Thursday, July 12, 2012

Native American Modernism: Art from North America

Collector Nicola Flossbach arrived in Berlin yesterday to introduce me to her former classmate Peter Bolz, curator of the North American Ethnology collection at the Ethnologisches Museum in wealthy Dahlem. Peter and his assistant Claudia Roch were kind enough to tour us though the museum's Native American Modernism: Art from North America exhibition, as well as the more artefact-oriented installations on the lower floor, featuring a cedar bark hat and masks collected by Captain Cook (1780) in the "Northwest Coast" section.

While taken with the exhibition's "Southwest" coverage, I was most impressed with the three Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun paintings Peter had acquired shortly after his hiring in 1989 -- Native Winter Snowfall (1987), I Have a Vision that Some Day All Indigenous People Will Have Freedom and Self-Government (1987) and Downtown Vancouver (1988). But even more than that, the lengths Peter went to to convince his then-director that works of Native American contemporary art, while definitely not artefact, had a place in a museum devoted to just that.

The distinction between art and artefact was the premise behind Doris Shadbolt's 1967 The Arts of the Raven exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, where Haida artist Bill Reid acted as both consultant and bridge figure, linking the 19th century carving and painting of Haida artists such as Charles Edenshaw (1839-1920) to Thompson/Coast Salish artists such as Lawrence, who emerged some twenty years later. Unfortunately Doris's exhibition was not listed in the "Appendix" of Peter's catalogue ("Chronology: Milestones of Modern American Native Art") -- in it's place, "1969: Kwakiutl artist Tony Hunt opens his Arts of the Raven Gallery in Victoria, British Columbia."

After a siesta, I jumped on my bike and once again cycled up Martin Luther to the Tiergarten, where I paid my respects to the angel before arriving at the northeast corner of Torstrasse and Prenzlauer Allee, also known as Soho House, to dine at a long table with Nicola's sexy friends in the former department store-cum-DDR-archive-cum-"private members" club. It was there that I recalled Peter's words about the Ethnologisches Museum's upcoming move to Humboldt Forum and, as a result, if its former building (an exquisite bit of mid-60s modernism) would convert to something just as "private".

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