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Traveling shows, overlapping geography


ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Two traveling art shows, both with Native themes and relevance to Alaska, have taken up residence at the Anchorage Museum for the summer.

The two exhibits, ''Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation'' and ''Arctic Spirit,'' were put together by different institutions, but have geographic confluences and a striking correspondence of first impressions.

''Arctic Spirit,'' which gathered items from the collection of the Heard Museum in Arizona, covers Inuit art throughout this people's full range in Siberia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland.

''Changing Hands,'' the second of three regional exhibits on Native art, put together by the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, targets the art of Native people of the West, Northwest and Pacific.

The correspondence of first impressions comes from amazing bone sculptures that are right at the front of each exhibit. For ''Arctic Spirit,'' it is ''Whale Bone Shaman with Bird Spirit'' by Eli Inukpaluk, and for ''Changing Hands'' it's ''Looking Inside Myself'' by Susie Silook. ''Looking Inside Myself'' is a whalebone sculpture carved into a face on the outside, and on the inside a series of circular carvings suggest the surface of the brain. While the Alaska-born Silook's new age scrimshaw is quite modern and self-referential, there is no denying it has reference to a tradition Inukpaluk's piece.

''Arctic Spirit,'' which is taken from the collections of Dan and Martha Albrecht and curated by Ingo Hessel, shows that Inuit art ''symbolizes the resilience, ingenuity and vision of a people,'' according to material at the museum. The exhibit points out that a high percentage of the 150,000 Inuit living today are artists or craftspeople, and emphasizes that art making has helped wean community members away from the kind of dependence living prevalent among many other distressed Native communities around the world.

While ''Arctic Spirit'' is the smaller of the two exhibits, it makes its points compactly, dredging the artists' themes into broad categories like animals, animals and humans, and the supernatural/shamans. The exhibit offers examples of Inuit drawings, paintings, sculptures, crafts and stonecuts. For example, artist Ruth Qaulluaryuk has a wall hanging called ''Tundra Colors,'' in which she intriguingly ''samples'' local colors, like those of pussy willows and blackberry branches.

The ''Changing Hands'' exhibit is a little more ambitious because it seeks to ''examine Native artists of today within the larger context of international contemporary art, rather than as ethnographic and anthropological artifacts.''

This includes artworks made up of such diverse things as ceramics, fiber, wood, metal, glass, video, mixed media, installation and performance. It finds that the art ''transcends geography and tribal affiliations'' and that the artists ''confront the stereotypes and misconceptions that surround Native art.''

Curators Ellen Napiura Taubman and David Revere McFadden have made a gallant attempt to convey some of the artistic energy available from their huge geographic region. They have made broad categories including ''Nature as Subject,'' ''The Human Condition,'' ''Beyond Function'' and ''Material Evidence.''

Gallantly true to its theme, the exhibit does not give the artists' tribal affiliations. However, the ''without reservations'' part of it is not especially convincing, as many of these artworks are immediately identifiable as coming from Indian country. Native artists' explosive anger, sardonic social commentary and shooting-fish-in-the-barrel iconography are all over this exhibit, from a faux-Monopoly board game called ''Ethnopoly'' to a blanket imprinted with food commodity logos with Lone Star beer bottles standing on it, to the self-explanatory and hilarious ''Bingo Sheet Kachina,'' to the rather obvious box by David Bradley called ''Land O Bucks, Land O Fakes, Land O Lakes.''

If that's not enough of the sardonic style, Doug Coffin's ''Cigar Store Indian'' features a face as a television screen showing old cowboy movies, among other things. Or David Neel's ''International Mask of Commerce,'' which has bank notes threaded into the mask.

There are many interesting pieces on display. For more information on the exhibit, visit