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Walk in Beauty: Discovering American Indian Art

This exhibition, which takes its title from a traditional Navajo prayer, is a personal exploration of painting and sculpture by American Indians. Drawn from the collection of Karen and Malcolm Whyte, Class of 1955, the exhibition presents paintings, works on paper, and sculptures ranging across the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.  These works manifest, in the collectors’  words, “a diverse progression of creativity—a continuous walk in beauty—that pulls from the past, records the present, and speaks to the future.”

The artists represented in the exhibition are predominantly of Hopi, Navajo, Cochiti, Taos, and other Southwestern tribal heritage, but artists from other parts of North America, particularly California, are also represented. The exhibition is organized thematically, beginning with works in the so-called “traditional style” of American Indians by artists trained during the 1920s and 1930s in Dorothy Dunn’s studio at the American Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  These works depict hunting and dancing scenes, and other subjects of American Indian ritual and tradition, or draw on stylistic motifs reproduced for centuries on textiles and pottery.

Modern and contemporary works in the exhibition, while often referencing established subjects and themes, treat them in new ways and use new media, creating relevant and forward-thinking art. Artists like Harry Fonseca and David Bradley use humor and satire to comment on American Indians’ place in society and to effect important revisions to American history. In many cases, the relationship of the new generation of artists to the old is familial, and the exhibition underscores this artistic inheritance by presenting works by mother and daughter, father and son, uncle and nephew.

At the Johnson Museum, our deepest gratitude goes to Cornell American Indian program Director Jane Mt. Pleasant for her support and for helping us to connect this exhibition to interested parties at Cornell and elsewhere, and History of Art Professor Jolene Rickard and her students for offering vital perspectives on these works. Above all, we are grateful for the generosity, wisdom, and goodwill of Malcolm and Karen Whyte in sharing their collection with our visitors and the larger world.

Andrew C. Weislogel
Assistant Curator / Master Teacher