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First major traveling exhibition of modern Native American art opens at Schingoethe Center of Aurora

Neil Parsons (O'mahk-Pita, Tall Eagle), Untitled (Pueblo Forms #2), 1965, MoCNA Collection, BL-45... The Schingoethe Center of Aurora University is located at 1315 Prairie St, Aurora.

The first major traveling exhibition of modern Native American art opens at Aurora University’s Schingoethe Center and explores the new ways artistic expression challenged stereotypical expectations of American Indian art.

The exhibition, “Action/Abstraction Redefined: Modern Native Art, 1940s to 1970s,” opens Monday, Oct. 2, and runs through Friday, Dec. 15, with an opening reception on Tuesday, Oct. 3, at 5 p.m. It features a collection of more than 50 works created by artists affiliated with the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, which is considered the birthplace of contemporary Native art.

The collection includes paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, and draws inspiration not only from the abstract expressionist, color-field, and hard-edge painting movements that sprung up after World War II, but also from ancestral Native sources.

“This exhibition showcases a pivotal moment in Native American art history,” said Natasha Ritsma, director of the Schingoethe Center and an instructor of museum studies at AU. “We are excited to bring it to Aurora for the entire Chicagoland community to experience. Our mission at the museum is to celebrate artistic excellence and cultural diversity in American art, and this show goes a long way toward understanding this significant period in Indigenous art.”

The exhibition is organized by Santa Fe’s Museum of Contemporary Native Arts at the IAIA. It is curated by Manuela Well-Off-Man, chief curator, IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts; Tatiana Lomahaftewa-Singer, curator of collections, IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts; and Lara Evans, former IAIA professor of Native Art History.

Many of the art pieces in the show were created by faculty and students who came to work and study at the IAIA. The school was created in 1962 out of the growing realization that a great loss of history and culture was impending as Native Americans were assimilating into mainstream culture.

“Abstract art practices have a long tradition in the artists’ cultures—centuries older than the beginning of abstract expressionism,” said Well-Off-Man. “By hosting this exhibition, Aurora University helps tell a more inclusive story of American modernism.”

Before the IAIA was established, Native American artists were often discouraged from connecting to their heritage when creating art, said the curators. By bringing students together from diverse tribal nations and giving them the freedom to embrace and explore the meaning of their own culture, the IAIA fostered a sense of belonging and sparked change.

“IAIA artists did not have to look far for inspirations for their abstractions: abstract elements were part of Native art for thousands of years,” said Lomahaftewa-Singer.

“Action/Abstraction Redefined” appears at the Schingoethe Center with the support of the Art Bridges Foundation, a nonprofit established by Alice Walton, founder of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas. Art Bridges works with partner institutions to develop traveling exhibitions that bring American art to a wider public across the country. Admission is free and open to the public.

The exhibition hours are: Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays – 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

  • Tuesdays – 9 a.m.-7 p.m.

  • Select Saturdays – Oct. 7, Oct. 14, Oct. 21, Nov. 4, and Nov. 11, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Special programs include:

Family Days on Oct. 14 and Nov. 4, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

  • The museum will be open and offer an array of activities for visitors of all ages, including arts and crafts, music, and storytelling, as well as snacks.

Center for Native Futures presentation on Nov. 7, 5-7 p.m.

  • Artists Chris Pappan and Debra Yepa-Pappan, graduates of the IAIA and co-founders of the Chicago-based Center for Native Futures, will speak about the historical importance and contemporary significance of the IAIA’s educational programs in supporting Native American artists in the 20th and 21st century.


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