The verdicts are in. And New Yorkers are now discovering what Kansas Citians have known for months. An extraordinary exhibit of Plains Indian art, which spent last fall at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, is a rousing success.
“The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky” opened last week at the Metropolitan Museum. Writing in The New York Times, art critic Holland Cotter called the show “one of the most completely beautiful sights in New York right now.” For a city that often only loves itself and tends to think of our Great Plains as flyover country that is saying something.
The New Yorker’s critic, Peter Schjeldahl, called the exhibit “wondrous.”
The recognition is a distinct honor for the Nelson and its curator of Native American art, Gaylord Torrence. Torrence spent several years traveling, cajoling collectors and painstakingly envisioning almost every detail of this exhibit in collaboration with the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris and subsequently the Met.
The range of its objects stretches from “pre-contact” effigies to contemporary artists’ post-modernly ironic statements on tribal identity and culture. The exhibit argues an under-appreciated story about creativity and the legacy of Indian life and spirit, or that which survived the march of American expansion.
But the exhibit is not about tragedy. Its mesmerizing array of painted buffalo robes from the Quai Branly museum, its Arikara shield and its gloriously beaded clothing from the past and today are among the works making deep impressions on viewers. Cotter called the shield’s buffalo image, staring directly outward, “unshakable and unforgettable” — another tip of the feathered bonnet to the Nelson, where the object has long resided.