It’s hard to miss the relationship of these triangular shapes: the tipi on the lawn and the huge Claes Oldenburg/Coojse Van Bruggen shuttlecock in the background at the Nelson Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City. Even the angle of the sidewalk wants to get in on the visual action.
Angles are everywhere in “Plains Indians: Artist of the Earth and Sky” (in Kansas City until Jan 11 -2015).
I was struck by what appear to be red hand print shapes on these leggings. Hand prints, a potent symbol since the time of prehistoric cave paintings, weave their way into our consciousness across cultures, continents, and millennia.
Bags like this inspired many made by Plains artists a century later. According to the curator’s notes, “In 1721, French-Canadian officials labeled the bag an ‘artificial curiosity’ and sent it to France.” It’s on loan from the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris, one of the organizers of this exhibition along with Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins and New York’s Metropolitan Museum.
Apologies for the light-reflections — I don’t use flash, but the glass case enclosure reflects the ceiling lights.
Here are a couple where I managed to avoid the lights:
Of course I had to notice that hoarders wouldn’t get far on the Great Plains. For nomadic peoples like the Prairie tribes, there’s no possibility of collecting excess stuff. Every object has to have a purpose, to be both useful and beautiful. In this exhibition, many also have something else, something I can only call a “presence”. Like the red hand prints, it inspires a thrill of recognition. It speaks across cultures and calls to something deep inside us all.
Here in the US, Thanksgiving Day is almost here. Popular legend has it that the “first Thanksgiving” was a feast in which the pilgrims and the native peoples shared their harvest. We didn’t share much after that, and I can’t help but spend a lot of my time in exhibitions like this thinking about injustice. Still, it’s a gorgeous show. See it if you’re in Kansas City or a future venue.
One more look:
And don’t forget to be thankful… on Thanksgiving Day and every day.
For more on red hands (think “what is the sound of red hands clapping?”) don’t miss the section titled Acoustical Engineering in this article.
For more on the Weekly Photo Challenge: Angular