The exhibition “Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison” began the first leg of its multi-year national tour this month at Plains Art Museum in Fargo, North Dakota. The exhibit contains eighty pieces of the prolific Ojibwe artist’s work, from paintings and drawings to multimedia sculptures and collages. “Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison” marks the first time a comprehensive collection of Morrison’s art has toured the United States.
The goals of the exhibition are to educate people across the country about Morrison’s work and contributions to the field of modern art as an Indigenous artist and teacher.
“George Morrison was both a major American modernist and an influential Indian artist whose beautiful images and objects have inspired generations of viewers,” said Dr. W. Jackson Rushing III, Adkins Presidential Professor of Art History and curator of the exhibit. “His later paintings especially are imbued with what he called inherent Indian values, affirming the importance of place.”
Morrison was born in 1919 in Chippewa City, Minnesota, a small Native fishing village on the northern side of Lake Superior. He began creating art as a child while recovering from hip surgery. He graduated from Grand Marais High School, now called Cook County High School, in Grand Marais, Minnesota in 1938. Morrison attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, then known as the Minneapolis School of Art, and New York’s Art Students League, which he graduated from in 1943 and 1946, respectively.
He had his first solo show in Manhattan in 1948 and was active in New York’s modern and abstract art scenes for over ten years, developing friendships and working relationships with well-known modern artists Wilem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Jackson Pollock. He studied in France as a Fulbright Scholar in 1952 and 1953. After working as an exhibiting artist, he taught at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1963 to 1970 and at the University of Minnesota from 1970 until his retirement in 1983.
Even after he retired, he continued to create art in his home studio on land near Grand Portage, Minnesota until his death in 2000. He received numerous awards during his career as an artist and educator, including the Master Artist Award in the Eiteljorg Murseum’s Fellowship for Native American Fine Art and the Grand Award in the Fourth Invitational Exhibition of Indian Arts and Crafts. His work is part of the permanent collections at the Heard Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Walker Art Center, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Over the course of his career, Morrison created art using many different media. He created abstract art influenced by expressionism, cubism, and surrealist styles, collages using driftwood and other found objects, paintings, and large sculptures. Many of his pieces were inspired by the rural and urban landscapes of Minnesota.
“We are looking forward to bringing the exhibition to so many extraordinary venues across the country – finally providing Morrison with the critical attention he deserves and helping to expand understanding of his incredible contributions to Native American and modern art,” said David Fraher, President and CEO of Arts Midwest.
More information about “Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison” and the artist himself can be found at: www.mmaamorrison.org.
The exhibit will remain at Plains Art Museum until September 1, then go on to the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, New York from October 5 to February 23, 2014. From there, it will be exhibited at Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, Indiana from March 29, 2014 to September 14, 2014 before going on to the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona from October 25, 2014 to January 12, 2015. The tour will end at the Minnesota History Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where the exhibit will be on display from February 14, 2015 to April 26, 2015.