'Dakota Modern' Retrospective of Oscar Howe Reexamines His Role in 20th Century American Art

  • July 06, 2022 12:16

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Oscar Howe (Yanktonai Dakota, 1915–1983), Fighting Bucks, 1967. Casein on paper, 20 1/4 x 26 15/16 in. NMAI 27/0217 

One of the 20th Century’s Most Innovative Native American Painters, Howe Challenged Stereotypes and Created Pathways for Native Painters

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York debuted “Dakota Modern: The Art of Oscar Howe” in March. This major traveling retrospective exhibition traces the artistic development of painter Oscar Howe (1915–1983). The arc of his career began with early conventional work created while he was in high school in the 1930s and continued through the emergence of his own innovative and abstract approach to painting in the 1950s and 1960s. The exhibition will be on view through Sept. 11, 2022. After it closes in New York, it will be on view at the Portland Art Museum (PAM) in Portland, Oregon, Oct. 29, 2022–May 14, 2023, and the South Dakota Art Museum at South Dakota State University in Brookings June 10, 2023–Sept. 17, 2023.

Oscar Howe (Yanktonai Dakota, 1915–1983), Umine Dance, 1958. Casein and gouache on paper, mounted to board, 18 x 22 in. Garth Greenan Gallery, New York

One of the 20th century’s most innovative Native American painters, Howe committed his artistic career to the preservation, relevance and ongoing expression of his Yanktonai Dakota culture. He proved that art could be simultaneously modern and embedded in customary Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (Sioux) culture and aesthetics—to him there was no contradiction. Howe challenged the art establishment’s preconceptions and definitions of Native American painting. In doing so, he catalyzed a movement among Native artists to express their individuality rather than conforming to an established style that limits artistic expression. His legacy of innovation and advocacy continues to inspire generations of Native artists to take pride in their heritage and resist stereotypes.

The exhibition was developed in collaboration with PAM and curated by Kathleen Ash-Milby (Navajo), PAM’s curator of Native American art.

“We are finally at a point in the 21st century where we can recognize the impact and complexity of Oscar Howe’s incredible work as both Native American and modern American art,” Ash-Milby said. “This project is a long overdue recognition of his contribution to the field that we hope will establish Howe’s place as a 20th-century modernist.”

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