You wouldn't think a straightforward chronological exhibition of 200 years of Northwest Coast Native American art could be controversial. But this one's going to be,


Whose art is it anyway?

You wouldn't think a straightforward chronological exhibition of 200 years of Northwest Coast Native American art could be controversial. But this one's going to be, if one local expert has his way. Steve Brown of the Seattle Art Museum had been working for more than a year on the show that opened at SAM last week (see review this page) when he was contacted by artist-critic Barry Herem. Herem had a problem with the way Brown was shaping the show. Why were no works in the Northwest Coast idiom by non­Native American artists to be included?

Brown says he explained that "any exhibit can only cover so much ground; this one was designed to follow a single thread from the very beginning right up to today. It acknowledges influences on the native tradition from outside, both positive and negative, but they are not really the subject." Without denying the seminal importance of white artists like Bill Holm and Duane Pascoe in the survival of what experts call "the formline tradition," Brown declined to change the emphasis of the show.

See end of story for related links

Herem then circulated a form letter in support of his position to some 300 specialists in the field, suggesting they sign it and send it in to SAM. Brown says that only 27 recipients did so. Bill Holm, arguably the most important artist and teacher in the Coast tradition for whites and Native Americans alike, cast his vote by loaning objects from his own collection to the show.

Now that the show's open, Herem has returned to the attack, circulating to the arts press a selection from his correspondence with Brown in which he accuses him of "personal agendas designed to advocate a particular people or race at the cost of excluding others," a "personal vendetta" (against whom not specified), of "disrespect and disregard for the truth," and finally, of "racial and racist nonsense."

The most salient single sentence from Brown quoted in Herem's material is: "Regarding this decision [to present only work of Native American artists]... I will be 'damned if I do and damned if I don't.'... I choose 'don't.'" The sentence most revealing of Herem's own motives: "I do not think... that one curator should call all the shots."

Drinkable art

Once again, Tacoma's only Living National Treasure (so designated by the National Association of Governors) is invading terrain hitherto dominated by the Franklin Mint. Glass artist Dale Chihuly (through his publishing arm, Portland Press) is offering fans of his work who can't afford his museum-grade line a chance to buy a piece of art history on the cheap. This time just $3,000 plus tax gets you too an 8-inch-high, 6-inch-wide miniature version of one of the glass artist's popular "Seaform" series.

For those who feel awkward about spending that much money for a mass-produced tchotchke, Art Town is in a position to categorically deny the rumor that the pieces are made on assembly lines in Bangladeshi sweatshops: No more will be created than needed to fill orders from customers, and all will be signed by Chihuly himself—as well as produced by genuine Chihuly employees in Chihuly's own Seattle boathouse atelier, guaranteed.

The only serious criticism anyone could lodge against the piece is the impracticality of a vessel with an irregularly rounded ("no two are exactly alike") base. To counter that charge, here's our special offer: For just $1,899.95, we'll send you a black velvet beanbag filled with genuine cultured Japanese pearls so you can whip your coffee-cup-sized Seaform out of the Plexiglas vitrine it comes in and use it as a coffee cup.

Say it ain't so, José...

There must be some German word for that feeling you get when you open a press release and find that Los Lobos, the down-to-earth, band-on-the-bus, heart-and-soul kinda East LA combo you've been following since their first album, is the headliner for the 1998 Seattle Art Museum "Black & White Ball."¡Ay muchachos...!

Better late...

Handel's oratorio L'allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato premiered in London in 1740. The evening-length dance work by Mark Morris set to Handel's music premiered in Brussels, Belgium, in 1988. Since then the piece has been seen in New York, Paris, Adelaide, Edinburgh, Tel Aviv, and Hong Kong, earning raves wherever it's played. Finally, last fall, Morris' collaboration with Handel made it to London, where last week, it earned an Olivier Award: England's highest tribute for a work of art.

Damp days in Medina

Every new house has its shakedown period, and the one Bill Gates built himself on the Eastside is no exception. A workman at the house tells Art Town that a one-inch copper water pipe in the multi-million dollar mansion popped a joint last month and flowed freely for 20 minutes, running down a wall, damaging custom-made wood paneling, drenching furniture, and ruining a painting valued at $1 million.

Gates' PR firm, the spoilsports, say the water flowed only "a few minutes," confirm the paneling, deny the painting, and say the cause of the flood "is still being determined." For what it's worth, Bill, our source hears that in the hurry to get the house ready, someone sealed a less-than-perfect joint with epoxy patching paste instead of going through the ticklish and time-consuming job of cleaning, prepping, and re-soldering. Honey, are we insured?

Related Links:

SAM's "Native Journeys" page


Dale Chihuly page

Mark Morris Dance Group page

comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow