Art Review: Contemporary Native art collection at NMAI in DC
"Those with power make money. Those without, make art.

I'm not sure my aphorism always holds true, but it often comes to mind when I'm looking at shows of art by the powerless and disadvantaged. Once a group has been deprived of its lands or its votes or its living -- or even its lives -- exhibiting its art can feel like conscience-salving condescension.

It's as though we were saying, "Oh, but things aren't so bad after all. Look, we've left you your artmaking soul. What could be more precious that that?"

"Vantage Point: The Contemporary Native Art Collection," a new exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, runs some of those risks, even though it was chosen from the recent works acquired by the native-run institution. It includes 31 pieces, and the lesser among them feel powerless, the fiddlings of people left with no more effective way to make a mark. Unlike mediocre works made by the culture that's on top, native works that lack artistic power can seem to represent the larger disempowerment of their makers. This leaves their artmaking souls -- all that we've left them -- suddenly looking less precious.

Luckily, the opposite is also true. Even if it can't change the world, powerful art stands as a symbol for the possibility of other kinds of power. And that's doubly true for art by native peoples, who start with the deck so stacked against them."

Get the Story:
New 'Vantage Point' show at American Indian museum shows off symbolic power (The Washington Post 10/10)