A breathtakingly beautiful exhibition of North American Plains Indian art recently opened at the Met.
Adena Pipe, 1st Century BC
Many of the 130 pieces in the show are on loan from collections around the world, which means, among other things, this may well be an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these treasures.
The sophistication and artistry of The Plains Indians is immediately apparent from the exhibition’s first artifact, an object more than 2000 years old, the carved, stone Adena Pipe, excavated from a burial mound in today’s Ohio. It sets the stage for what is to come, including, for me, one of the show’s visual highlights, the ceremonial Ghost Dance Dress, created circa 1890, whose luscious colors and painted images of birds, encapsulates the surprising pleasures to be found.
Hand dyed, hand-sewn, beaded and painted clothes – men’s shirts, women’s dresses, robes, painted skins – are astonishingly varied, rich in materials and eye catching. Equally impressive are feathered headdresses, as well as carvings and paintings of animals, whose souls and spirits are hauntingly captured.
I’ve only touched upon the show’s highlights. The exhibition runs through May 10. Don’t miss it!
Fatal Attraction: Piotr Uklanski Photographs
We move from pre-history to post-modernism with Polish-born Piotr Uklanski’s provocative photographic work, whose Fatal Attraction images focus on the twin emotional poles of love and death.
The exhibition is organized and curated by Doug Eklund, who in 2009 brought us The Pictures Generation: 1974 – 1984, an exhibition devoted to visual artists like Barbara Kruger, Robert Longo, Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman and others. These artists, educated in theories of minimal and conceptual art, and raised amidst the powerful images of Hollywood and Madison Avenue, often appropriated and/or commented upon – with humor, irony and self reflection – America’s mass media images, and produced their highly distinctive brand of conceptual art.
Uklanski, who moved to the U.S. after the fall of Communism, is very much a part of and heir to that “Pictures Generation” tradition. A multi-media artist, with photography at the heart of his practice, Eklund has opted for a three-part view of Uklanski’s work and artistic sensibility. Half of the show’s images, is from one of his earlier and not well known exhibitions, The Joy of Photography (1997 – 2007), based on Eastman Kodak’s 1979 how-to book for amateur photographers. As Eklund put it, at a press preview, Uklanski, in a kind of parody homage to popular photography clichés, produced “pitch perfect mimicries of stock photography,” the kind of work best known as ‘post-appropriation.’
Most impressive, from this part of the exhibit, is “The Nazis” (1998), a floor-to-ceiling assemblage of head shots of movie-star Nazis. As Eklund noted, it is the ultimate “feel good/feel bad” work. It cleverly underscores the bizarre and unsettling reality that most of us only know Nazis from Hollywood’s version of these handsome, highly stylized images. Thus, people who are, in a sense, personifications of evil are also, paradoxically, personifications of power, glamour and seduction. It does make one think.
A related exhibition, in the Howard Gilman Gallery, Fatal Attraction: Piotr Uklanski Selects from the Met Collection, is an installation of works, chosen by Uklanski from among 11 different curatorial departments, that highlight or in some way relate to the general theme of Eros (life force) and Thanatos (death). Uklanski also inserts some of his works into the historical parade of photographs, art pieces and objets. It’s on view through June 14.
Finally, when you walk into the Museum, you will see two large banners suspended across the width of its grand public space. They are reproductions of photographs created by Uklanski in 2007, in which 3,000 soldiers from 11 battalions of the Polish Army were assembled to spell out “Solidarity” (in Polish) in the Gdansk shipyard where the first non-Communist labor union was organized. The second banner within the diptych – or what Uklanski calls a “living photograph” — shows people leaving their spots, suggesting the dissolution of the solidarity movement as well as its logo.
Uklanski, much like Warhol, seems to have grasped, almost instinctively, how to both satirize mass culture and, at the same time, incorporate himself into it. It’s a neat trick, and his clever provocations seem to have resonated within a large part of the incestuous collector-dealer-curator art world. Whether the works of art he actually produces are worthy of the kind of attention this exhibition suggests, is another matter.
Fatal Attraction will run through August 16.
Review and Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag