You could lose yourself in these vivid works of art

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Dreaming Our Futures by Brenda J. Child and Howard Oransky.

Review by Deborah Locke

This review is a kind of two-fer. I’m telling you about an exhibition catalog full of cool paintings by Ojibwe and Dakota artists, and then encouraging you to attend a Rochester exhibit later this month that features the same paintings.

You could do both. You could lose yourself in Rochester in front of vivid, magnificent, brilliant works from Midwestern artists and leave the art center a richer human being.

And you could purchase the collection of art in book form in “Dreaming Our Futures: Ojibwe and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ Artists and Knowledge Keepers” (published by Katherine E. Nash Gallery, 2024). The text by area Ojibwe and Dakota writers is every bit as compelling as the pages of artwork. A study of both left me feeling like I’d just completed a class in the heart and soul of American Indian art.

If the exhibit title sounds familiar, it’s because the exhibit opened initially at the Nash Gallery in association with the George Morrison Center for Indigenous Arts at the University of Minnesota. That exhibit closed in mid-March. The art will be on display April 24 to July 21, 2024, at the Rochester Art Center. In the fall of 2024, the exhibit travels to the Tweed Museum of Art at the University of Minnesota – Duluth.

The artwork was curated by Brenda Child (Red Lake Ojibwe), Christopher Pexa (Spirit Lake Dakota) and Howard Oransky. Child also wrote some of the text.

The 29 artists in the exhibit include: Frank Big Bear, David Bradley, Awanigiizhik Bruce, Andrea Carlson, Avis Charley, Fern Cloud, Michelle Defoe, Jim Denomie, Patrick DesJarlait, Sam English, Carl Gawboy, Joe Geshick, Sylvia Houle, Oscar Howe, Waŋblí Mayášleča (Francis J. Yellow, Jr.), George Morrison, Steven Premo, Rabbett Before Horses Strickland, Cole Redhorse Taylor, Roy Thomas, Jonathan Thunder, Thomasina TopBear, Moira Villiard, Kathleen Wall, Star WallowingBull, Dyani White Hawk, Bobby Dues Wilson, Leah H. Yellowbird, and Holly Young.

Selecting favorites from the above list is intimidating. Maybe there’s a universal standard for excellence known by serious students of Indian art. I’m just an aficionado who appreciates depth (Jim Denomie), color (Patrick DesJarlait), irony (Bobby Dues Wilson) and history (Sylvia Houle). Add to those a liking for twists on popular culture, realism (Avis Charley; Steven Premo), symbolism and cartoons.  In other words, there’s something for just about everyone on the exhibit walls and in the book.

The book’s artwork is prefaced by several essays, including a touching tribute to Jim Denomie (Ojibwe) by his wife, Diane Wilson (Dakota). Jim died in 2023; his wife lovingly described his art studio, and the evolution of his work that featured visual storytelling influenced by Surrealism.

She wrote: “In one of our last conversations, Jim said, ‘There’s so many more mountains I wanted to climb in my artwork. Now I’ll just have to fly there.’”

In one of the book’s essays, exhibit curator Brenda Child wrote of the racist artwork displayed at the Minnesota State Captol for decades until some of it was moved to the Minnesota History Center. Other inaccurate depictions of American Indians, like “Father Hennepin Discovering the Falls of St. Anthony” were relocated in the Capitol. Patricia Marroquin Norby wrote a wonderful essay on internationally known Ojibwe artist George Morrison (Grand Portage), who was a contemporary of and knew Jackson Pollack.

The only thing better than gazing at amazing works of art reproduced in a book is seeing them in person. I’ll be making that drive to Rochester.

The  Rochester Art Center is located at 30 Civic Center Drive S.E., Suite 120, Rochester, MN 55904. Open: Wednesday through Sunday, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm. Closed Thursday, July 4.

Dreaming Our Futures (2024) is curated by Brenda J. Child (Red Lake Ojibwe), Northrop Professor of American Studies, University of Minnesota, and Howard Oransky, Director of the Katherine E. Nash Gallery, with Christopher Pexa (Bdewákaŋ-tuŋwaŋ Dakota, Spirit Lake Nation), Associate Professor of English, Harvard University. Publisher: Katherine E. Nash Gallery $34.95