Smithsonian Exhibition Highlights Multi-Dimensionality of Celebrated Painter’s Art
Published November 7, 2015
WASHINGTON— The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian will open the “Kay WalkingStick: An American Artist” exhibition today, Saturday, November 7, 2015 that will run through September 18, 2016. The exhibition will be on view in the third-floor gallery of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
The exhibition consists of 75 works that trace Kay WalkingStick’s work that trace her five decades of painting. WalkingStick is Cherokee and has used Native themes in her work since she began painting.
While more recent heroically scaled paintings recast American landscapes as Native places, WalkingStick’s artistic persona originates from roots in the New York art world of the 1960s and 1970s and her immersion in considerations of abstraction, minimalism and feminist art.
“For her entire career, Kay WalkingStick has been rewriting the narrative about Native peoples through her artwork, which has defied categorization,” said Kevin Gover (Pawnee), director of the National Museum of the American Indian. “These seeming contradictions and complexity are part of being an American Indian today, and what makes her an American artist. Our nation itself is built upon diversity of culture and expression. WalkingStick’s background and art reflect this same richness and diversity.”
The organization of the exhibition is chronological and features five major sections: “The Sensual Body,” “Material and Meaning, “Two Views: Diptychs,” “Italian Romance” and “Landscape: The Power of Native Place.” WalkingStick’s career progressed from an early focus on feminism and minimalism to spiritual explorations of landscapes through use of abstraction. Beginning in the 1980s, she began to more directly confront Native identity, both personal and within national histories, a practice that is still reflected in the artist’s most recent paintings. After several semesters teaching and living in Italy spread over 17 years as a professor at Cornell University, the influence of Italian art and environment is also prevalent in many of her later works.
WalkingStick’s biography is inextricably intertwined with her art. The exhibition examines key moments of her life, which further illuminate the artist’s methods and motivations. Her entrance into the male-dominated New York art scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with her exhibition of vivid, playful explorations of the body, set the pace for a career of innovation and unique expression, breaking down barriers for both women and American Indian artists. Although her family moved from the Cherokee Nation to New York state before she was born, her exploration of Native history and her own identity is underscored in later evolutions of her work that focus on landscapes of the American West—a journey that continues to unfold.