For the 2022 edition of Art Basel, Garth Greenan Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of six signature works by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. The presentation will feature four early paintings from Smith’s iconic I See Red series, which extended her use of red as a signature of Native American identity. Each work in the series is distinguished by a unique mix of media and collaged text on canvas reflecting the artist’s poetic, curious, and profound interpretations of America’s particular forms of bigotry toward Native peoples.
In I See Red: Indian Drawing Lesson (1993), the artist surrounds the large central motif of a buffalo with dozens of line drawings. Some illustrations appear as innocent, childlike scribbles, others like petroglyphs. Some are Cubist, or—in the case of one drawing depicting a woman with flowing hair—appear to be copied from a Disney movie. After the successful replication of commercialized Disney drawings, perhaps the Indian drawing lesson is complete. Clipped images, including a bust of Julius Caesar, harken back to ancient civilizations, and to power itself. Buffalo once dominated the American plains in populations up to 60 million. Today, that number has declined to less than half a million. Each theme, paradoxically, evokes both transience and permanence, vulnerability and strength. Education was a potent tool of cultural erasure—though by no means the most violent—yet Native Americans managed to preserve their many cultures despite it.
In I See Red: Indian Heart (1993), Smith juxtaposes cartoons with found images and newspaper clippings so that texts and images form temporary and spontaneous associations. “Find the environmentalist” sits above a historical image of Native Americans in tribal dress. “Dead People” forms a wry sentence with the nearby “Will Make History.” Smith’s composition is dissonant, ambiguous, and polyvocal, yet rich in insights that take shape from the fragments of text and image. Taxonomic drawings of animals seem to nod to the West’s conquest of nature via science and to its misadventures in human taxonomy. Native Americans are depicted alternately as cartoon characters or noble relics of history. Yet, characteristically, Smith’s humor bursts through the heaviness of race and civilization, as in the pairing of the clippings “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!” and “Does Brain Damage.” Her use of red is unstable—subsuming its roles in racial persecution and affirmative Native identity, and with blood itself, which is symbolic of both a vital life force and of mortality. Though early examples, these powerful works typify the series that would define her paintings of the decade. In each, Smith’s saturated red pigment performs simultaneous acts of affirmation and resistance.
The presentation comes at a pivotal moment in the artist’s long career. Smith is currently working on a major compendium of 250 contemporary Native artists for Thames & Hudson—a culmination of her career-long mission to legitimate the work of other living Native American artists.
Born in 1940 at the St. Ignatius Indian Mission on her reservation, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith is an enrolled Salish member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation, Montana. Smith received an Associate of Arts Degree at Olympic College in Bremerton, Washington in 1960, a BA in Art Education from Framingham State College, Massachusetts in 1976, and an MA in Visual Arts from the University of New Mexico in 1980. Since the late ’70s, Smith has had over 50 solo exhibitions. In 2004, the Milton Hershey School Art Museum (Hershey, Pennsylvania) opened Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Made in America, which traveled to Keene State College (Keene, New Hampshire). From 2017–2019, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: In the Footsteps of My Ancestors traveled to the Yellowstone Art Museum, Billings, Montana, Missoula Art Museum, Montana, Loveland Museum, Colorado, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado College, and, finally, the Tacoma Art Museum, Washington.
Smith’s work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Modern Art, Quito, Ecuador; the Museum of Mankind, Vienna, Austria; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.; the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.