Contemporary American Indian Art · The Nerman Museum Collection, opens Friday, Feb. 7, in the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art’s first-floor galleries. A reception for the exhibit will begin at 6 p.m. followed by a lecture with artist Jeffery Gibson at 7 p.m. in the museum’s Hudson Auditorium. Both the reception and the lecture are free and open to the public.
This exhibition celebrates Johnson County Community College’s and the Nerman Museum’s extraordinary, decade-long commitment to building a major collection (numbering130 works by 95 artists) of contemporary American Indian art. It is a commitment which likely exceeds that of any other major American museum of contemporary art.
The 43 artists included in the exhibition embrace a diversity of themes – some political, some historical, others personal – and each addresses these ideas in individually expressive ways: perhaps with directness, poignancy or humor. The collection and exhibit allow insight as to how American Indian artists are reinterpreting or reinventing their cultural traditions through contemporary perspectives and practices.
"These artists share a common heritage of indigenous roots and an epic history of cultural change," states Libby Lumpkin, professor of art history at the University of New Mexico.
American Indian artists are an integral part of contemporary American culture, and while many may work in more traditional media such as pottery, beadwork or weaving, their works are unequivocally informed by the times in which we live. Numerous artists represented in the collection have degrees from universities such as Georgetown University or the University of California in Los Angeles, and they may have chosen to return to reservations or pueblos to explore and reinvigorate traditional art forms passed down through generations. Accordingly, many of the pieces exhibited reflect a utilitarian origin, as expressed in their form or material usage.
The 55 works selected for this exhibit span a diverse range of cultures and geography, extending from the Pacific Northwest to the Southwest, Plains and Northeast. The collection is inclusive of a variety of mediums – clay, beadwork, glass, textiles, sculpture, basketry, painting, photography, etc. – and philosophical approaches. Its intent is to emphasize the importance and continuity of contemporary American Indian art and to do so within the context of a contemporary art museum and a college environment.
It is of note that JCCC is home to the Center for American Indian Studies (CAIS). Established in 2010, CAIS (along with its parent organization, the American Indian Health Research and Education Alliance) partners with American Indian peoples and organizations to improve the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being of American Indians throughout the United States. The annual Center for American Indian Studies Pow Wow (hosted at JCCC the first Friday and Saturday of May) is currently one of the only health and wellness pow wows in the United States.