When Fritz Scholder came to New Mexico in the 1960s, he sword he’d never paint the Indian. When he got there, and saw the condition of the state of Indian art, he changed his mind. A quarter Luiseño, he was invited to join the Rockefeller Southwest Indian Art Project, and would eventually join the faculty at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Scholder’s work would cross all manner of boundaries.
The exhibit at NMAI that opens on Friday is nothing short incredible. The color palette alone should get you out there. Scholder’s palette ranges from day-glo pink to earthen brown and meets in the middle with some incredible combinations. “Red No. 5” pictured above is one of his later pieces, part of his second Indian phase. His works seek to show the reality of the Indian life in the US, from alcoholism to a distorted self-image, Scholder hasn’t found a taboo that he won’t delve into.
The exhibit opens this weekend at NMAI is entitled “Indian/Not Indian”. Though Scholder was a quarter Luiseño, and enrolled with his tribe, he was never really comfortable with his identity as an Indian, and constantly eschewed the connection. He’d let others call him an Indian artist, but never would use the title himself. Full of evocative prints that cross all manner of lines, this is an exhibit you have to see. The curators have absolutely nailed the sightlines in the exhibit. The best works are ones you see from many points in the exhibit. Red No. 5 is one you see three times, once as you work your way through the early portion of the exhibit, once at the work itself, and once more through another sightline. Several of the major works are featured this way, and I absolutely loved the depth of the exhibit for this reason.
To my amateur eye, Indian/Not Indian is an incredible look at an immensely controversial artist. Full of evocative paintings and bronzes, not to mention a great profile of Fritz Scholder in his own words, this is an incredible exhibit. Go. It opens November 1st.
National Museum of the American Indian
4th St SW and Independence Ave SW
Washington DC 20560