SUNDAY I went to the National Museum of the American Indian (NYC chapter). Has anyone ever been to this museum? I ask this sincerely because there was no one else there. And because I’m not sure that anyone I know has been south of Tribeca before (I don’t know a single banker). Also, because it is free. And I’m a little unsettled.
It has to be free, because nobody would pay $20 to go into The National Museum of the American Indian. Not because the art isn’t worth seeing. It is, really, at least as aesthetically pleasing as anything in the Guggenheim. Though I am no art critic, and I didn’t bring my glasses so I can’t promise I could definitely see anything clearly. But JESUS is walking into that building just about the most dour tourist experiences one can have in New York City. The potter's yards are less depressing than the inside of the museum. It’s as if the Smithsonian Institute wants you to know exactly how little regard the American government has for native culture just by dedicated their drabbest and dampest building to it. But! It’s free, so as far as I can tell, there’s sort of no hope of the Museum of the American Indian un-depressing itself through higher traffic flow.
Anyway, I went to this sad, sad place, the day after my own half-native grandmother died, and I went to the CRAFT FAIR in the basement (dungeon). There I met Monte, master of painting and braiding, the two finest art forms there are. Monte paints under the name Black Pinto Horse, so stay tuned for the inevitable Black Pinto Horse x Nighthorse collaboration. We became best friends and took a picture together for his website, but then he said I was way too tall (common complaint) and he couldn’t use it. Oh well, here it is on mine.
Back to the museum -- Monte is a ledger artist, which was some great syndication because one of the three (only three) exhibits in the museum is on the ledger art of the plains Indians. It is sort of a disaster of an exhibit, no flow or even really an explanation for what is there. According to the barely curated museum exhibit on the subject, ledger art is just another word for art, no further explanation, please don’t ask. According to Wikipedia, the origin of ledger art is that when the bison population dropped because the US government paid its citizens to kill them (we cool), the plains Indians started painting on government ledgers (free paper!) instead of on the hides of dead bison. I will go with Wikipedia on this one, if only because it is more interesting story. But I can acknowledge that Wikipedia may not be the end all authority here. I probably should have asked Monte for some clarification, but I am not a journalist and basics like ‘getting the facts’ do not always occur to me.
I WANT THIS PLACE TO BE BETTER. The art in this place deserves better, the people it represents deserve better. But how does a free museum benefit from wider visitation?? From the gift shop? Which, has a disclaimer that not all of the gifts are actually made by natives? Some of the blankets are just native-like? Ugh, I am sorry.
Well, I will end this post with this fun obituary I found from 1902 for my grandmother’s Native American grandfather. It’s really uplifting -- Enjoy!
“Ray of Larue committed suicide Sunday noon by shooting himself in the head with a revolver. Death was instant. Mr. Ray rose from the dinner table and starting for the door remarked that he was going to spend the night in Rogers. He went a few steps out into the yard and then shot himself. No particular reason is known for his committing the deed though we are informed that he had been drinking for several days.”