At Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, photographer Tom Jones, a member of the Ho-Chunk people of central and south Wisconsin, turns his lens on that area’s mammoth Wisconsin Dells tourist industry.
The images presented in his exhibit, “Native Commodity,” will make you wince.
Jones brings an insider’s eye to the commodification of all things Indian at the Dells, where totem poles adorn miniature golf courses and cutouts of feather headdresses decorate cheap hotel doors.
His images heap irony on the ironic.
In “On the Road,” a looming red-and-white sign overlaid with neon tubing spelling “Indian” dominates a backdrop of wispy clouds and blue sky. It’s a devastatingly succinct summation of the subordination of landscape to the exigencies of commerce. The photograph also serves as a standard-bearer for one of the primary themes of this show—the tourist industry’s notion of the generic Indian, an indiscriminate lumping together of artifacts, clothing and symbols of many different Native American peoples.
But I'm not particularly impressed with either of the examples. I don't think Jones's photos have heightened or transformed the "irony" into something artistic.
Compare these photos to the photos of Shonie De La Rosa visiting the Running Indian. I doubt De La Rosa was trying to produce "art," but his photos say more about Indian kitsch than the photos below.
In short, we've all seen hundreds or thousands of photos of Indian kitsch. These days such photos have to be extraordinary to qualify as noteworthy art.