Native Moderns

American Indian Painting, 1940–1960

Native Moderns


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Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 34 photos (incl. 28 in color) Published: November 2006

Author: Bill Anthes

American Studies, Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Native and Indigenous Studies

Between 1940 and 1960, many Native American artists made bold departures from what was considered the traditional style of Indian painting. They drew on European and other non-Native American aesthetic innovations to create hybrid works that complicated notions of identity, authenticity, and tradition. This richly illustrated volume focuses on the work of these pioneering Native artists, including Pueblo painters José Lente and Jimmy Byrnes, Ojibwe painters Patrick DesJarlait and George Morrison, Cheyenne painter Dick West, and Dakota painter Oscar Howe. Bill Anthes argues for recognizing the transformative work of these Native American artists as distinctly modern, and he explains how bringing Native American modernism to the foreground rewrites the broader canon of American modernism.

In the mid-twentieth century, Native artists began to produce work that reflected the accelerating integration of Indian communities into the national mainstream as well as, in many instances, their own experiences beyond Indian reservations as soldiers or students. During this period, a dynamic exchange among Native and non-Native collectors, artists, and writers emerged. Anthes describes the roles of several anthropologists in promoting modern Native art, the treatment of Native American “Primitivism” in the writing of the Jewish American critic and painter Barnett Newman, and the painter Yeffe Kimball’s brazen appropriation of a Native identity. While much attention has been paid to the inspiration Native American culture provided to non-Native modern artists, Anthes reveals a mutual cross-cultural exchange that enriched and transformed the art of both Natives and non-Natives.


Native Moderns addresses an area of Native American art that deserves more attention than it has received. . . . [A] worthwhile addition to art history. . . .” — Edward J. Rielly, Journal of American Culture

Native Moderns is a fascinating study of the changing nature and reception of modern American Indian art in relation to the history of modern art, American society and government policy. Herein Bill Anthes significantly expands the canon of modern art history while exploring the all important notion of identity and authenticity in terms of how particular artists, from both within the Indian community and without, have been inspired by native American heritages. This always lucid book will be of tremendous value to art historians and anthropologists. . . .” — Jonathan Zilberg, Leonardo Reviews

Native Moderns is a solid introduction to the nature of ‘modern’ Native American art and the importance of Indian themes to mainstream modernist art. Anthes raises many thought-provoking questions and does an admirable job in offering answers to them.” — Francis Flavin, Western Historical Quarterly

Native Moderns is another valuable installment to Duke University Press’s commendable . . . Objects/Histories series. Bill Anthes’s lucid and absorbing account traces the creative self-fashioning of a diverse group of Native American artists during the mid-twentieth century and compellingly argues that shifting notions of identity and modernity are fundamental to understanding not only Native American art in the postwar years, but larger dynamics of American art. . . . This book fills an important scholarly gap by selectively concentrating on artists who came of age after 1945 but before the growth of the Native art markets in the 1960s. . . . Native Moderns will appeal to specialists and upper-level undergraduates with an interest in contemporary Native American art.” — Norman Vorano, New Mexico Historical Review

“Anthes does a notable job of rewriting and documenting the history of the modernist times under discussion, and his research is commendable. . . .” — Alfred Young Man, American Indian Culture and Research Journal

“Anthes offers a conceptual discourse rather than an encyclopedic history of American Indian painting. He presents an overview of the era, including the range of changes experienced by native painters within the context of political, economic, and social history. He examines thought-provoking issues that are significant to understanding native modernist painting: the importance of place, cultural appropriation, reconstruction, and individual innovation.” — Patricia Coronel, Journal of American Ethnic History

“Bill Anthes’ book, Native Moderns, offers a welcome contribution to the field of scholarship on twentieth-century Native American art. Not just a bravura display of a few little known artists, Anthes instead pulls together the biographies and careers of six Indian and two non-Indian painters to tackle one of the main impediments to the scholarly recognition of a modern Native American art: the perceived disparity between Indians and modernity.” — Laura E. Smith, Museum Anthropology Review

“In focussing on just twenty years of American Indian painting Bill Anthes has chosen what seems at first to be quite a restricted field, but his nuanced and careful account succeeds in opening up almost all of the key issues which still dominate Native American art and its reception today. In its balanced account of a range of several lesser-known painters it adds real depth and texture to the standard narratives, and the well-documented account is supported by excellent colour reproductions of thirty-four relevant paintings. . . . A rich and rewarding study.” — David Murray, Journal of American Studies

“Read this book partly because it is an insightful study of modern American Indian painting but also because it illuminates our understanding of all twentieth-century art. With the author’s exhaustive and thorough research you will grow to understand how individual Native American artists have been affected by their participation in the art world.” — Janette K. Hopper, Studies in American Indian Literatures

“Read this book partly because it is an insightful study of modern American Indian painting but also because it illuminates our understanding of all twentieth-century art. With the author's exhaustive and thorough research you will grow to understand how individual Native American artists have been affected by their participation in the art world.” — Janette K. Hopper, American Indian Quarterly

“This volume is a welcome addition to the theoretical discussion concerning Native American painting from 1940 to 1960 in the wider consideration of American Modernism. Recommended.” — M. Watson, Choice

Native Moderns is an outstanding intervention into our understanding of both Native art in the twentieth century and the received history of modernism.” — W. Jackson Rushing, author of Native American Art and the New York Avant-Garde

“Fluid, clear, and engaging, Native Moderns is a superb and innovative contribution to Native American art history and modern art’s varied histories.” — Janet Berlo, coauthor of Native North American Art


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Bill Anthes is Assistant Professor of Art History at Pitzer College.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface xi

Acknowledgments xxix

1. Art and Modern Indian Policy 1

2. The Culture Brokers: The Pueblo Paintings of José Lente and Jimmy Brynes 30

3. "Our Inter-American Consciousness": Barnett Newman and the Primitive Universal 59

4. The Importance of Place: The Ojibwe Modernism of Patrick DesJarlait and George Morrison 89

5. Becoming Indian: The Self-Invention of Yeffe Kimball 117

6. "A fine painting . . . but not Indian": Oscar Howe, Dick West, and Native American Modernism 142

Postscript: Making Modern Native American Artists 171

Notes 183

Bibliography 217

Index 227
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3866-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3850-5
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