John Brown

America, from inside out

Inspired by conceptualist Joseph Beuys, a show at the Linfield gallery explores the nation's history, identity, and legacy of trauma

In 1974, nearly a year after Sacheen Littlefeather spoke at the Oscars on behalf of indigenous people, the German Conceptual artist Joseph Beuys flew into New York City and was met at the airport by assistants who wrapped him in felt and drove him to a gallery in SoHo. There, he spent the next three days in an enclosed space with a coyote and a supply of newspapers — the Wall Street Journal, no less, the journalistic flagship for American finance capitalism.

Beuys’ iconic piece of postmodern performance art, entitled I Like America and America Likes Me, isn’t as well-known as Littlefeather’s speech, which she cut short before being escorted off-stage past a furious John Wayne, who was in the wings. But both had the same goal of highlighting the inconvenient truth of the genocide of indigenous peoples.

Right-hand section of Daniel Duford’s John Brown triptych: “The General and the Supermax,” 2018; Watercolor and graphite on paper.

The numbers are horrifying. Hard numbers are difficult to come by, of course, but when Columbus landed in the “new” world in 1492, there’s a consensus that the Western Hemisphere had an indigenous population of anywhere from 50 to 100 million. Two centuries later, that population had been slashed by as much as 90 percent. It’s that historical context within which the current exhibit at Linfield College’s art gallery in McMinnville finds itself: America Likes Me, organized by gallery curator Josephine Zarkovich, was inspired by and “is in conversation with” Beuys’ seminal 1974 show. The exhibition runs through Oct. 5 and features work by six Oregon-based artists “whose work explores ideas of shared histories, American identity, and the legacy of trauma.”

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