Barnes Foundation Unveils Its First-Ever Native American Art Exhibition

  • February 21, 2022 20:55

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Serape (detail), Navajo, c. 1860. Wool. Barnes Foundation. 01.24.03
Olla (water jar) (detail), Zuni Pueblo, c. 1800–1820. Fired clay, temper, slip. Barnes Foundation. A359

This spring, the Barnes Foundation presents Water, Wind, Breath: Southwest Native Art in Community, a major exhibition of historic and contemporary Southwest Native art, including Pueblo and Navajo pottery, textiles, and jewelry. Exploring living artistic traditions that promote individual and community well-being through their making and use, this exhibition is the Barnes’s first dedicated to Native American art and is on view in the Roberts Gallery from February 20 through May 15, 2022.

Co-curated by Lucy Fowler Williams, associate curator-in-charge and Jeremy A. Sabloff Senior Keeper of American Collections at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, and Tony Chavarria (Santa Clara Pueblo), curator of ethnology at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe, Water, Wind, Breath: Southwest Native Art in Community features approximately 100 works, including objects that Dr. Albert C. Barnes collected in New Mexico in 1930 and 1931, as well as works by contemporary Native American artists that highlight the connections between historic pieces and modern practices.

Left: Ketoh (bow guard), Navajo, c. 1900. Silver alloy from ingots, turquoise, leather, copper alloy. A186. Center: Ketoh, Navajo, c. 1900–1910. Silver alloy from ingots, turquoise, copper alloy. A91. Right: Ketoh, Navajo, c. 1890–1910. Silver alloy from ingots, turquoise, leather, copper alloy. Barnes Foundation. 01.34.01

“It is a fitting show to kick off the Barnes’s centennial year and the tenth anniversary of our home in the heart of Philadelphia as it exemplifies what we strive to accomplish through our exhibition program: to provide thought-provoking, educational experiences and scholarship that explores our collection and resonates with our history,” says Thom Collins, Neubauer Family Executive Director and President. 

Dr. Albert C. Barnes initially traveled to the Southwest for the health of his wife, Laura. On their first trip in 1929, the couple was hosted in Taos, New Mexico, by American art patron Mabel Dodge Luhan and her Pueblo husband, Tony Lujan, who introduced them to artists and activists who defended Native rights to land and religious practices. Archival correspondence reveals Dr. Barnes’s relationship with leading figures who influenced his collecting, including artist Andrew Dasburg and archaeologists Kenneth Chapman and Jesse Nusbaum (then director of the Museum of New Mexico), along with prominent traders across the region. In a letter to the French painter Henri Matisse, Dr. Barnes wrote about the harmony, religious seriousness, and communal nature of a Pueblo winter deer dance that he attended.

“Each part of this exhibition examines the histories and ideas that Dr. Barnes and other non-Native visitors to the Southwest were likely unaware of but that influenced the lives of Native peoples and the materials, forms, and design of the art objects they admired and collected,” say Lucy Fowler Williams and Tony Chavarria. “One of our goals with this exhibition is to uncover the importance of the ongoing generative practices of these arts within the contexts of their home communities, where they have adapted and quietly continued over generations, despite innumerable challenges. These art forms endure today as material expressions that mark meaningful connections to places, histories, and life forces, and their making and remaking bind, rebind, and renew essential relationships that nurture individual and community health and well-being.”

Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo, b. 1969). Tahu, c. 2011. Fired clay, slip, wild spinach paint. Denver Art Museum, gift of Nancy L. Harris. © Virgil Ortiz / Courtesy of Denver Art Museum

The exhibition is organized into five main sections—evoking the four cardinal directions surrounding a central dance plaza—including Pueblo pottery, Navajo weaving, silver jewelry making, and Dr. Barnes’s experiences in the Southwest. A final section examines the importance of the Pueblo dance as an enduring practice essential to communal health and well-being.

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