This week a painting by Corrales artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith joins works by the legendary pop artists Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol at the National Gallery of Art.
Smith’s “I See Red: Target” (1992) is the first painting on canvas by a Native American artist to enter the collection.
The Washington, D.C.-based institution announced the purchase of the painting this week. Smith is an enrolled member of the Salish and Confederate Salish and Kootenai Nation in Montana.
The artist said she was shocked to be the first native painter to appear in the national museum.
“Why isn’t Fritz Scholder or R.C. Gorman or somebody I would have expected?” included, she asked.
“On the one hand, it’s joyful; we’ve broken that buckskin ceiling,” she said. “On the other, it’s stunning that this museum hasn’t purchased a piece of Native American art” before.
Anabeth Guthrie, a spokeswoman from the National Gallery, said that while Smith’s work is the first painting by a Native American to be collected by the gallery, it owns two dozen works by native artists on paper. The 11-foot-tall mixed media painting addresses racism through the commercial branding of indigenous American identity through Smith’s assemblage of ephemera and painterly touches.
“I see Red: Target” belongs to a series about the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in America. Smith was responding to the appropriation of Native American names by sports teams, specifically the Washington Redskins. The artist had begun collecting trinkets such as key chains with sports logos.
“And then I used (pop artist) Jasper Johns’ ‘Target’ for the head with darts,” she said. “It’s a real dartboard. I used turkey feathers as healers around the darts.
“It’s Indians being used as mascots. It’s about Native Americans being used as commodities.”
Photographs of Native Americans and red stripes form the body of the piece. Newspaper clippings, the Char-Koosta News (the official publication of the Flathead Reservation, where Smith was raised), a comic book cover, fabric and a pennant cover the work. The alternating bands of historic images of Native Americans bear the stain-like drips of bloodied paint, calling up issues of race, history, identity and rage.
The pennant honors the Washington football team’s victory over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI. The 1950s-1970s comic book cover for “Son of Tomahawk” (D.C. Comics) offers an allusion to the “tomahawk chop” performed by sports fans during games. Smith also added images of bison under the headline “Defying the Stereotypes.”
“I was also looking at Andy Warhol,” Smith added. “He had a painting where he’s woven photographs throughout the painting.”
“(Racism) is still happening with Black Lives Matter,” she continued. “It’s been 25 years and I thought ‘Oh, this will be obsolete.”
“I See Red: Target” is on view in the East Building pop art galleries, installed among works by Johns and Warhol – artists who have also incorporated recognizable imagery into their signature styles. Smith said the work becomes a riff on art history, taking a well-known image and “flipping” it to present a view of Native America. Like another nearby work in the gallery, Warhol’s “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” (Rauschenberg Family) (1962), Smith’s piece makes use of grid, repetition, photographic elements, and painterly effects to create a memorable image-field. In contrast to Warhol, Smith humanizes her subject.
Smith’s roles as artist, teacher, curator and activist have resulted in hundreds of exhibitions across 40 years. Her work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the New Mexico Museum of Art and the Albuquerque Museum.