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Indian Art Beyond the Museum

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 1, 2004; Page WE48

ACCLAIMED NATIVE American glass artist Preston Singletary's "Raven Stealing the Sun" is featured prominently in the "Our Universes" exhibition of the Smithsonian's new National Museum of the American Indian. Until the crowds die down, however, a better place to see another version of the Tlingit artist's striking, deep red vase of blown, sculpted and sand-blasted glass might be the Glass Gallery of Bethesda, where a roundup of contemporary glass and bead art by Native Americans is on exhibit.

A number of other Indian-themed art shows have popped up elsewhere in celebration of the new museum. Here's a guide to a few of them.

Curated by Christina Ferki, the Glass Gallery's "Clearly Tradition: Glass in American Indian Art" ably represents what owner Sally Hansen calls "all the various directions" that Native American glass art can go. That includes, of course, the perennially popular beaded high-top sneakers and more abstract pieces by such well-known artists as Robert Tannahill and Tony Jojola, whose loosely gestural vessels reinterpret, in glass, traditional native pottery.

For Indian art with a bit of an edge (something you won't find at the new museum, by the way), try Kathleen Ewing Gallery's "Contemporary Native American Art." Along with the photographs of Victor Masayesva Jr. and Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie, the show includes several selections from some of photographer Zig Jackson's more pointed black-and-white pictures, including his shots of tourists taking snapshots of Indians in full regalia, which turn the exploitative gaze back on the exploiter, and his conceptual series featuring the artist in feathered headdress and sunglasses posing in front of a customized sign demarking "Zig's Indian Reservation," which happens to be wherever the artist sees fit to stand.

Renaissance man (and non-Indian) Viggo Mortensen -- yes, that Viggo Mortensen -- is known to be something of a photographer, in addition to being a heartthrob movie star, painter and poet. Shot during the filming of "Hidalgo" in the California desert, Mortensen's photographs at Addison/Ripley Fine Art (called "Miyelo" after the Lakota expression for "It is I") document the contemporary re-creation of a century-old Lakota Ghost Dance ritual of remembrance. The blurred-motion, large-scale, panoramic images, saturated with rich color and somber mood, are handsome, if unchallenging art. Sorta like the artist, you might say.

At the National Museum of Women in the Arts, you'll find a small but illuminating display of eight pottery vessels by Pueblo Indians, along with a 30-minute video. As interesting for its how-to component as for the aesthetic appeal of the objects, "A Living Tradition: Pueblo Pottery From the Permanent Collection" is an appropriate fit for the small space just off the museum's lobby known as the Education Gallery.

The bronze and ceramic figurative work in "Breaking the Surface: Roxanne Swentzell, Santa Clara Pueblo Sculptor" at Provisions Library is at its best when it betrays the artist's self-awareness. Some of the pieces, which depict naked Indians in various poses, clearly address issues of identity politics. When Swentzell allows herself to be overtaken by whimsy, however, as with "Should I or Shouldn't I?" -- a nude male figure whose crotch is as featureless as a Ken doll's and who appears to be contemplating the purchase of a soda with a pile of coins in his hand -- the art strays uncomfortably close to kitsch.

I was equally unimpressed by "Silent Journey: New Prints by Christine Giammichele," at Washington Printmakers Gallery, which springs from the artist's adoption of a Native American shamanistic spiritual practice. Rather than paying homage to anything particularly Indian -- aesthetic or religious -- the prints radiate a kind of prettiness that is distinctly New Age European.

CLEARLY TRADITION: GLASS IN AMERICAN INDIAN ART -- Through Oct. 23 at the Glass Gallery, 4800 Hampden Lane, Suite 150, Bethesda (Metro: Bethesda). 301-657-3478. www.artline.com/galleries/glass/glass. Open Wednesday-Saturday 11 to 5. Free.

CONTEMPORARY NATIVE AMERICAN ART -- Through Oct. 9 at Kathleen Ewing Gallery, 1609 Connecticut Ave. NW (Metro: Dupont Circle). 202-328-0955. www.kathleenewinggallery.com. Open Wednesday-Saturday noon to 5. Free.

MIYELO -- Through Oct. 23 at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-338-5180. www.addisonripleyfineart.com. Open Tuesday-Saturday 11 to 6. Free.

A LIVING TRADITION: PUEBLO POTTERY FROM THE PERMANENT COLLECTION -- Through May 15 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW (Metro: Metro Center). 202-783-5000. www.nmwa.org. Open Monday-Saturday 10 to 5, Sundays noon to 5. $5; students and seniors $3; members and visitors 18 and under free; free admission the first Wednesday and Sunday of the month.

BREAKING THE SURFACE: ROXANNE SWENTZELL, SANTA CLARA PUEBLO SCULPTOR -- Through Oct. 24 at Provisions Library, 1611 Connecticut Ave. NW (Metro: Dupont Circle). 202-299-0460. www.provisionslibrary.org. Open Tuesday-Friday 11 to 9; Saturdays and Sundays 11 to 4. Free.

SILENT JOURNEY: NEW PRINTS BY CHRISTINE GIAMMICHELE -- Through Oct. 24 at Washington Printmakers Gallery, 1732 Connecticut Ave. NW (Metro: Dupont Circle). 202-332-7757. www.washingtonprintmakers.com. Open Tuesday-Thursday noon to 6; Fridays noon to 9; Saturdays and Sundays noon to 5. Free.

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