Magazine article Artforum International

Brian Jungen: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN

Magazine article Artforum International

Brian Jungen: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN

Article excerpt

In a gallery adjacent to Canadian artist Brian Jungen's survey "Strange Comfort" is a show called simply "Our Lives." In this exhibition, to quote the introductory text, "members of eight communities describe how they work to remain Native in an ever-changing world"--a powerful condensation of the museum's charter. The National Museum of the American Indian recognizes expressions of native cultures not as strictly historical phenomena, preserved in and understood through dusty artifacts and aging fables, bur rather as mutable and alive, with the potential for being creatively perpetuated in contemporary life. Jungen's work, as demonstrated by this exhibition, evidences a related commitment.

The literature on Jungen, whose mother is a member of the Dunne-za First Nation of Alberta and British Columbia and whose father is of European stock, invariably notes that the artist is principally concerned with the seamless subsumption of native iconography into Western capitalist image culture--the "vast heaving mass of ephemeral and disposable forms," to quote art historian Charlotte Townsend-Gault's essay on the artist. While this is an unmistakable, even central, dimension of Jungen's ongoing project, the experience of his work en masse suggests both a greater urgency and a greater depth of feeling than this very rote critical position would indicate. The endgame for Jungen is not simply critique. Critique is implicit in the work, of course, but it is the consistently propositional quality of his sculpture that defines his practice, and those propositions more often than not articulate a commitment to finding new possibilities for native expression in, quite literally, the fabric of contemporary culture.

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For example, Jungen's well-known "Prototype for New Understanding," 1998-2005, is made from Nike Air Jordan basketball shoes, cut apart and restitched to resemble Aboriginal Northwest Coast Indian masks. Installed under glass atop immaculately finished pedestals, these sculptures don't--or don't only--take aim at the museological conventions that have objectified native artifacts in institutions historically. The pedestals also propose a contemporary "native" culture worthy of serious consideration. …

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