By Richard Nilsen
The Heard Museum deserves credit for being in the forefront of those trying to break the confines of the stereotype; they have been reminding us for decades that Native American artists can be just as avant-garde as anyone else, and that the pickup truck, satellite dish and the MFA are just as authentically Indian as beadwork and pots.
So, it is no surprise that Native artist Virgil Ortiz has designed for Donna Karan, or that James Garcia creates tiles with pictures of Pueblo women shooting digital cameras.
The show includes work by non-Indian artists Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein for context, but you can find the original Pop impulse in the 1970s work of breakthrough Indian artists Fritz Scholder and T.C. Cannon.
As painter Jaune Quick-to-See Smith says in the exhibit, "I appropriate Pop Art because it is symbolic of the American mainstream culture. This gives me a common language in order to communicate with the viewer."
Often that communication is ironic, like Ryan Singer's "Sheep Is Good Food," which is a copy of the Warhol Campbell's Soup can, but with good Navajo mutton stew inside instead.
Or Diego Romero, who combines Mimbres pottery designs with cartoon figures of the fictional "Chongo Brothers," driving around in cars and having comic-book adventures.
"It's a glorification of the superhero," he says. "It's elevating characters in mythology to superhero status, giving them Herculean stature . . . much as the Greeks did with their history painted on amphoras."
Below: "POPcorn #5, 2010, by Stephen Wood (Cherokee, b. 1980), acrylic on canvas. Part of the exhibit POP!: Pop Culture in American Indian Art at the Heard Museum.