Courtesy Missoula Art Museum
Jason Elliot Clark, 'Mixed Blood,' digital imaging, 2004

'For Advice Call 1-800-COYOTE': Native Art at the MAM


If ever there were a must-see exhibit of contemporary American Indian art, the Missoula Art Museum in Missoula, Montana, just may have it.

For Advice Call 1-800-COYOTE is an exhibition featuring a selection of artists from the musem’s contemporary American Indian Art Collection that use words in their creations, "skillfully repurposing advertising imagery, type, and the spoken word, to enhance the visual elements of their compositions while driving home a certain message," according to a museum release.. The exhibition features 16 works by the accomplished artists Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Corwin Clairmon, Jason Elliot Clarke, Melanie Yazzie, Gail Tremblay, George Longfish, Ramon Murillo, and Bently Spang. Each artist incorporates words into their artwork in a unique way. The collection is displayed in the museum's Lynda M. Frost Contemporary American Indian Art Gallery, a  gallery set aside to exclusively display contemporary American Indian artists.

The artists repurpose advertising imagery, type and the spoken word to enhance the visual elements of their compositions while driving home a certain message, observes the Great Falls Tribune.

George Longfish, 'Modern Times: 20th Century,' lithograph, 1994 (Courtesy Missoula Art Museum)

In a release the museum said that the exhibit, “shows how while the presence of words both as a compositional element and as direct content messengers is taken for granted today, in the past, the notion of lettering in a work of art was considered taboo... There has been an ebb and flow of acceptance and usage of words in the art world, with the wide acceptance of words in Pop Art and at the same time an utter rejection of words in the minimalist aesthetic. There is an open acceptance of lettering in Outsider art compositions, and a rejection of lettering amongst practitioners who follow the more romantic and traditional painting styles of landscape, the figure, still life, etc. There are plenty of movements and academic thought that adheres to the adage that if you can use words, then why paint? Painting provides a unique form of expression that cannot be communicated in words."

Corwin Clairmont, 'Indian Country Passage Denied,' collagraph, 2005 (Courtesy Missoula Art Museum)

"These artists can be very skillful, highly educated, academically trained artists, or largely self-taught," says Ted Hughes, the museum's registrar. "In either case, their artwork brings a very unique insight into life as an Indian, with one foot in the dominating culture’s world, the other in the Indian world. They often create art in the art for art’s sake mode, but this exhibit focuses on identity and politics, and the use of text of course emphasizes the important issues these artists address. We have also included one large work by a Maori artist, Peter Robinson, from New Zealand, as native peoples from around the world struggle with similar problems of keeping their cultures alive in a colonized and now globalized world.  We are also including a video works by Bently Spang, in which plays a man from 1000 years in the future who is visiting our time to explain his archaeological discoveries, and inform us of what people are like in his era. Spang uses humor and wit to poke fun at the pit-falls of interpreting a living culture by examining artifacts from an ancient past. This performance was part of Spang’s Warhol Foundation and Missoula Art Museum sponsored exhibit: New American Relics: The Scared and Mundane, and filmed in the Frost gallery in 2007."

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, 'Horse Sense,' lithograph, 1994 (Courtesy Missoula Art Museum)

According to Hughes, the title of the exhibition is taken from Jaune Quick-to-See Smith’s lithograph Horse Sense. Jaune is an internationally known and respected Salish artist, currently living in Santa Fe. She was crucial to the establishment of the Frost Gallery, and provided several gifts of art, both her own as well as those of other Indian artists, that have become the backbone of the CAI Collection. In 2004, MAM commissioned a print portfolio of 15 artworks called Native Perspectives on the Lewis and Clark Trail that we also draw from for this exhibit.

For Advice Call 1-800-COYOTE will be on exhibit until August 31 at the Missoula Art Museum in Missoula. For details, click here.

Jason Elliot Clark, 'Mixed Blood,' digital imaging, 2004 (Courtesy Missoula Art Museum)

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