Arts & Events

Tacoma Art Museum honors marginilized in new exhibits

By Brynn Svenningsen

Placed at the center of the gallery, paper cutouts of rock climbers, ladders, and a cheetah-human hybrid all sat suspended in resin and glass. In artist Dustin Yellin’s extremely detailed art piece titled “Migration in Four Parts,” layers of resin with small paper figures work collaboratively to create a scene too chaotic for the viewer to look away from.

Yellin’s piece is part of a new exhibit that has recently arrived at the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM). The exhibit is called “Immigrant Artists and the American West” and includes a diverse range of artwork on the topic of immigration. The show opened on Feb. 3 and will remain in the TAM until June of 2020.

In “Migration in Four Parts,” Yellin, a non-immigrant artist, works to explore migration through his four part multi-media statue. A statement curated by the museum says that Yellin “addresses the topic of immigration through a series of intricate collages that are suspended in glass and acrylic. The artist depicts both the movement of people and animal, and wryly suggests the fundamental rights for human migration.”

It seemed that in Yellin’s imaginative half-human, half-animal silhouettes, the artist was commenting on immigration through animal symbolism. This shows similarities between all of the figures and a common need of happiness which could be given to them through migration.

“The use of layering and mixed media gave the statue a very interesting and compelling effect. It is another example of how an artist used 2-D technique to create a 3-D piece,” first-year Britta Baer-Simon said on the piece.

In artist Willem Volkersz’s piece titled “Follow your Bliss,” the combination of neon lights, wood, paint and found objects creates a three-dimensional scene. Volkersz reflects on a fascination with neon signs in the piece and on his past, as he grew up in war-torn Amsterdam after World War II. The artist immigrated to the United States and now creates autobiographical work. In this piece, the display mimics the landscape he sees at his home in Montana.

In addition to the opening of this exhibition, the museum also opened another exhibit called “Native Portraiture: Power and Perception.” The exhibit looks at the image of Native Americans through traditional examples of portraiture. The focus on “perception” is due to the often highly-romanticized and false perspectives shown of Native American culture in portraits. The show shares modern examples of native portraiture in contrast to the older ones of the past.

In the exhibit, the question, “What is communicated when an outsider portrays someone from another culture?” is posted. This exhibit offers an opportunity for guests to reconsider what they are seeing, and whether the portraits truly show the subjects or a biased view of the subject.

“I thought the exhibit had a wide range of types of pieces featuring Native portraiture. There were more classic depictions as well as contemporary ones. I really enjoyed the mixed-media pieces as well as the one that used 3-D glasses,” first-year Lucy Curtis said about the exhibit.

The 3-D piece that Curtis is referring to is titled “Portrait of Sioux Scout,” created by artist Stephen Foster. The piece includes a portrait of an Indian toy that looms out of its frame toward the viewer. The piece was entirely unique and offered a completely different perception than that of the traditional painted portraits that hung near it. It was constructed from inkjet print on backlit film for light box. In a statement on the piece, the TAM said, “The three dimensionality of these photographs heightens the artificiality of the inanimate toys, while also drawing attention to how Native Americans are typically portrayed in film.”

This dynamic of the exhibition was extremely interesting. In most exhibits you see each piece working toward a common idea, while in this exhibit the idea was fluid and ever-changing as each work of art challenged what native portraiture is. Those at the exhibit were encouraged to consider the truth or lack of truth in each portrait.

In the piece “Ancestral 1,” artist Meryl McMaster combined contemporary art with images from the past. McMaster created “Ancestral 1” by fusing portraits of Native people with photographs of her and her father. Mcmaster’s art considers the portrayal of indigenous art in a provocative piece.

The new mediums used by the artists also widen the new perspectives that they gave. In the 3-D piece of Foster, the fused photography of McMaster, or in the multimedia piece of artist Gregg Deal, traditional Native portraiture is truly challenged. Deal used mixed media on canvas to include a black-and-white photograph of a Native American man in his piece “Faces of Indian Country 2.” In contrast, Deal painted the mascot of the Cleveland Indians baseball team over the traditional portrait. According to the article “Cleveland Indians will Abandon Chief Wahoo Logo Next Year,” the New York Times writer David Walstein states, “The logo has long been the source of anguish and frustration for those who consider it offensive, outdated and racist, but for many of the team’s fans it is a cherished insignia.” Deal juxtaposes the powerful photographic image with the controversial logo of the Cleveland Indians to show the vast differences in portrayals of native people.

The new exhibitions at the Tacoma Art Museum are diverse and compelling. The exhibits combine aspects from all different mediums while approaching topics that are very pertinent today. The exhibits examine topics of immigration and native portraiture truthfully and offer a museumgoer the opportunity to explore these ideas through the stunning visual art.