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Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map, April 19-August 13, 2023, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City

Curators: Laura Phipps and Caitlin Chaisson
Nicole Scalissi

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  • 1 Adam D. Weinberg, “Forward,” in Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map, ed. Laura Phipps (New York: W (...)

1Organized by and first installed at the Whitney Museum of American art in New York City, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map is Smith’s most extensive retrospective exhibition—and the first retrospective of any Indigenous artist that the Whitney has organized in its more than 90 years of exhibiting “American” art.1 Comprising more than 130 artworks and ephemera, the exhibition took over two of the Whitney’s six exhibition floors with artworks in a range of mediums—collage, pastels, charcoal drawings, painting, prints, sculptures, ephemera—that speak to the heart of Smith’s project: making erased histories visible, often with cutting humor, and illuminating the impact people have upon land, animals, and each other in an interconnected world.

  • 2 “Statement,” https://jaunequick-to-seesmith.com/bio-4/.
  • 3 Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map. Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, October 15, 2023 - January 2 (...)
  • 4 The Land Carries Our Ancestors: Contemporary Art by Native Americans, National Gallery of Art (Wash (...)

2Born in 1940 in what is now called the state of Montana in the United States, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith is a citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Her “strong traditional Salish beliefs,” she has explained, “philosophically center” her work.2 Despite being discouraged in pursuing education and art in her youth, Smith completed a Bachelor’s degree in Art Education and a Master’s in Art. Throughout her career, she has created opportunities for herself and other Native artists through her activism, often taking on overlapping roles of community advocate, educator, and curator. Indeed, Memory Map included audio guides and writing by other Native artists, and the second installation of Memory Map (Fort Worth, TX)3 was on view concurrently with The Land Carries Our Ancestors: Contemporary Art by Native Americans, an exhibition Smith organized at the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.)4.

3At the Whitney, Memory Map opened with a handful of artworks that signaled something of the range of Smith’s practice: a large-scale collaged painting, drawing, sculptural assemblage. Trade Canoe: Forty Days and Forty Nights5, a large multi-panel painting from 2015, greeted viewers first. At the center of the composition, Coyote stands tall and faces us from the middle of a long canoe, his hand-like paws raised to his angular cheeks as if in alarm, worry, or surprise—or is he cupping his paws in preparation to shout, to howl? His empty eyes don’t clarify the ambiguous gesture. The canoe brims with faces that meet our gaze, icons of nature and home: a tree, cabin, bird, a wriggling snake. A man seen from behind with a single feather tucked into the back of his headband—perhaps Smith’s refiguration of the Tonto stereotype from The Lone Ranger comic—repeats, diminishing in size. Smith’s overall patchwork of drippy horizontal and vertical brushstrokes emphasize surface and flatness. Above the laden canoe, skeletons take wing.

  • 6 Smith has called it “a Salish version of Noah’s Ark.” Smith quoted in Andrea Carlson, “A Canoe as a (...)
  • 7 Andrea Carlson, “#501: Trade Canoe: Forty Days and Forty Nights, exhibition audio guide, https://wh (...)

4Trade Canoe: Forty Days and Forty Nights introduces viewers to the dense visual, historical, and conceptual layering abound in Smith’s practice, as well as to specific images and iconographies that recur in the exhibition, including pop cultural imaginings of Native people, Coyote and other figures important in Salish origin stories, and the trade canoe—used as symbol of Native mobility as well as uneven, ongoing exchanges with colonizers. Trade Canoe: Forty Days and Forty Nights, in its title, may evoke Judeo-Christian stories of faith and endurance and specifically Noah’s Ark, a story of regret and apocalyptic wrath, faith and survival wherein all survivors are made landless, and landlessness is key to survival.6 As artist Andrea Carlson (Grand Portage Ojibwe) observes, what this canoe saves “are beings, they are spirits, they are stories.”7 Smith’s canoe is a life raft in the apocalyptic “flood” of European colonial control and land dispossession.

  • 8 Vine Deloria, God is Red: A Native View of Religion. New York: Delta, 1973.

5Nearby, Indian Madonna Enthroned (1974) (Fig. 1), one of few figural sculptures in the show, similarly touches upon Christian and art historical associations. In her pheasant feather hand Smith’s Madonna holds God is Red: A Native View of Religion, a 1973 book 8by Vine Deloria (Standing Rock Sioux) that compares human-centered Christianity to Native religions that center place and interconnectedness. The US flag draped, blanket-like, on the Madonna’s lap speaks to Smith’s career-long investigation of relationships between Native communities and the United States, concepts of “Americanness,” and belonging. Curator Laura Phipp’s decision to locate Indian Madonna Enthroned and Trade Canoe: Forty Days and Forty Nights at the exhibition entrance may have hit familiar notes for multiple audiences, serving to draw them into an exhibition that only multiplies in complexity: visitors with familiarity with the European and (settle-colonialist) US American art histories may link Indian Madonna Enthroned with Marian and Biblical iconographies, while visitors with familiarity with Native art, cultures, and beliefs may see how Smith uses a broad range of Native iconographies to reference histories of resistance and a self-determined present. Smith redeploys Christian and art historical associations to show their limits, their traditions of exclusion, and hints toward their instrumentality in European colonization of Indigenous North America—threads that resonate with greater complexity and subtlety in other galleries.

Fig.1. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Indian Madonna Enthroned, 1974.

Fig.1. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Indian Madonna Enthroned, 1974.

Burlap, fabric, polyester batting, dried corn, leather thongs, beaded leather bands, necklaces, book (God Is Red by Vine Deloria Jr.), pheasant wings, American flag, beaded hide moccasins, two framed ink and graphite pencil drawings, Masonite cradleboard, animal hide, sheepskin and fleece, bird feet, wood chair, and painted plywood, 132.1 × 86.4 × 50.8 cm. Collection of the artist; courtesy Garth Greenan Gallery, New York. Fabricated by Andy Ambrose.

© Jaune Quick-to-See Smith

6Memory Map was organized in sections of Smith’s aesthetic and conceptual interests over the past five decades, small exhibitions within the exhibition. In the first gallery (Fig. 2), early pastel-and charcoal drawings orient viewers to Smith’s use of mapping as storytelling, mapping to record memory. In the series Kalispell (Fig. 3), named for the town in Montana, dotted lines meander across the composition and abstract horses stretch out in leaping gallops, suggesting human and animal habitation and migration in Western landscapes so often described as “untouched.” Ideas of human-land responsibilities continue in neighboring galleries. The Petroglyph Park series (mid-1980s) (Fig. 4 and 5), a set of energetic, high-key color pastel drawings, were made as part of Smith’s involvement with a grassroots movement to protect petroglyphs that were threatened by a planned housing development in New Mexico. Smith supported the community not only by donating artworks, but also writing letters the research for which was on view in a vitrine. Smith’s overall commitment to environmental protection is also visible in a series of large paintings based in environmental concerns of Chief Seattle, 19th century leader of the Duwamish and Suquamish peoples. In the moody Sunlit (1989) (Fig. 6), a brushy landscape of trees is lit by a painted moon, inside of which is an actual exposed lightbulb installed into the canvas; the electrical cord drapes across the composition—overlapping a section a quote from Chief Seattle that “all things share the same breath”—to plug into an outlet in the painting’s upper right corner. This series integrates thickly-textured atmospheric paintings, wisdom from Chief Seattle, and industrially-produced goods—at times uneasy pairings that encourage viewers to consider the effects of industry upon the natural world.

  • 9 From left to right: Petrogylph Park, 1987; Escarpment, 1987; Herding, 1985.

Fig. 2. Installation view of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map9.

Fig. 2. Installation view of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map9.

Photograph: Ron Amstutz

Fig. 3. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Kalispell #1, 1979.

Fig. 3. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Kalispell #1, 1979.

Pastel and charcoal on paper, 106 × 75.2 cm. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Altria Group, Inc. 2008.137.

© Jaune Quick-to-See Smith

Fig. 4. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Petroglyph Park, 1987.

Fig. 4. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Petroglyph Park, 1987.

Pastel and charcoal on paper, 55.9 × 55.9 cm. Collection of Sascha S. Bauer.

© Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. Photograph courtesy the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York

Fig. 5. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Petroglyph Park, 1987.

Fig. 5. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Petroglyph Park, 1987.

Pastel on paper, 55.9 × 55.9 cm. Collection of the artist; courtesy Garth Greenan Gallery, New York.

© Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith

Fig. 6. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Sunlit (C.S. 1854), 1989.

Fig. 6. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Sunlit (C.S. 1854), 1989.

Oil, acrylic, ferrous metal, light bulb, electrical cord, outlet, string, nails, and screws on canvas, 184.2 × 184.2 cm. Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis; gift of David Henry Jacobs Jr.1999.12.1. Fabricated by Neal Ambrose-Smith.

© Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. Photograph courtesy Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis

7The exhibition continues into larger and larger galleries that housed paintings and sculptures produced since the 1990s, years in which Smith’s work expanded in size as she grappled visually with the quincentennial anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas, multiple US-led wars and military interventions from General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 through the 2000s, and their devastating effects upon the planet. Displays of archival materials demonstrate the essential activism, advocacy, and educator work equally important to Smith’s career. In vitrines in the main gallery, letters, statements, photographs, and other ephemera tell the story of her activism to uplift Native artists, raise consciousness in the public, and within professional spaces of art and art history. (Additionally, one hallway-gallery was dedicated to her work with Native artist collective Gray Canyon.) These collections speak to her tenacity and vision, and some materials remain not only resonant, but show just how little has changed since they were produced. For example, Smith’s draft statement for the 1992 annual conference of the College Art Association (the major US professional association for art historians) could be usefully presented at the next CAA conference in 2025. Smith calls in “scholars” who must still “turn away from their Euro-centric views,” while she calls for an expansive understanding of “American” art history that necessarily includes Native perspectives and histories. Her letter addressed the longstanding impacts of settler-colonialism and erasure, and the shortcomings of art history in direct, unsparing language—a statement that likely bristled scholars then, and might still now.

8The title Memory Map speaks to how Smith’s work is rooted in memory and land that thread through the galleries, but it is in the final gallery on the main floor that this distinctive understanding of mapping is made emphatically clear—in a gallery of five paintings that take the recognizable shape of the United States as ground, mapping here is clearly not simply document of geopolitical demarcation (Fig. 7). For example, in State Names I (2000) (Fig. 8) the contemporary political map of the lower 48 states is unsettled by Smith’s collaging, labeling, and dripping paint that leaves visible only the state names that stem from Indigenous languages. The borders of US states are obscured under washes and long drips of paint. States seep through their contemporary borders, which are the arbitrary to original Native understanding of places. Collaged of layers of newspapers, the overlapping and obscured elements suggest layers of time, including the historical amnesia necessary to settler-colonialist projects, as well as Native persistence and resistance. Mapping in Smith’s work is storytelling of self, community, and resistance to ongoing colonial occupation.

  • 10 From left to right: Memory Map, 2000; Homeland, 2017; State Names Map I, 2000.

Fig. 7. Installation view of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map10.

Fig. 7. Installation view of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map10.

Photograph: Ron Amstutz

Fig. 8. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, State Names Map I, 2000.

Fig. 8. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, State Names Map I, 2000.

Oil, acrylic, and paper on canvas, 121.9 × 182.9 cm. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; gift of Elizabeth Ann Dugan and museum purchase.

© Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. Photograph courtesy the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York

9The exhibition continued onto the Whitney’s third floor, adjacent to the museum’s Education Center—apt, given Smith’s longstanding dedication to bringing art and art workshops to schools and reservations. In this smaller space, Smith’s small pastels, ink drawings, prints, and collages felt like a separate exhibition, based in a kind of intimacy and reflection. Smith’s Memories of Childhood series (1994), for example, is a set of ten bright, autobiographical collages that capture moments from her childhood. Iconographies that appear over her career such as dresses, horses, Coyote, are here refigured with the looseness and near-whimsicality of a childlike hand, but not naïve. Memories of Childhood #1 (Fig. 9), for example, features a fabric dress with an assortment of faces floating above: faces Smith imagined for her mother, who left the family when the artist was two years old. Others collages show a winged child flying in the sky, and lying under the stars, Coyote as her pillow.

Fig. 9. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Memories of Childhood #1, 1994.

Fig. 9. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Memories of Childhood #1, 1994.

Collage of paper and fabric with acrylic, charcoal, pastel, and ink, 76.2 × 55.9 cm. Collection of Barbara and Eric Dobkin.

© Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson

  • 11 Weinberg, “Forward,” in Phipps, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, 8.

10The exhibition catalogue contextualizes the Whitney’s recent “commitment to Indigenous art” as “now unmistakable.” 11Other recent major exhibitions of Native/Indigenous art indicate how the field more broadly may be making such commitments, as seen in the slate of impressive exhibitions including Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists (Minneapolis Institute of Art, 2019), Larger Than Memory: Contemporary Art from Indigenous North America (Heard Museum, 2020), In Our Hands: Native Photography 1890 to Now (Minneapolis Institute of Art, 2023), and Indian Theater: Native Performance, Art, and Self-Determination since 1969 (Hessell Museum, 2023). Indian Theater was an incredible pendant to Memory Map, concurrently on view up the Hudson River in Red Hook, NY. The sprawling installation at the Hessell served as a parallel context for Smith’s work, illuminating the multidisciplinary contributions of Native artists to contemporary art over the same fifty years as Smith’s retrospective.

  • 12 Lowry Stokes Sims and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, “A Conversation with Jaune Quick-to-See Smith,” in (...)

11In an interview with Lowry Stokes Sims (published in the catalogue), Smith explained that she is part of a family of traders: “our tribe is a trading tribe.” Her career-long work to bring art and art workshops to schools and reservations, she continued, is “educational trading, intellectual trading.” Such exchanges based in reciprocal benefit are a “cultural mandate.”12 This powerful situation of reciprocity and exchange has me thinking: how are we as viewers at the Whitney in exchange with Smith or her artwork? What can be expected of viewers in this context—a major artist’s retrospective in a major art museum—in a space where we have been conditioned to be consumers? Among the ideas Smith’s work invites viewers to share in is an understanding, or perhaps reconditioning, of art viewing as based in exchange and responsibility.

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Notes

1 Adam D. Weinberg, “Forward,” in Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map, ed. Laura Phipps (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2023), 7.

2 “Statement,” https://jaunequick-to-seesmith.com/bio-4/.

3 Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map. Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, October 15, 2023 - January 21, 2024.

4 The Land Carries Our Ancestors: Contemporary Art by Native Americans, National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.) September 22, 2023 – January 15, 2024.

5 https://hoodmuseum.dartmouth.edu/explore/exhibitions/jaune-quick-see-smith

6 Smith has called it “a Salish version of Noah’s Ark.” Smith quoted in Andrea Carlson, “A Canoe as a Landless Craft,” in Phipps, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, 160.

7 Andrea Carlson, “#501: Trade Canoe: Forty Days and Forty Nights, exhibition audio guide, https://whitney.org/audio-guides/87?stop=14376. Accessed April 28, 2024.

8 Vine Deloria, God is Red: A Native View of Religion. New York: Delta, 1973.

9 From left to right: Petrogylph Park, 1987; Escarpment, 1987; Herding, 1985.

10 From left to right: Memory Map, 2000; Homeland, 2017; State Names Map I, 2000.

11 Weinberg, “Forward,” in Phipps, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, 8.

12 Lowry Stokes Sims and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, “A Conversation with Jaune Quick-to-See Smith,” in Phipps, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, 18-19.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig.1. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Indian Madonna Enthroned, 1974.
Légende Burlap, fabric, polyester batting, dried corn, leather thongs, beaded leather bands, necklaces, book (God Is Red by Vine Deloria Jr.), pheasant wings, American flag, beaded hide moccasins, two framed ink and graphite pencil drawings, Masonite cradleboard, animal hide, sheepskin and fleece, bird feet, wood chair, and painted plywood, 132.1 × 86.4 × 50.8 cm. Collection of the artist; courtesy Garth Greenan Gallery, New York. Fabricated by Andy Ambrose.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/22648/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 38k
Titre Fig. 2. Installation view of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map9.
Légende Photograph: Ron Amstutz
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/22648/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 223k
Titre Fig. 3. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Kalispell #1, 1979.
Légende Pastel and charcoal on paper, 106 × 75.2 cm. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Altria Group, Inc. 2008.137.
Crédits © Jaune Quick-to-See Smith
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/22648/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 440k
Titre Fig. 4. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Petroglyph Park, 1987.
Légende Pastel and charcoal on paper, 55.9 × 55.9 cm. Collection of Sascha S. Bauer.
Crédits © Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. Photograph courtesy the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/22648/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 226k
Titre Fig. 5. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Petroglyph Park, 1987.
Légende Pastel on paper, 55.9 × 55.9 cm. Collection of the artist; courtesy Garth Greenan Gallery, New York.
Crédits © Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/22648/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 334k
Titre Fig. 6. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Sunlit (C.S. 1854), 1989.
Légende Oil, acrylic, ferrous metal, light bulb, electrical cord, outlet, string, nails, and screws on canvas, 184.2 × 184.2 cm. Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis; gift of David Henry Jacobs Jr.1999.12.1. Fabricated by Neal Ambrose-Smith.
Crédits © Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. Photograph courtesy Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/22648/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 741k
Titre Fig. 7. Installation view of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map10.
Légende Photograph: Ron Amstutz
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/22648/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 126k
Titre Fig. 8. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, State Names Map I, 2000.
Légende Oil, acrylic, and paper on canvas, 121.9 × 182.9 cm. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; gift of Elizabeth Ann Dugan and museum purchase.
Crédits © Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. Photograph courtesy the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/22648/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 451k
Titre Fig. 9. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Memories of Childhood #1, 1994.
Légende Collage of paper and fabric with acrylic, charcoal, pastel, and ink, 76.2 × 55.9 cm. Collection of Barbara and Eric Dobkin.
Crédits © Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/22648/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 532k
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Nicole Scalissi, « Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map, April 19-August 13, 2023, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City »Transatlantica [En ligne], 1 | 2024, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2024, consulté le 12 juillet 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/22648 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/11x2q

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Nicole Scalissi

California State University, San Bernardino

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