A tour of the exhibition “Stretching the Canvas: Eight Decades of Native Painting,” on view at the National Museum of the American Indian.

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> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'NYC ARTS.'

I'M PHILIPPE DI MONTEBELLO.

AT THE TISCH WNET STUDIOS AT LINCOLN CENTER.

ON OUR PROGRAM TONIGHT, WE'LL VISIT THE SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN.

IT IS LOCATED DOWNTOWN IN NEW YORK CITY AT BOWLING GREEN.

THE MUSEUM'S MISSION IS TO FOSTER A MORE INFORMED UNDERSTANDING OF NATIVE PEOPLES OF THE AMERICAS.

CURRENTLY ON VIEW IS 'STRETCHING THE CANVAS: 80 YEARS OF NATIVE PAINTING.'

IT IS A GROUP SHOW OF WORK BY OVER 30 ARTISTS, AND THEY'RE ALL DRAWN FROM THE MUSEUM'S PERMANENT COLLECTION AND CREATED BETWEEN 1940 TO THE PRESENT DAY.

THE PREMISE OF THE EXHIBITION IS TO CHALLENGE EXPECTATIONS OF WHAT CONSTITUTES INDIAN ART.

THE WORKS REFLECT A GREAT VARIETY OF COLOR, STYLE, AND SUBJECT.

FROM FLAT ILLUSTRATIVE PIECES THAT DEPICT IDEALIZED SCENES TO LARGE-SCALE ABSTRACT WORK THAT USES IRONY TO CONFRONT NATIVE ISSUES, THE SHOW HINGES ON THE MOMENT WHEN THESE ARTISTS BROKE THROUGH TO MODERNISM.

I THINK THAT FIRST TEMPURA PAINT ON NEWSPRINT IN KINDERGARTEN THAT SAID TO ME, THIS IS WHAT I'M GOING TO BE DOING THE REST OF MY LIFE.

IT WAS THE ACTION OF THE FANS.

I REMEMBER BEING 6 YEARS OLD OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT, 6 1/2, AND THINKING, I DON'T KNOW THIS FEELS -- I'M IN MY ZONE NOW.

LIGHTNING HIT ME, THIS IS WHAT I'M GOING TO BE DOING THE REST OF MY LIFE, AND I'M STILL DOING IT.

AND SO I THINK YOU CAN BE BORN A PAINTER SOMETIMES.

WE BEGIN THE EXHIBITION 'STRETCHING THE CANVAS' IN THIS LARGE SALON-SCALED GALLERY WITH SOME OF OUR OVERSIZED LARGE PAINTINGS.

AND THE REASON THIS IS THAT WE FELT THAT THIS WORK WAS COMPARABLE TO ANYTHING YOU WOULD SEE AT THE WHITNEY, ANYTHING YOU WOULD SEE AT THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART.

SO WE REALLY WANTED TO PUT SORT OF A BEST FOOT FORWARD AND INVITE OTHER MUSEUMS TO IMAGINE THIS KIND OF WORK IN THEIR GALLERIES.

MAKING PAINTINGS IS ACTUALLY NOT SO MUCH A TRADITIONAL ART FORM.

THERE ARE TRADITIONS OF PAINTING ON HIDE, KIVA PAINTINGS, THAT KIND OF THING.

MOST OF THE MODERN PAINEDING THAT COMES OUT OF THE 1920s WHEN YOUNG NATIVE STUDENTS, PARTICULARLY IN THE SOUTHWEST, EVEN OKLAHOMA, WERE LEARNING THE BASICS OF ART INSTRUCTION IN THEIR SCHOOLS.

THE SCHOOLS ENCOURAGED THIS AMERICAN ART STYLE THAT WAS THAT FLAT ILLUSTRATIVE STYLE FOCUSING ON NATIVE AMERICAN SUBJECTS.

JUST TO GIVE OUR VISITORS SOME SENSE OF WHERE THIS IS ALL COMING FROM, THE KIND OF FOUNDATION FROM WHICH THIS MORE ADVENTURESOME WORK GREW.

FROM THERE WE INVESTIGATE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT INVITED ARTISTS THINK ABOUT THEIR ART IN A MORE BROADWAY.

WE HAVE A SMALL GALLERY THAT LOOKS AT ARTISTS WHO TRAVELED TO NEW YORK CITY IN THE 1940s AND 1950s AND BEGAN TO THINK ABOUT THEMSELVES MORE AS ARTISTS ON A WORLD STAGE.

SOME ARTISTS WERE INSPIRED BY POP ART, DEVELOPMENTS OF THE 1960s, THE 1970s, OVERSIZED CANVASS AND A MORE PLAYFUL APPROACH TO NATIVE AMERICAN SUBJECTS.

ONE OF THE THINGS I THINK AMERICAN INDIANS STRUGGLE WITH THROUGHOUT THE 20th, 21st CENTURY ARE EXPECTATIONS THAT THEY'RE NOT PART OF THE MODERN WORLD.

SO PEOPLE EXPRESS SURPRISE, WELL, AMERICAN INDIANS USE CELL PHONES, THEY DRIVE CARS, RIDICULOUS THINGS LIKE THAT.

IT'S NOT AS UNCOMMON AS YOU MIGHT THINK.

THOSE ARTISTS ARE PART OF THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD.

THEY'RE ALSO PART OF THEIR TRADITIONAL WORLD AND COMMUNITIES AS WELL.

AMERICA MEREDITH, A CHEROKEE ARTIST, IS REALLY A POLYMATH.

SHE'S EDITOR OF A VERY INFLUENTIAL ART JOURNAL.

SHE'S ALSO AN ARTIST, A PAINTER.

I WENT TO GRADUATE SCHOOL AT SERVICES GROWN INSTITUTE AND I HAD FELLOW CLASSMATES SAY, WHY WOULD ANYONE GO TO GRAD SCHOOL FOR PAINTING?

I HAD A LOT OF TIME TO THINK OF, WHY IS PAINTING RELEVANT?

IS IT PASSE?

OKAY, HUMAN BEINGS HAVE BEEN PAINTING FOR THE LAST 100,000 YEARS.

SO IS DANCING PASSE?

IS POETRY PASSE?

IS SINGING PASSE?

NO, THESE ARE ALL INTRINSICALLY HUMAN EXPRESSIONS.

PAINTING, IF YOU'RE PASSIONATE ABOUT COLOR, TEXTURE, PAINTING IS SO PRIMEVAL, I THINK.

THIS PIECE IN THE SHOW, IT'S FROM 2005.

A MAIN CHARACTER IS THIS VERY CONTROVERSIAL LAKOTA MEDICINE MAN, JOHN PARALINGER.

HE'S SAYING, GO OUT INTO THE WORLD, YOU'LL SERVE PEOPLE BETTER IF YOU FULLY LIVE YOUR LIFE, DON'T TRY TO LIVE THIS CLOISTERED LIFE, GO OUT AND SCREW UP.

THE LEDGER DESIGN REFERENCES LEDGER ART.

THIS KIND OF TRANSITIONAL ART.

THAT'S AN INTERSECTION TO WHEN WESTERN MATERIALS CAME OUT TO THE PLAINS.

THESE OLD LEDGERS WERE USED BY ARTISTS WHO PREVIOUSLY HAD BEEN PAINTING ON ANIMAL HIDES.

AND I THINK IT'S ONE OF THE GREATEST IRONIES.

IF YOU PAINT ON THIS ANIMAL HIDE, MANY PEOPLE DON'T CONSIDER THAT ART WITH A CAPITAL 'A.'

IF YOU PAINT ON A RECTANGLE AND IT'S PAPER, THEN IT'S OKAY.

NORVELLE MORSO CREATED THIS VERY ABSTRACT, HEAVILY BLACK OUTLINED SNAKE AND EAGLE.

THE FLAT STONE ON THE CORNER WHAT IS I GREW UP WITH IN OKLAHOMA, THE PAINTING STYLE IS VERY FLAT, HEAVILY OUTLINED, KIND OF THE SOUTHWEST LANDSCAPE.

I USE KIND OF POP IMAGERY.

KIND OF CHILDREN'S IMAGERY.

IT'S TOUCHSTONES THAT I THINK MOST PEOPLE COMING HERE ARE FAMILIAR WITH, RICHARD SCARY, AMAZING ARTIST, THE MUPPETS.

THAT'S MY CHILDHOOD.

WE SEE A LOT OF CONTROL IN NATIVE ART AND WE DON'T SEE LIVING LOOSE.

MARIAN MARTINEZ IS A WONDERFUL EXAMPLE OF SOMEONE LIVING LOOSE AND BEING VERY FREE, VERY SPONTANEOUS WITH THIS IMAGERY.

I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED ABSTRACTION.

I HAVE PROCLIVITY TO IT.

I WAS DRAWN TO IT BECAUSE THERE WAS A -- I UNDERSTOOD AS A YOUNG KID THAT YOU DIDN'T DO CEREMONIAL IMAGERY, YOU DIDN'T DO CULTURAL IMAGERY, TO BENEFIT FROM YOUR CULTURE, TO BENEFIT MONETARILY.

SO AS A KID I KNEW THAT I COULDN'T USE THAT IMAGERY.

SO I GUESS A GREAT AVENUE OUT WOULD BE WHAT I FELL IN LOVE WITH, MODERNISM.

A PURE SENSE, ENERGY SENSE, ABSTRACTIONS I THINK FOR ME ARE STILL THE MOST POWERFUL ENVIRONMENT IN THAT WAY IT'S UNDERSTOOD.

I THINK ANOTHER THEME OF THE SHOW IS THAT PEOPLE BEING UNCONSTRAINED.

SO YOU HAVE A LOT OF PEOPLE LOOKING OUTSIDE THEIR TRIBAL HERITAGE AND LOOKING AT THE BROADER WORLD.

KAY WALKINGSTICK WAS BORN IN NEW YORK.

SHE'S STILL IN THE NORTHEAST.

SHE IS CHEROKEE, BUT SHE VERY SELDOM USED OVERT CHEROKEE IMAGERY, SHE'S DEVELOPED HER OWN.

IN THIS SHOW SHE USES SOUTHWESTERN LANDSCAPE.

NATIVE PEOPLE TRAVEL.

THEY SEE AND RESPOND TO DIFFERENT COMMUNITIES.

SO SHE HAS HER OWN STYLE WHERE SHE'S USING ICONOGRAPHY AND THEN LANDSCAPE.

SO THIS INNER AND OUTER WORLD, SYMBOLIC WORLD, AND REPRESENTATIONAL WORLD.

MANY OF HER WORKS ARE DYPTICH, DIVIDED IN TWO.

THAT'S SOMETHING SHE SET FOR HERSELF.

WHEN I WAS A CHILD, THE CAMPUS HAD AN ART PROGRAM.

IT'S UNIQUE BECAUSE IT'S ALWAYS BEEN RUN BY NATIVE ART DIRECTORS.

IT STARTED IN 1935, AND THEY HAVE A PIECE BY THE FIRST DIRECTOR, ACEY BLUEEAGLE.

DICK WEST, HE WAS A DIRECTOR, AND HE SUMMONED SIGHIAN.

CHEYENNE.

IN THE SHOW THERE'S TWO PIECES.

ONE IN THE SECTION CALLED TRAINING GROUND THAT IS CONSIDERED THE 20th CENTURY NATIVE WAY TO PAINT, WHERE IT'S HEAVILY OUTLINED, HEAVILY CONTOURED.

BUT AS YOU SEE, HE IN THIS PAINTING, IT'S VERY ABSTRACT, HE'S PLAYING WITH COLOR, HE'S PLAYING WITH TEXTURE.

THE FACT THAT HE REALLY JUST GAVE HIMSELF PERMISSION TO EXPERIMENT IN MANY DIFFERENT WAYS.

AND I THINK SOMETIMES THE ART CANON DOESN'T REALLY REFLECT HOW FREE SOME OF THESE ARTISTS WERE.

WE THINK ONE OF THE GREAT STANDOUTS OF THIS EXHIBITION IS JAMES LAVADOR.

HIS PAINTING 'BLANKET' IS A SERIES OF PANELS THAT SUGGEST LANDSCAPE WITHOUT REALLY REPRESENTING IT.

WHAT I PARTICULARLY ENJOY ABOUT HIS WORK, I WOULDN'T SAY HE'S ENTIRELY SELF-TAUGHT, BUT HE IS NOT FOLLOWED, HE DOESN'T COME OUT OF A UNIVERSITY STUDIO SCHOOL SYSTEM.

BUT HE HAS THIS WONDERFUL INSIGHT ABOUT THE QUALITY OF PAINT AND ITS RELATIONSHIP TO GEOLOGY.

THAT PAINT, WHAT IS PAINT BUT BASICALLY MINERALS THAT ARE SUSPENDED IN LIQUID.

SO HIS INSIGHT IS THAT A PAINTING IN A SENSE IS KIND OF AN ACT OF GEOLOGY, BY CREATING A PAINTING YOU'RE ALMOST MIMICKING GEOLOGICAL FORCES BY HYDROLOGY, OF LAYERING.

HE WORKS WITH PIGMENTS ON SURFACE AND MANIPULATES THEM UNTIL SUGGESTIONS OF LANDSCAPE BEGIN TO EMERGE.

AS IF HE'S NOT PAINTING AN IMAGE OF A LANDSCAPE, BUT ACTUALLY CONSTRUCTING LAND HIMSELF OUT OF THE PAINT.

TURNS OUT THAT MUSEUMS ACROSS THE COUNTRY ARE BEGINNING TO UNDERSTAND THAT THEIR REPRESENTATION OF AMERICAN ART HISTORY IS LIMITED AND CONSTRAINED TO A CERTAIN EXTENT, THAT IT DOESN'T INCLUDE THE WORK OF SOME OF THESE ACCOMPLISHED ARTISTS WHO HAVE BEEN WORKING FOR MANY DECADE.

I'M VERY IMPRESSED WITH THE SHOW BECAUSE IT REALLY SAYS THAT, COME ATTENTION OR NOT, COME ACCEPTANCE OR NOT, WE ARE GOING TO DO WHAT WE ARE GOING TO DO.

AND WE ARE AS GOOD AS ANYBODY ELSE.

IT IS PROOF THAT WE ARE PART OF THAT AMERICAN CULTURAL EXPERIENCE.