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Scholder show opens in Washington, New York

The exhibition “Fritz Scholder: Indian/Not Indian,” featuring more than 130 pieces from the late artist of Luiseño, French and German descent, opened Nov. 1 at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington and at its New York branch, the George Gustav Heye Center.

The paintings, prints, drawings and bronze sculptures have been drawn from public collections as well as many private holdings. Some of the works have never been displayed, and others have not been in public view for decades.

The NMAI works, on display through Aug. 16, 2009, represent a career overview and include Scholder’s most renowned canvases, among them the still-disturbing “Indian with Beer Can” and entries in his “Flag” series – dynamically ambiguous juxtapositions of Indian figures and the American flag.

As materials provided by the museum insist, Scholder began a Native reappraisal that continues in the most thorough retrospective of his work ever mounted. In his parallel career as a teacher, Scholder was known to warn Native artists against the self-ghettoization of Indian art. He eventually announced that he would stop painting Indians, but couldn’t altogether keep his word.

“We hope to lay the groundwork for new ways of thinking about Scholder’s place in art history,” said Comanche associate curator Paul Chaat Smith. “And not just in Native American art, but in the global experiment that began with abstract expressionism and led to painterly figuration and pop art.”

Smith organized the exhibition along with Truman Lowe, the Ho-Chunk curator of contemporary art at NMAI. Both contributed to a 200-page book accompanying the exhibition.

The Heye Center will focus on a narrow stretch of Scholder’s career, featuring works created at a loft in lower Manhattan. The New York show will be on view through May 17, 2009.