THE PERMANENT COLLECTION of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) includes more than 150,000 objects—paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, prints, drawings, and photographs. Only 25 of them are by Native American artists, including Jaune Quick-to-See Smith‘s “I See Red: Target” (1992), the first painting by a Native American artist to enter the collection, which was acquired earlier this year.

The museum has never displayed the two-dozen works on paper, but the painting was put on view immediately in the East Building pop art galleries alongside works by Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol.

 


JAUNE QUICK-TO-SEE SMITH, Detail of “I See Red: Target,” 1992 (mixed media on canvas). | © Juane Quick-to-See Smith, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Purchased with funds from Emily and Mitchell Rales, 2020.6.1

 

“On the one hand, it’s joyful; we’ve broken that buckskin ceiling,” Smith told the Albuquerque Journal. The artist is an enrolled member of the Salish and Confederate Salish and Kootenai Nation in Montana. “On the other, it’s stunning that this museum hasn’t purchased a piece of Native American art” before.

Composed of three parts, “I See Red: Target” brings together a variety of images, references, and techniques. A target embellished with a crown of arrows with turkey feathers suggesting a headdress sits atop two collaged and painted canvases. The painting is part of the artist’s I See Red series, which is about the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in America.

Towering and totemic, the mixed-media work stands more than 11 feet high. Images of Native Americans and washes of red paint are repeated throughout “I See Red: Target.”

There are clippings from mainstream newspapers and the Char-Koosta News (the official publication of the Flathead Reservation, where Smith grew up); a Washington Redskins pennant, commemorating the team’s Super Bowl XXVI win in 1992; and the cover of the comic book Son of Tomahawk (from a 1950s to early 1970s DC Comics series) alluding to the “tomahawk chop” gesture popular among some stadium fans. The painting speaks to racism, rage, and the problematic logo of the professional sports franchise.

“On the one hand, it’s joyful; we’ve broken that buckskin ceiling. On the other, it’s stunning that this museum hasn’t purchased a piece of Native American art” before. — Jaune Quick-to-See Smith

The Redskins name and mascot have been the subject of public condemnation for years with detractors, including Native American groups and others, citing the symbolism as racist and offensive to no avail. In 2013, team owner Dan Snyder expressed his convictions about the subject to USA Today. “We’ll never change the name,” he said. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

Seven years later, the issue is headline news again after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25 and the widespread protests and demands for racial justice that followed. Local governments are removing Confederate statues and institutions and corporations are being held to account for policies and operations deaf to their increasingly diverse audiences, constituencies, and consumer bases.

The NFL football team is the latest to come under scrutiny. The team plays at FedEx Field in suburban Maryland and on July 2 FedEx sent a letter to the franchise stating that, unless the team name is changed, FedEx will remove its corporate signage from the stadium and begin the process of terminating its naming rights agreement “for cause.” It’s a $205 million contract over 27 years, with about $45 million that remains due.

In the wake of the FedEx announcement, PepsiCo, Bank of America, and Nike issued statements of support and joined the call for a name change. Target and Walmart said they will discontinue sales of the NFL team’s Redskins-branded merchandise. Amazon and Nike are also removing the products from its websites.

The team name is a racial slur. Accusations of racism; the fact that the name is defined as offensive, disparaging, and contemptuous in the dictionary; and respect for a group of people, did not turn the tide. Money did. With the team’s revenue in jeopardy, the immovable owner said a change was imminent.

On Monday, the Washington NFL team announced in a very brief statement that it is “retiring” the Redskins moniker and following an internal review a new name and branding will be announced. No time frame was given for introducing the team’s new identity.

“It’s Indians being used as mascots. It’s about Native Americans being used as commodities,” Smith told the Albuquerque Journal, explaining the painting she made in 1992.

“(Racism) is still happening with Black Lives Matter,” she continued. “It’s been 25 years and I thought ‘Oh, this will be obsolete.”

“It’s Indians being used as mascots. It’s about Native Americans being used as commodities.” — Jaune Quick-to-See Smith


JAUNE QUICK-TO-SEE SMITH, “I See Red: Target,” 1992 (mixed media on canvas). | © Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Purchased with funds from Emily and Mitchell Rales, 2020.6.1

 

THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART was established in 1937 and opened in 1941. It took about 80 years for the Washington, D.C., museum to add a painting by a Native American artist to its holdings. “I See Red: Target” was purchased in April 7, 2020, and announced June 24. The acquisition was made possible by Mitchell and Emily Rales, founders of the private Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Md. Mitchell Rales is president of NGA’s board of trustees.

The museum’s description of the painting focuses on its meaning and cultural significance:

    I See Red: Target addresses both local and national conversations around the commercial branding of Indigenous American identity through Smith’s deftly layered assemblage of printed ephemera and painterly touches.… The alternating bands of historic images of Native Americans used in a reservation community service notice bear the stain-like drips of bloodred paint, which serve as an evocative device throughout Smith’s I See Red series to call up issues of history, identity, race, and rage.

The acquisition news comes in the wake of new leadership at the museum. Kaywin Feldman joined the National Gallery of Art as director in March 2019. She is the first women to head the museum since its founding more than three generations ago.

Feldman was born in Boston and grew up outside London. She comes to NGA from the Minneapolis Institute of Art where she served as director and president for a decade, dating back to 2008. During her tenure, beginning in 2013, curators Jill Ahlberg Yohe and Teri Greeves commenced research about the contributions of Native women artists. In 2015, the curators formed the Native Exhibition Advisory Board, inviting 21 Native artists along with Native and non-Native scholars from throughout North America.

The goal in bringing the group together was to get input and gain insights from a broad range of experts and nations at every stage of the curatorial process for a forthcoming exhibition.

“Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists” is the first major exhibition dedicated to art by Native women. More than 50 communities and cultures across the United States and Canada are represented among objects spanning more than 1,000 years. The works are drawn from more than 30 institutions and private collections and the holdings of the MIA. More than 115 artists are featured in the show, including Jaune Quick-to-See Smith.

Since the 1970s, Smith has been making “complex” abstract works. “Combining appropriated imagery from commercial slogans and signage, art history and personal narratives, she forges an intimate visual language to convey her insistent socio-political commentary,” according to the bio on her website. The collection of the Minneapolis museum features eight prints and drawings by Smith, acquired in 1992, 2008, and 2011.

Her work is also in the collections of several other institutions, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, which has 16 works by Smith.

After years of planning, the landmark traveling exhibition was presented at the Minneapolis Institute of Art after Feldman’s departure. “Hearts of Our People” was on view June 2-Aug. 18, 2019.

Subsequent venues include the Frist Art Museum in Nashville (September 27, 2019-January 12, 2020); Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. (Feb. 21-May 17, 2020), where the schedule was interrupted by a temporary, ongoing closure due to COVID-19; and the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Okla. (Oct. 7, 2020-Jan. 3, 2020). Located across from the White House, the Renwick Gallery is not too far from the National Gallery of Art, which is on the National Mall.

 


JAUNE QUICK-TO-SEE SMITH, Detail of “I See Red: Target,” 1992 (mixed media on canvas). | © Juane Quick-to-See Smith, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Purchased with funds from Emily and Mitchell Rales, 2020.6.1

 

ALTHOUGH SMITH’S “I SEE RED: TARGET” was officially acquired from Garth Greenan Gallery in April, the painting arrived at NGA months earlier and was installed in the Pop Art galleries before museum closed temporarily due to the pandemic.

(The current exhibition at Garth Greenan in New York is “James Luna: Take a Picture with a Real Indian.” Open by appointment only, the gallery represents Smith and Luna, along with a few other Native American artists. Garth Greenan also represents the Estate of Al Loving and has worked with Howardena Pindell for years and now co-represents the artist with London-based Victoria Miro.)

One NGA staffer was particularly moved by the arrival of “I See Red: Target” and had taken to visiting the painting regularly. Before the COVID-19 shutdown paused her routine, Shana Condill stopped by the East Building gallery one last time and bid the painting “Denadagohvgee” (I will see you again). A budget and administrative coordinator at the National Gallery of Art, Condill wrote about the painting for the museum’s website.

“As a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, to have a painting by a Native artist at the National Gallery of Art is incredibly powerful to me. Knee-buckling. Hits me straight through the heart. For the artist to be a politically savvy icon like Smith is beyond anything I could have ever dreamed for the Gallery. That Smith calls out the Washington NFL team specifically? We just kicked up the significance 1,000 notches,” Condill wrote.

She continued: “I will never forget when I learned this painting was coming to the Gallery. I had followed our director’s career when she was at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and specifically as her former museum organized the groundbreaking exhibition ‘Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists.’ We had spoken about the exhibition and my passion for Native art, so when Kaywin showed me the image of the painting she was hoping to acquire, I immediately choked up. And she just said, ‘I know.'” CT

 

FIND MORE about artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith on her website

READ MORE about “I See Red: Target” painting in National Gallery of Art blog post

 

READ MORE Months before her appointment at NGA was announced in December 2018, Kaywin Feldman published an essay in London-based Apollo Magazine titled “Museum Leadership in a Time of Crisis”

FIND MORE Kaywin Feldman engaged with Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative in a conversation organized by ARTnews

 

READ MORE about the climate and business ramifications that finally forced the hand of Washington NFL team owner Dan Snyder to change franchise name here and here

 


Jaune Quick-to-See Smith discusses her practice. Part of what I do in my work is use my work as a platform for my beliefs,” Smith says.| Video by Smithsonian American Art Museum

 

BOOKSHELF
“Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: An American Modernist” is the “first full-length critical analysis of the paintings” of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. Also consider “Jaune Quick-To-See Smith: She Paints The Horse” and “Subversions / Affirmations: Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, A Survey.” The volume “Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists” documents the exhibition organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

 

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