Indian Pop Art Has Fallen? Non-Native Art Scholar, Kristine Ronan Makes Her Case After Controversy

Non-Native Art Scholar, Kristine Ronan sparks contreversy by stating "Indian Pop Art" has fallen

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center Post-Doctoral Fellow Kristine Ronan gave a series of controversial lectures on Indian art titled, Indian-Pop-Politics: The Rise and Fall of a Native American Art, at several venues, including the University of New Mexico on April 19th.

Several prominent Indian artists have took issue with her statement that Indian Pop Art is not prevalent in 2017. Among those taking issue was 60’s Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) alum and professor emeritus at University of Lethbridge and University of Regina, Alfred Youngman, who asked that his images be taken out of the presentation by Kristine Ronan.

In addition to her lectures, Kristine Ronan was interviewed promoting the lectures in THE Magazine, Santa Fe in which she discussed the Indian pop movement in the ‘60’s through the 70’s. She stated popular Native artists in the Native art community, Fritz Scholder and T.C. Cannon, were largely unknown in the national discourse, and therefore in the annals of art history.

Kristine Ronan agreed to share her side of the story with ICMN about the Indian pop movement that began in the 60’s at the IAIA, and the matter which she says, “fell with the rise of the AIM movement of the mid 70’s.”

Why the provocative title, "Indian–Pop–Politics:The Rise and Fall of a Native American Art Movement," noting the word ‘Fall.’

In art history, a movement has very particular criteria, for which we could argue for or against. A movement has to involve multiple artists over several generations, the work has to be seen by large audiences, and it has to spur both critical and artistic dialogues. The Institute of American Indian Arts was so successful in generating wide audiences and national dialogues around student work, starting in 1965, that the national press covered this work as a movement.

The momentum of this national discourse seems to have declined in relation to the media backlash against the American Indian Movement (AIM) that emerged in 1975… thus, the “rise and fall.” I think that the decline of the period’s national discourse on Native art is important to pay attention to, and to think about what that decline marks.

Bert Seabourn, Untitled, 1968, image courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution

Bert Seabourn, Untitled, 1968.

However, this decline in discourse does not describe what artists were themselves doing, how successful they were, how they thought about or conceived of their own work, or how regional or local discourses approached the work in this period. It also doesn’t comment on the importance of Pop Art for Native artists, many of whom have continued to utilize Pop techniques in their own ways over the last four decades.

In the original THE interview, I was trying to describe the direct imagery of the IAIA students’ Pop works at the time—that painted upside-down flags or B.I.A. stenciled onto canvases were direct, fairly in-your-face political comments. Much of the students’ work also takes on and challenges the long history of print and image circulation that was critical to the success of America’s colonial project in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In this way, the work and its imagery directly speaks back to the colonial past.


You made the argument that T.C. Cannon and Fritz Scholder were pop artists.

The artwork of Fritz Scholder from a controversial lecture on Indian art titled, Indian-Pop-Politics The Rise and Fall of a Native American Art.

The artwork of Fritz Scholder from a controversial lecture on Indian art titled, Indian-Pop-Politics The Rise and Fall of a Native American Art.

Cannon’s work utilized archival images through the early 1970s, as did Scholder’s. Scholder eventually dropped the archival photograph basis for his paintings, but in his first years he made sure audiences knew that his images came from historical photographs. He also cited Francis Bacon as one of his main artistic influences—who at the time, was also categorized as Pop because of his sources in printed and circulated images.

"I'm the first to work on this as a movement" is a provocative statement, considering all of the Native art historians.

I would never say I’m the first to research any of these artists, or the IAIA—there are multiple accounts of most of these artists and the school, well before me. And my project, whatever final form it takes, will only be one slice of a highly complex story—there are many, many projects and stories to be told around the involved artists, administrators, home communities, and institutions.

I had said ‘I’m the first’ to try to make clear that I was on new ground—not at all in the ‘Yeah, look at me, I’m the first!’ way, but in the ‘I’m trying out something different here, and it may work, or it may not’ way.

A presentation slide from Kristine Ronan's controversial lecture on Indian art titled, Indian-Pop-Politics The Rise and Fall of a Native American Art.

A presentation slide from the Kristine Ronan controversial lecture on Indian art titled, Indian-Pop-Politics The Rise and Fall of a Native American Art.

What would you say to artists like Alfred Youngman, who demanded that any use of his art in your lecture be taken down?

First, that I respect any artist’s right to control their images—and that I respect that right even without the threat of a lawsuit.

Secondly, I hope a conversation can happen so that I understand the protest. I’ve been most fortunate. Many community members have come to my talks and voiced their objections to the work, and have mentioned areas and perspectives that I just haven’t thought of on my own. It’s pushing me to do better and stronger work, and I’m very thankful for these interventions, so early in my process. I hope for more. All scholarship is a conversation—any scholar who acts otherwise isn’t telling the truth, and missing the heart of doing great work.

Are you using any input from the Native communities you are researching?

At the early stages of my projects (which I am in now), I work extensively with Native curators, archivists, librarians, scholars, writers, and collections managers. I’ve found they know their areas better than anyone and can point me to the “big questions” and key works and resources faster than any published book can.

At later stages, for this project, I hope to talk to as many Native artists working with Pop techniques as I can; Native artists working in the 1960s and 1970s; and artists and administrators connected with IAIA in its early years.