For Students

Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 3 / Contemporary Native North American Art from the Northeast and Southeast

Jeff Gibson, Everlast

Jeff Gibson, Everlast, 2011-12, Wool, canvas, steel, acrylic paint, glass beads, artificial sinew, tin jingles, Photo by Ed Watkins, Courtesy of the artist; American Contemporary, New York; Samsøn Projects, Boston, From the exhibition Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 3 organized by the Museum of Arts and Design, New York

Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 3 / Contemporary Native North American Art from the Northeast and Southeast concludes a cycle of landmark exhibitions conceived and organized to present a comprehensive and in-depth cross section of innovative and groundbreaking work by contemporary Indigenous artists.  These creative individuals express a new vitality and spirit of experimentation in Native art, often embracing tradition while moving forward and looking towards the future. The original exhibition, comprising more than 100 works by 85 Native artists from the United States and Canada, premiered at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City in June 2012. The variety of media represented in the exhibition are as diverse as the broad geographic region from which the selected group of artists were born;  encompassing the areas east of the Mississippi—the Great Lakes, Woodlands, Northeast, Southeast, and into the Canadian Subarctic. Since the exhibition’s debut, these works have been viewed by thousands of individuals, as they have been presented in venues across the United States and in Canada.  

Today in many museum collections, both here and abroad, Native American art, to a great extent, remains segregated from the mainstream, displayed and viewed more as anthropological or ethnographic artifacts than as independent works of art, more often attributed by tribal affiliation than individual artist. This ongoing unwillingness or inability to accord Native art its deserved status has been an impediment to the careers of now several generations of indigenous North American artists who, like all other artists, seek understanding, recognition and, ideally, success in the complex and demanding world of contemporary international art. The Changing Hands series of exhibitions were conceived and organized specifically to address these shortcomings and oversights, ideally to recast the selected works through the lens of contemporary art and design from around the globe. It has also been the intention to focus on and consider the recent and emerging generation of Native artists, who utilize and incorporate contemporary techniques, materials, aesthetics, and iconography into their art and design practice, in working toward a goal of transcending ethnographic and anthropological interpretations, ultimately to challenge preconceived notions and stereotypes of Indigenous art and artists, finally seeking to effect a reevaluation of contemporary Native art in an international arena.   

The current Changing Hands 3 exhibition provides audiences with a sensory experience of the complex, multilayered work of contemporary Native artists as they confront cultural expectations, reclaim lost traditions, and create a new identity for themselves shaped by historical, political, and personal circumstances. Through an extraordinary melding of past and present, and direct opposition between stereotype and tradition, these artists confront, often “head on,” what it means today to be Native and to be an artist.  There is not one voice, one language, one lifestyle, one religious belief, nor one form of artistic expression: there are many, with experiences that are equally divergent. "Indian” art or "Native American” art no longer fits within a single category or framework, just as “European” art is not clustered under one "umbrella."   Thus, when considering the works in this exhibition, viewers cannot assume that the artists expect to be read only as “Indian,” as “Indigenous,” or somewhere between the two. For many of the artists, the experience and wisdom that is brought to bear in their creative output is from a multitude of different realities, sometimes at odds with each other, a reflection of what their lives have been. Both historically and now, Native art, like all art, is an ongoing process of change. It serves those for whom it was made and expresses an individual artist's personal "art history" within a larger world view.

Ellen Taubman
Guest Curator

For related Changing Hands programs and events, click here

Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation, 3: Contemporary Native Art from the Northeast and Southeast is made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts. The exhibition catalogue is made possible in part with the support of the Smithsonian Institution’s Indigenous Contemporary Arts Program. Lead support for UMMA’s installation is provided by the University of Michigan Health System, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, and the University of Michigan Office of the Provost. Additional generous support is provided by the University of Michigan Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Native American Studies Program, and the Doris Sloan Memorial Fund. 
Second image from top: Alan Michelson, Phoenix, 2012, Handmade paper, archival board and ink, wood, Photo courtesy of the artist, From the exhibition Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 3 organized by the Museum of Arts and Design, New York​ Third image from top: Wanesia Misquadace, Songs For Grandfather, 2011, Birchbark, mixed metals, Lake Superior pebbles, Photo by Phil Karshis, Courtesy of Mary Jane Laird Parks, From the exhibition Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 3 organized by the Museum of Arts and Design, New York