abstract symbols) created by Feddersen came from the Froelick Gallery (along with the Bartow painting). Galanin suggested several pieces for the show, and Clark was, um, smitten by the arrows, not knowing at the time that they’d arrive late from a museum in Montreal. He’d hoped that Morin would be able to do one of his performance pieces for the show, but the photographs and the bird robe from one of those performances on the streets of London are an excellent substitute.

Still, I think Clark’s original idea holds: As a group, the artists ARE observing and commenting on their world, specifically from a Native American perspective. And it’s very powerful.

The show wasn’t completely installed when I was there, so I don’t want to interrogate the individual pieces too much. I’ll just suggest that Clark accomplishes his primary aim for show. “I wanted to show that Native cultures are still alive, more right now than in a long time.”

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“I.M.N.D.N.—Native Art for the the 21st Century” opens at 3 pm Sunday, January 12, and runs through February 14 at the Art Gym at Marylhurst University, 17600 Pacific Hwy (Hwy 43). Gallery talk at 12:30 pm Thursday, Jan. 30.

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Read more by Barry Johnson.

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One Response.

  1. Cynthia Kirk says:

    I can’t wait to see this show. I’d love to go to today’s opening but I, um, have another commitment…I’m so glad Rick Bartow is still working, after that frightening stroke. What an amazing artist he is, in so many media!

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