Sunday, October 28, 2007


We went to the Georgia O'Keefe show at the Minneapolis Art Institute today. I did not think it was a very strong show, and if it was all we'd seen, I would have felt bad about paying for the tickets.

But the Institute is one of those huge museums, full of every kind of art. After seeing the O'Keefe show, we wandered through the Native American galleries. There was Northwest Coast art, Inuit art, work from the ancient cultures of Mesoamerica and Peru. Patrick said the work he likes the best, that means the most to him, is from the woodland and northern plains cultures. I think the same is true for me. These are the native people in this part of North America, the people we have met, and whose art we have studied the most. We know something about the underlying cultures.

I love ancient Mayan art. Of all the ancient styles, it is the one that seems most contemporary to me. The paintings on pots often have a sketchy, almost cartoony quality; and while the stone figures are formal, the little clay figures often have the relaxed poses and expressions of modern people. You look at a guy with a big feather headdress and crossed arms, and you can imagine him tapping his foot or drumming his fingers. Some of the gestures in the paintings have a gay extravagance and mockery. "Well, if that's the way you feel about it, Smoking Jaguar, you can just..."

But it is an aristocratic art, created for a ruling class that practiced warfare and human sacrifice. The Mayan ruling class was five inches taller than the common people, as result of better nutrition.

The native art from the Upper Midwest was made by people without social classes. Granted, the women made clothing and ornaments for the men, but they also made clothing and ornaments for themselves. They were making their houses, their horses and themselves beautiful.

Patrick and I then went to another part of the museum to look at an exhibit on two Frank Lloyd Wright buildings: a modest house he designed for a University of Minnesota professor in the 1930s, and his only filling station, which was built in 1956 and is still intact in Cloquet, Minnesota. The house led to Wright's later usonian houses, which were designed for ordinary people without servants. The filling station was from the plans for Broadacre City, Wright's utopian vision of American cities in the future. Nothing else in the Broadacre plans made it into the real world. But the filling station did.

A small house for people of modest means and a gas station in a small Northern Minnesota town. I'm trying to think if these are as down to earth as an Anishanabe bark basket or a pair of Lakota moccasins.

Speaking of which, what is the Anishanabe word for moccasin?


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