Exhibition to Showcase Contemporary American Indian Art at Berkshire Museum

Preston Singletary, Eagle Warrior, 2011 (courtesy Schantz Galleries)

(PITTSFIELD, Mass.) – Berkshire Museum will present an innovative exhibition, Rethink! American Indian Art, featuring both striking contemporary art and important historic art objects, on view from July 7, 2012, to January 6, 2013. An opening reception will be held Thursday, July 12, 2012, from 5 to 7 p.m. and a Family Day of programs and activities will take place on Saturday, July 14.

The exhibition will feature contemporary works of art in a range of media and techniques, from video installations, contemporary basketry, and beadwork to ceramics, sculpture, and glass, by accomplished artists Marcus Amerman, Jeremy Frey, Teri Greeves, Diego Romero, Preston Singletary, and Bently Spang.

The exhibition also will include historic Native American art objects from Berkshire Museum’s permanent collections. Rethink! is co-curated by art historian Margaret Archuleta and Berkshire Museum’s director of interpretation Maria Mingalone and collections manager/registrar Leanne Hayden.

“Rethink! challenges many of the preconceptions and stereotypes of American Indian art,” says Mingalone. “Showcasing historic material with the work of contemporary artists demonstrates that Indians have not disappeared and that Indian artists continue to express themselves in a contemporary world. These artists reflect not only on their heritage, but on the human condition as experienced in contemporary life, as any artist would regardless of their background or cultural heritage. “

Six of the participating artists and co-curator Archuleta traveled to the museum this past winter to take part in a three-day symposium where they were able to review, reflect, and share their stories, thoughts, and opinions about the museum’s collection, and the relationship of their work to that collection. The sessions were filmed and are being used as a tool in the development of the exhibition. Due to the unique curatorial approach being used in the development of Rethink!, the exhibition will move past a typical anthropological interpretation of Native American cultural objects to present them for what they are: rich, vibrant artworks.

“Bringing the artists to the museum to review and respond to the museum’s Indian collection created a community approach to the organizing of Rethink!. The artists’ responses are incorporated throughout the exhibition — in the graphic panels, on label text, and as part of the selection process. The artists bring an Indian ‘voice’ to the historic collection,” says Archuleta. “Most importantly, Rethink! advances the fact that Indian people have not ‘disappeared’ and that their art is a continuum of living cultures — no matter the media. Rethink! provides the museum visitor an opportunity to reevaluate their notions and understanding of Indian people and the artwork they create.”

Bently Spang, The Modern Warrior Series War Shirt 1, 1998 (collection of Sandra Spang)

The artists whose work will be exhibited in the show use traditional materials interchangeably with cutting-edge materials and the latest techniques. It’s an integral part of their tradition to adapt and innovate, using what is around them to move forward creatively. For Bently Spang, performance and video are a clear continuation of his Cheyenne heritage. On his magnificent war shirt assemblages, Spang incorporates modern objects in the same way a wife or mother would have included a medicine bundle or amulet on a war shirt made two hundred years ago for a family member.

Diego Romero’s ceramic pots resemble, in shape and technique, ones made by his ancestors, but the iconography in his decoration is completely contemporary. Glass artist Preston Singletary uses the symbolic, iconic imagery of the Tlingit, rendered in contemporary glass techniques in striking black and red.

“Rethink! challenges us to reconsider our perceptions of American Indian art, as well as our understanding of American Indians and even what it means to be American,” adds Berkshire Museum executive director Van Shields.

Berkshire Museum’s collection of historic Native American art objects includes many items purchased in the early twentieth century, representing tribal nations from across the country, by the Museum’s founder Zenas Crane. Visitors will see decorated moccasins, some with quills and others with beads; a Lakota Sioux feathered headdress; a deerskin frontiersman’s coat embellished with elaborate porcupine quill embroidery; a vividly patterned pipe bag embellished with both quills and beads; a meticulously woven Panamint figural basket; a beautiful Salish/Kootenai beaded cradleboard; and an exquisitely tiny Pomo gift basket covered in yellow and blue feathers.

Teri Greeves, Sunboy's Women (courtesy the artist)

“Berkshire Museum’s Native American collection has not been on exhibit to this extent in some time. It includes some truly wonderful objects that I believe many of our visitors have never seen,” explains Hayden. “In this exhibition, we have been faced with the challenge of reinterpreting this collection to reflect the changes that American Indian cultures have experienced through time and updating our understanding of history.”

Berkshire Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. For more information, visit Berkshire Museum or call 413.443.7171. Museum admission is $13 for adults and $6 for children. Members and children aged three and under enjoy free admission.

The Berkshire Museum is located at 39 South Street on Route 7 in downtown Pittsfield. Berkshire Museum is the first public museum in Berkshire County, established by Zenas Crane in 1903 as a museum of art and natural history. Little Cinema is open year-round. Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation, Aquarium, Alexander Calder Gallery, and other exhibits are ongoing.



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