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As the first artist to curate an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, DC, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (a citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation) will highlight works by around 50 living Indigenous artists, including a number whose work was recently acquired by the museum. The exhibition, The Land Carries Our Ancestors: Contemporary Art by Native Americans, announced today (6 March), will run from 24 September until 15 January 2024 at the NGA before travelling to the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut (18 April-15 September 2024).

Smith’s curatorial turn comes at a moment of long-overdue institutional recognition for the artist, whose incisive and wide-ranging practice rooted in painting and collage is the subject of a major retrospective opening at the Whitney Museum of American Art next month, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map (19 April-August). In 2020, the NGA acquired her bracing, multi-panel painting I See Red: Target (1992)—the first painting by a Native American artist to enter its collection since the museum’s founding in 1937.

Emmi Whitehorse, Fog Bank, 2020

Among the works that will be featured in The Land Carries Our Ancestors are pieces recently acquired for the NGA’s permanent collection by the sculptor and textile artist Marie Watt (who is a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians), the painter and collage artist G. Peter Jemison (a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians, Heron Clan) and the painter and printmaker Emmi Whitehorse (Diné).

Marie Watt, Antipodes, 2020

“‘Breaking the Buckskin Ceiling’ is not a smooth transition, but the National Gallery of Art is engaged with making change in their system of collecting art as well as demonstrating their ability to be more inclusive in their exhibitions,” Smith said in a statement. “The Land Carries Our Ancestors is an example of more parity in their exhibition schedule and we are very pleased to be a party of this change.”

The exhibition, which will span two levels in the museum’s East Building, will be the first at the NGA devoted to Native art in 30 years and the first dedicated specifically to contemporary Indigenous art since Contemporary American Indian Painting, a 1953 exhibition that featured works by 59 Native American artists. The show will be accompanied by a programme of yet-to-be-announced special events and an exhibition catalogue from Princeton University Press.

G. Peter Jemison, Sentinels (Large Yellow) (detail), 2006

The exhibition “will shine a light on Native stewardship of the natural environment and reveal the inspiring social and cultural practices of this remarkable group of artists”, Kaywin Feldman, the NGA’s director, said in a statement. “It honours the visual sovereignty and Indigenous beliefs that are linked to the land and connect past and present traditions with a hope for the future.”

In January, the NGA announced the acquisition of a major painting by George Morrison (1919-2000), a member of the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa who was a key figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement in New York in the middle of the 20th century.

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