October 16, 2009–August 8, 2010
NMAI on the National Mall, Washington, DC
This major survey of Brian Jungen (Dunne-za First Nations/Swiss/Canadian) transforms the familiar and banal into exquisite objects that reference themes of globalization, pop culture, museums, and the commodification of Indian imagery. Jungen first came to prominence with Prototypes for New Understandings (1998–2005), for which he fashioned Nike footwear into masks that suggested Northwest Coast iconography. Later works have included a pod of whales made from plastic chairs, totem poles made from golf bags, and a massive basketball court made from 224 sewing tables. Strange Comfort features Jungen's iconic works, as well as major pieces never before seen in the United States.
"Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort" to Open at the National Museum of the American Indian in October
This is the first exhibition in which works by the Vancouver, Canada-based artist, whose heritage is Swiss-Canadian and Dunne-za First Nations, have been organized by a Native American museum. It is also the first solo exhibition of a contemporary artist at the museum since it opened five years ago.
Both monumental and intimate in scale, Jungen’s installations are playful and provocative, transforming familiar everyday consumer items into exquisite works of art. The exhibition begins with “Crux (as seen by those who sleep on the surface of the earth under the night sky),” a giant mobile created for the 2008 Sydney Biennale, that turns colorful, hard-plastic luggage into a crocodile, an emu, a possum, a shark and a sea eagle. “Crux” is the Latin name for the Southern Cross constellation, but the subtitle and the animals suggest an Aboriginal interpretation of the stars.
Visitors can walk through “Carapace” (2009), a large, dome-shaped structure made out of green-plastic industrial trash cans suggesting a giant turtle shell (many First Nations creation stories say that the land to support human life rose from a turtle’s back). The piece reflects the artist’s long-standing interest in geodesic architecture, the environment and his preoccupation with exposing the interior of things.
Also in the show are six objects from a series of 23 titled, “Prototypes for New Understanding.” These stunning works, which first brought the artist to prominence, are Nike Air Jordans refashioned to resemble Northwest Coast masks. Jungen began the series a decade ago after visiting the Niketown store in Manhattan where the sensational red, black and white shoes were displayed in elegant vitrines as if they were in a museum rather than a shoe store. A commentary on consumerism and collectors, Jungen’s “Prototypes” (1998-2005) turn into the very thing they critique: iconic and collectible Nike Air Jordan shoes become iconic and collectible Northwest Coast masks.
Wow...impressive. I love the idea of Aboriginal creatures and artifacts made of Western household goods made of plastic. They suggest how Native thoughts and feelings lie beneath our everyday existence. How a Native spirit still imbues the land.
Below: Carapace, 2009. Industrial waste bins, 11.63' x 26.25' x 21.9'. Courtesy of the artist, Casey Kaplan, NY, and Frac des Pays de la Loire, France. (Photo: Mathieu Génon)
National Museum of the American Indian's Photos--Brian Jungen