DC.- This fall, the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American
Indian mounts a career retrospective of works by one of the most
transformative American artists of the last half century, Fritz
Scholder (1937-2005), marshaling new scholarship and broadening
perspectives to assess the artist's significance.
a National Museum of the American Indian first, two "Fritz Scholder:
Indian/Not Indian" exhibitions open Nov. 1 at the museum's Washington
and New York City locations. The National Mall museum will present
a broad overview of Scholder's works, including many of the revolutionary
paintings of Native Americans for which the artist is best known.
The exhibition at the George Gustav Heye Center in Lower Manhattan
will focus on works created during a period in the 1980s when Scholder
lived and worked in a nearby loft. The exhibitions remain on view
through May 17, 2009, in New York and Aug. 16, 2009, in Washington.
Scholder was an enormously important and complex figure in 20th-century
American art and culture, yet he has never been the subject of an
in-depth, comprehensive study of this magnitude," said Kevin Gover
(Pawnee/Comanche), director of the museum. "Given the National Museum
of the American Indian's ongoing commitment to contemporary art,
it is appropriate that such a well-timed reappraisal begin here."
one-quarter Luiseno (a California mission tribe), Scholder always
insisted he was not American Indian any more than he was German
or French, yet he became the most successful and highly regarded
painter of Native Americans in U.S. history --- a fact that raises
the question of what 'Indian art' actually is," said Truman Lowe
(Ho-Chunk), curator of contemporary art at the museum. Lowe organized
the exhibition with associate curator Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche).
this major loan exhibition, which includes many rarely seen paintings
from private collections, we hope to lay the groundwork for new
ways of thinking about Scholder's place in art history," said Smith.
"And not just in Native American art, but in the global experiment
that began with abstract expressionism and led to painterly figuration
and pop art."
comprehensive 200-page book, edited by Lowery Stokes Sims, curator
at the Museum of Arts & Design in New York, and including contributions
by Sims, Lowe, Smith and other scholars, accompanies the exhibition.
than 130 paintings, prints, drawings and bronze sculptures will
be drawn from 40 public and private collections for the exhibition.
The early works date back to the late 1950s, when Scholder studied
with American pop painter Wayne Thiebaud at Sacramento City College
in California, and the mid 1960s, when he began to be influenced
by experiments with fantastically colored and entirely unromantic
portraits of Native Americans created by his own students at the
Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. The exhibition
presents works through 2004 --- the year before Scholder's death.
Among the works from the final chapter of the artist's life is "Self
Portrait with Grey Cat" (2003), the last of many self-portraits
and an unflinching reckoning with aging and infirmity.
In addition to paintings, prints and sculpture from the Indian series,
"Fritz Scholder: Indian/Not Indian" assembles color-drenched landscapes,
dream-like evocations of shamanism and the occult, erotic portrayals
of powerful women and bravura renderings of flowers, butterflies
and other natural forms. A number of the featured paintings are
the first created in a series and thus, especially useful guideposts
to the artist's intentions. These paintings include "New Mexico
No. 1" (1964), "Indian No. 1" (1967), "Massacre at Wounded Knee
No. 1" (1970) and "Monster Love No. 1" (1983).
with Beer Can" (1969), on public view for the first time in more
than 20 years, lies at the heart of this textured career overview.
The now iconic painting shocked both the Native American and mainstream
art worlds when first exhibited nearly 40 year ago. It still reverberates
today: a portrait of a man in a wide-brimmed, black cowboy hat,
slouched at a bar with a can of beer at his elbow, his mask-like
face baring pointed, feral teeth.
Scholder paintings are heroic, if unconventionally so, such as a
portrait of an American Indian in feathered headdress rendered in
colors almost certainly influenced by early 20th-century expressionism.
(Scholder cited Francisco Goya, Edvard Munch and Francis Bacon among
his other influences.) Other works suggest seething irony, including
a painting from 1970 of an Indian man bearing aloft an American
The son of a Bureau of Indian Affairs administrator who grew up
in the Northern Plains, Scholder did not "grow up Indian." Although
he lived on the campuses of Indian schools where his father worked,
he attended public schools. (Scholder once said that his father,
who was half Luiseno, "was the product of the old Indian schools
--- he was ashamed of being an Indian.") One of his high school
teachers was the artist Oscar Howe (Yanktonai Sioux), who had absorbed
the vanguard painting of his time in trips to Europe and was painting
in a Cubist style.
gifted abstract painter, Scholder won numerous awards following
his graduation from Sacramento City College in 1958. He had been
the subject of two one-man shows by the time he received his master's
degree from the University of Arizona in 1964.
graduation, he won a coveted position at the Institute of American
Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., where he taught painting and contemporary
art history for five years. The artist initially counseled his Native
American students to avoid ghettoizing themselves by painting so-called
documented in the book, for many of his Indian portraits, Scholder
began by selecting a subject from among the caches of vintage photographs
of Native Americans in traditional dress that were available to
him, including some supplied to the Institute of American Indian
Arts for general use by the Smithsonian Institution. Little in the
dignified, sepia-toned images could have forecast Scholder's incongruously
proportioned Indians or the unexpectedly orange portrait of a buffalo
dancer, blankly holding a cone of pink ice cream in place of a ceremonial
1980, Scholder announced that he would no longer paint Indians.
Although he occasionally returned to the subject, "Indian/Not Indian"
reflects his post-1980s experiments with other themes. The latter
part of his career is represented by his "mystery women," who are
depicted as mythic figures in various settings. From the 1990s until
his death, crucifixions and embracing couples also populated Scholder's