Action/Abstraction Redefined

Action/Abstraction Redefined features paintings and works on paper from the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) permanent collection created in the 1960s and 1970s. The artists in this exhibition challenged stereotypical expectations of Indian art by experimenting with American modern art movements such as Abstract Expressionism, Color Field and Hard-edge Painting combined with art influences from their own cultural heritage.

In post-World War II America, many modern artists such as Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock found inspiration in mythology, Native art or their inner self to break away from the representation of objects in the visual world. They felt realistic perspectives and narrative conventions were no longer appropriate artistic tools to respond to the uncertain, tension-wracked atomic age. Among the Abstract Expressionists were also several Native modern artists like George Morrison (Chippewa), John Hoover (Aleut), Edna Massey (Cherokee), and Patrick Swazo Hinds (Tesuque Pueblo), who redefined the concept of abstraction by creating works informed by their own traditional aesthetics combined with art influences coming out of New York and California.

Some of these artists approached their chosen medium in a direct, intuitive and spontaneous way, and as a result their paintings and drawings are very intense and expressive. Several of their works seem to express the artist’s inner feelings and emotions. Drips, splatters, and accidental gestures are part of their compositions. Others were interested in experimenting with biomorphic shapes. Some of their drawings are characterized by fields of pure flat colors, and reflect their interest in the effect of color on human perception. Like all artists, the artists featured in this exhibition were working from their own individual experiences.

This departure helped develop a philosophy that formed an entire art education revolution for Native America. Funded through the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) opened in 1962 as a vocational fine arts high school for Native Americans. Modern and Native cultural aesthetics were embraced by the institution. The result of this artistic approach was an outpouring of creative expression that received regional and national attention. This exhibition includes early works by IAIA students and faculty and is a visual testimony to the Institute’s revolutionary approach to art education that sparked a cultural change within Native Art.