Wendy Red Star
a note to the artist:
Dear Wendy Red Star,
Thank you for giving me these moments of respite at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Your work, Four Seasons, allowed me in- into the imagining of how the artist sees herself in the act of being seen- and then creating a reflective mirroring; an uncanny experience that points to the other objects on display where immersion in the dominant American culture (unwittingly flexing it’s imperialist muscles) now has an opportunity to see itself being seen.
Happening across Wendy Red Star’s work at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts while on a short frigid holiday in Minnesota I couldn’t help but think her photographic series, Four Seasons, is one part institutional critique and one part satire. Red Star has created photo-documents of herself within fake, crass, plastic dioramatic and “naturalistic” displays similar to and riffing off what a viewer would encounter at a museum of natural history.
Wendy Red Star’s four photographic works that are currently on view in Gallery 261, The Bill and Penny George Gallery, are set into opposing corners in the gallery with 38 other objects from the MIA’s collection. Most of the objects surrounding her works are displayed as if archeological artifacts as the artist is most often listed as unknown. Gratingly the foundations and collectors who donated each piece are prominently displayed where it would be better served to somehow acknowledge the disappeared artist more prominently.
Almost each time I enter a similar type museum and go into African, Native American, Oceanic collections (the list continues) I’m irritated and reminded again at the loss of information foisted upon the public by the initial collector’s white privilege, colonial or imperialist stance.
In European focused gallery spaces it’s not often I experience this sense of wholesale loss- especially with art made in the nineteenth to twentieth century. This evaporation or gaping void is understandable with true archaeological items from before the 15th century. Even that is a tragic loss of history. Can you imagine if the collectors of Leonardo Da Vinci had decided his provenance was not of importance?
This loss of artistic voice and recognition, the history of the works, is not referenced in this context and most museum collections (where I’ve viewed what I consider a display of ethnic pillage/ ethnic porn) is presented as fait accompli with almost no recognition that it has even taken place.
So, while walking around the MIA’s Arts of Africa and Americas galleries and then coming across Wendy Red Star’s series of photographs, Four Seasons, in Gallery 261 where I had become increasingly annoyed I was then also heartened.
Wendy Red Star’s image description accompanying the piece, Fall, states
“After graduating from college at Montana State University-Bozeman, Wendy Red Star moved to Los Angeles, where she was struck by the lack of natural environment. Lonesome for home, she wandered into the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles to explore any Native American exhibits. To her surprise, she saw a pair of moccasins that was created by one of her ancestors on display. She was taken with the dioramas in the museum. She explores issues of display, representation of Native American culture, and authenticity, in her The Four Seasons series.”
I was heartened by the MIA’s ability to allow an artist, included in its vast holdings, to critique the process of and effects of display through the works and accompanying text.
Perhaps these portraits allow the imagining of how the artist sees herself in the act of being seen. Wendy Red Star then has created a reflective mirroring; an uncanny experience that points to the other objects and then creates a moment where American culture (unwittingly flexing it’s imperialist muscles) is now seeing itself being seen.
Check out another online MIA sponsored critique here- http://new.artsmia.org/stories/the-redskins-and-the-twisted-history-of-depicting-native-americans/
Wendy Red Star is on fire right now. She’s included in multiple venues around the country and also right here in Denver. Check out Red Star’s true and authentically special photographic family portraits in the exhibit, “Cross Currents,” at the Center for Visual Arts through February 8, 2014. Two other especially important sets of works by Marie Watt and Merritt Johnson are also included in this group exhibition and absolutely should not be missed.