Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now
August 29, 2019 – January 12, 2020
Among several notable paintings recently acquired by the Nasher Museum is Indian and Storefront by Fritz Scholder, a member of the Luiseño tribe of California. This painting joins a growing group of works by Indigenous artists in the Nasher’s collection, joining works by Jeffrey Gibson, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and Wendy Red Star. Scholder’s work was on view in the major fall 2019 exhibition Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now.
A pioneer of contemporary Native American art, Fritz Scholder (1937—2005) was instrumental in resisting commonly held stereotypes and deconstructing the mythos of the American Indian, while bringing a new visual vocabulary to Native artists beginning in the 1960s.
Scholder’s Indian and Store Front is part of a group of paintings that challenged perceived stereotypes by exploring Native identity within an urban context. These works often depict Native men in contemporary western dress in bars or on the street and are rendered with the artist’s signature Pop-inspired high-key colors. Indian and Storefront may also be understood within a larger historical context of the U.S. policies toward Indigenous communities in post-war America. The Indian Relocation Act of 1956 encouraged and even incentivized Native Americans to leave their reservations and traditional lands for urban areas and terminated the tribal status of numerous groups. It was yet another concerted attempt by the government at assimilation and erasure of Native culture. Scholder’s work from this series may be understood as a commentary on the ambiguity of Native urban identity at this time and the difficulties for many who were affected by it.
Somebody needs to paint the Indian differently because it is a subject matter that is probably the world’s worst cliché, at least in this country.Fritz Scholder
Scholder was born in Minnesota; as a high school student, his family lived in South Dakota, where his art teacher, Oscar Howe (Yanktonai Dakota), exposed Scholder to European modernism. Howe’s own rejection of the clichéd “Studio Style” imposed upon him while a student at the Santa Fe Indian School was inspirational to the young Scholder. In the late 1950s, Scholder moved to Sacramento, where he continued his studies under Wayne Thiebaud before completing his MFA at the University of Arizona in 1964. That same year he accepted the position of instructor in painting and contemporary art at the recently formed Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), Santa Fe.