Native American Art and the New York Avant-Garde: A History of Cultural Primitivism

Overview

Avant-garde art between 1910 and 1950 is well known for its use of "primitive" imagery, often borrowed from traditional cultures in Africa and Oceania. Less recognized, however, is the use United States artists made of Native American art, myth, and ritual to craft a specifically American Modernist art. In this groundbreaking study, W. Jackson Rushing comprehensively explores the process by which Native American iconography was appropriated, transformed, and embodied in American avant-garde art of the Modernist ...
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Overview

Avant-garde art between 1910 and 1950 is well known for its use of "primitive" imagery, often borrowed from traditional cultures in Africa and Oceania. Less recognized, however, is the use United States artists made of Native American art, myth, and ritual to craft a specifically American Modernist art. In this groundbreaking study, W. Jackson Rushing comprehensively explores the process by which Native American iconography was appropriated, transformed, and embodied in American avant-garde art of the Modernist period. Writing from the dual perspectives of cultural and art history, Rushing shows how national exhibitions of Native American art influenced such artists, critics, and patrons as Marsden Hartley, John Sloan, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Robert Henri, John Marin, Adolph Gottlieb, Barnett Newman, and especially Jackson Pollock, whose legendary drip paintings he convincingly links with the curative sand paintings of the Navajo. He traces the avant-garde adoption of Native American cultural forms to anxiety over industrialism and urbanism, post-World War I "return to roots" nationalism, the New Deal search for American strengths and values, and the notion of the "dark" Jungian unconscious current in the 1940s. Through its interdisciplinary approach, this book underscores the fact that even abstract art springs from specific cultural and political motivations and sources. Its message is especially timely, for Euro-American society is once again turning to Native American cultures for lessons on how to integrate our lives with the land, with tradition, and with the sacred.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Doctoral theses in their original form rarely make interesting and usable books, and it's a pity that the editors didn't distill this clumsily written and intellectually flabby thesis into a more cogent text. The discussion, which concentrates on paintings by artists of European descent representing scenes of Native American life and abstractions with overt or putative Native American iconography, is marred by unsupported assertions such as the statement that Jackson Pollock could have seen rock art because he went camping in the Mojave Desert. The repeated use of the phrase no doubt only raises doubts in the mind of the reader. Without a broader discussion of the influence of African, prehistoric European, and Oceanic motifs on primitivism and modern art, the contribution of Native American art seems overstated. Not recommended.-David McClelland, Temple Univ. Lib., Philadelphia
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780292755475
  • Publisher: University of Texas Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/1995
  • Series: American Studies Series
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 8.84 (w) x 11.29 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1 The Idea of The Indian/Collecting Native America 1
2 Avant-Garde Patronage and Criticism of Native American Art at the Santa Fe and Taos Colonies, 1915-1930 13
3 Pictorial Responses to Native America: Primitivist Painting, 1910-1940 41
4 Native American Art in New York, 1931-1941 97
5 Primitivism, 1940-1950: Theory, Criticism, Painting 121
6 Jackson Pollock and Native American Art 169
Conclusion 191
Notes 195
Selected Bibliography 235
Index 241
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