Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian presents a
major exhibition of the critically acclaimed works of Brian Jungen
(b. 1970), one of the leading contemporary artists of his generation.
On view from Oct. 16 through Aug. 8, 2010, "Brian Jungen: Strange
Comfort" features new pieces never seen before in the United States.
is the first exhibition in which works by the Vancouver, Canada-based
artist, whose heritage is Swiss-Canadian and Dunne-za First Nations,
have been organized by a Native American museum. It is also the
first solo exhibition of a contemporary artist at the museum since
it opened five years ago.
monumental and intimate in scale, Jungen's installations are playful
and provocative, transforming familiar everyday consumer items into
exquisite works of art. The exhibition begins with "Crux (as seen
by those who sleep on the surface of the earth under the night sky),"
a giant mobile created for the 2008 Sydney Biennale, that turns
colorful, hard-plastic luggage into a crocodile, an emu, a possum,
a shark and a sea eagle. "Crux" is the Latin name for the Southern
Cross constellation, but the subtitle and the animals suggest an
Aboriginal interpretation of the stars.
chooses objects for their color, material and intended use, and
then refashions them into artworks that imply cross-cultural, political
and social relationships. Another vivid piece in the exhibition,
a construction of orange, yellow and red cafeteria trays, belies
an ominous meaningeach tray represents an Aboriginal man incarcerated
in Canadian prisons, and the color corresponds to the length of
his sentence. "Isolated Depictions of the Passage of Time" (2001)
is inspired by an escape attempt in 1980 in which a stack of trays,
hollowed-out in the middle, briefly concealed the inmate from authorities.
Jungen fills the center cavity of his installation with a television
that plays daytime
investigations of museology, globalization and the commodification
of Indian culture surface throughout the 24 beguiling works on display.
At 21 feet long and suspended from the ceiling, "Shapeshifter" (2000)
suggests a magnificent whale skeleton on display in a natural history
museum until one realizes it is made out of white-plastic deck chairs.
"Shapeshifter" demonstrates Jungen's fascination with morphing the
common into the rare and the unnatural into the natural.
can walk through "Carapace" (2009), a large, dome-shaped structure
made out of green-plastic industrial trash cans suggesting a giant
turtle shell (many First Nations creation stories say that the land
to support human life rose from a turtle's back). The piece reflects
the artist's long-standing interest in geodesic architecture, the
environment and his preoccupation with exposing the interior of
in the show are six objects from a series of 23 titled, "Prototypes
for New Understanding." These stunning works, which first brought
the artist to prominence, are Nike Air Jordans refashioned to resemble
Northwest Coast masks. Jungen began the series a decade ago after
visiting the Niketown store in Manhattan where the sensational red,
black and white shoes were displayed in elegant vitrines as if they
were in a museum rather than a shoe store. A commentary on consumerism
and collectors, Jungen's "Prototypes" (1998-2005) turn into the
very thing they critique: iconic and collectible Nike Air Jordan
shoes become iconic and collectible Northwest Coast masks.
process is meticulous and transparent. The viewer sees every part
of the objects he uses and how he makes them into something else.
Jungen credits his passion for material and process to Native ingenuity
of crafting one object out of another. Jungen grew up watching his
Dunne-za relatives deftly recycle everything from "car parts to
shoe boxes" to extend their usefulness. "It was a kind of salvaging
born out of practical and economic necessity, and it greatly influenced
how I see the world as an artist," said Jungen.
solo exhibitions include the Museum Villa Stuck, Munich (2007),
Tate Modern, London (2006), Vancouver Art Gallery (2006) and New
Museum, New York (2005). Among his group exhibitions are the Sydney
Biennale, Australia (2008), Lyon Biennial, France (2007) and Gwangju
Biennale, Korea (2004). "Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort" is curated
by Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche), associate curator at the National
Museum of the American Indian.