Visitors will experience the versatility of renowned contemporary Native artist’s work -- and his humor
A new exhibition opening May 19 at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis showcases the work of Harry Fonseca, one of the most important and revered contemporary Native American artists of our time. His retrospective exhibition, Harry Fonseca: The Art of Living, is based on a collection that Fonseca’s partner Harry Nungesser donated to the Eiteljorg after the artist’s untimely death. The exhibit includes Fonseca’s paintings, prints, drawings and many personal expressions to friends and family in the form of cards and photographs.
From the start of his career in the 1970s, Fonseca (Maidu/Nisenan, Portuguese, Hawaiian,1946-2006) worked to change perceptions about Native American art and artists. Based in Santa Fe, N.M., Fonseca gained the respect and admiration of art critics and academics. In 2005, in recognition of his long contributions to the contemporary Native art field, he was named an Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellow. Fonseca’s death from cancer the following year was a great loss to the contemporary Native art community.
“It’s fitting that we remember Harry Fonseca, who made a tremendous impact on contemporary Native art by breaking through barriers and influencing a whole generation of artists. We are honored that his partner Harry Nungesser donated the artist’s extraordinary work to the Eiteljorg Museum; and visitors to this new exhibit will be intrigued by Fonseca’s creativity, experimentation and humor,” Eiteljorg President and CEO John Vanausdall said.
Known for a versatile range of techniques and styles, Fonseca created several series of paintings, including his Coyote series. In his Maidu culture, the coyote possesses both trickster and heroic qualities; and in Fonseca’s paintings, his Coyote subject is portrayed in late 20th century clothing and situations, conveying modern Native experience as evolving yet continuing.
One Fonseca painting series focuses on the historic impact of the Gold Rush on Native peoples; another called Stone Poems reinterprets on canvas the stone petroglyphs of ancient Native peoples of California. His Stripes and Seasons paintings generate dialogue and ignite imagination. In showcasing some of the best of Fonseca’s work, the 2018 exhibit presents insights into the artist’s warmth and humor, particularly through his painted handwritten notes to friends, in scrapbooks and in sketches that depict his love of classical music, opera and entertaining guests.
For visitors to have a context for the paintings, the exhibit will include recorded audio-narration of the observations of Fonseca’s partner, Nungesser, discussing the works. Visitors can listen to the nine audio tracks on their smart phones via QR codes. A video shown on a monitor will include an archived interview of Fonseca and a more recent interview with Jennifer Complo McNutt, the Eiteljorg’s curator of contemporary art, who developed the exhibit. A catalog of the Fonseca collection will be available in the Frank and Katrina Basile Museum Store.
Sponsored by the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the Indiana Arts Commission, the exhibit Harry Fonseca: The Art of Living opens Saturday, May 19 and continues for approximately one year in the Eiteljorg’s Hurt and Harvey galleries.
Visitors who see the Fonseca exhibit also can experience the Eiteljorg’s ongoing special exhibition, The Reel West, about the cultural influence of Hollywood Westerns. Both are included with regular museum admission, and Eiteljorg members are free.
About the Eiteljorg:
The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in White River State Park in downtown Indianapolis seeks to inspire an appreciation and understanding of the art, history and cultures of the American West and the Indigenous peoples of North America. Located on the Central Canal at 500 West Washington St., the Eiteljorg Museum recently was named one of the USA Today Readers’ Choice 10 Best Indiana Attractions.
A curator’s essay about artist Harry Fonseca is on the Eiteljorg blog at this link.