1967, while teaching at the Institute of American Indian Arts in
Santa Fe, Fritz Scholder began a series of controversial, pop-tinged
portraits that upended the way American Indians typically had been
portrayed."I have painted the Indian real, not red," he
Scottsdale, Ariz., artist challenged the vision of the "noble
savage" that outsiders sought to impose on Indians as well
as the traditionalism that he believed choked Native American art
so doing, Scholder (1937-2005) sparked a rethinking of what American
Indian art could and should be and simultaneously pushed it toward
the mainstream of contemporary art.
paintings, five original prints and one bronze relief including
four works on loan from two area private collections are
on view in a small, rewarding exhibition in the Denver Art Museum's
American Indian galleries.
long-running but little- publicized show and the 700 or so other
Indian objects in the permanent-collection galleries will go off
view June 13, when the galleries close for a six-month renovation
next several weeks are visitors' final opportunity to see the current
selections before they are almost entirely replaced by another rotation
of works from the museum's bountiful 18,000- piece collection.
it began acquiring American Indian art in 1925, the museum has amassed
one of the strongest and most comprehensive collections in the country
a distinction that, unfortunately, still seems to have gained
little recognition among the Denver public.
hardly comprehensive, the Scholder show nonetheless provides a telling
overview of his principal artistic pursuits, including several fine
examples of his portraits long the core of his output.
times, the artist, who was one-quarter Luiseño, a California
Mission tribe, delivered the expected pose, such as the smiling
sitter in "Indian with Blue Aura" (About 1963-67).
other times, he defied expectations, setting aside notions of idealization.
A prototypical example can be seen in "Mean Indian No. 5"
(1977), a compelling if unflattering portrait of a glowering figure
with dark, intense colors.
the positive does not exist without the negative, and the role of
the artist is not to compromise, but to express the truth as he
sees it with all the power of which he is capable," Scholder
taboos, he was also not afraid to engage long-held stereotypes,
such as the drunken Indian, portraying his subject with a can of
Coors beer in "Indian at the Bar" (1970), a four- color
is part of his famous "Indians Forever" suite, which he
created in 1970 at the now-celebrated Tamarind Institute, a then-budding
printmaking center that had moved that year to Albuquerque and become
affiliated with the University of New Mexico.
proved to be a master printmaker, excelling in monoprints and intaglio
techniques in addition to lithography, and his works in that medium
are an integral part of his output.
in Breckenridge, Minn., into a family that moved frequently, Scholder
took art lessons in South Dakota under the celebrated Oscar Howe,
who was one of the first Indian painters who dared to break with
closely held artistic conventions.
in California, he studied two years at Sacramento State College
with Wayne Thiebaud, who is associated with the pop movement because
of his frequent focus on everyday objects, especially cakes, pies
and other pastries.
influence runs through Scholder's work, especially Thiebaud's penchant
for soft, luminous colors and luxuriant applications of paint, both
of which can be seen in Scholder's "Seated Indian with Rifle
(After Remington)" (about 1976).
drew on many other sources of inspiration as well, including other
painters in the Bay Area school, especially Richard Diebenkorn and
English avant-garde painter Francis Bacon, whom he discovered on
a trip to Europe in 1969.
no matter how evident the influences of other artists might have
been, Scholder's work was always distinctively his own. Though he
played a pivotal role in shaping how Indians are portrayed, he was,
first and forement, a powerful, innovative artist who transcended
his subject matter.
SCHOLDER: A NEW INDIAN IMAGE."
Art Museum, W. 13th Avenue between Broadway and Bannock Street.
This 11-piece exhibition offers a small but revealing overview of
the wide-ranging career of Fritz Scholder, who died in 2005. The
show will close along with the rest of the museum's American Indian
galleries, which are set to undergo a complete renovation and reinstallation.
Through June 13. 10 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and noon
to 5 p.m. Sundays. Free with regular museum admission. 720-865-5000