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As curator of the contemporary art exhibition, Truman Lowe, Ho-Chunk, has
been responsible for a modernist interface with a museum whose collections
are in the main traditional.

"It's been - I call it a fascination," he said, but he also suggests a
continuum to Native art that downplays any fault line between the
traditional and the modern: "Even the traditional work that is being done
continues to evolve," while modern Native art is often more a matter of
feel and materials than of abrupt departures.

Lowe knew both of the artists on temporary display in the inaugural Native
Modernism exhibition. The sculptor Allan Houser (he came to regret the
Anglicized form of Haozous, his name in Chiricahua Apache) is among the few
best-known of all modernist Indian artists. The generous NMAI exhibit can
only extend his fame; it includes some of his finest pieces.

But how many who pay only a passing attention to contemporary art know the
name of George Morrison? Lowe has performed a great service in bringing the
Chippewa modernist to the many thousands who will encounter his works in
the museum's opening months. Morrison was a leading mid-century modernist
who went all the way with it - moving to New York, experimenting with
multiple styles in the restless exploratory manner associated with Picasso,
and exhibiting with de Kooning, Kline and Hoffman. He worked as a sketcher,
a surrealist, an abstract expressionist, a wood collagist and a totem
sculptor (in the latter role, he sought to recapture the historical
Chippewa priority over a power of portrayal that had come to be associated
with Northwest tribes). The wood collages and surrealist drawings really do
leap from their frames, but in any style his art can mesmerize at a glance.
True to the modernist vein he made his own, he avoids obvious story lines
and subject matter to concentrate on line, color and form. But in his later
years, while living at a studio that overlooked Lake Superior, he arrived
at a story line of sorts - a horizon line with colored splashes and shadows
beneath it that sketch in oil on canvas the fleeting reflections on Lake

"I knew both of these people," Lowe said, adding that he spent more time
with Morrison. "I really wanted to allow the introduction of their work."