Here are excerpts from ten 2019 Sleuth pieces, which describe Alaska’s year in art (entire pieces can be Googled). Artists reacted to denial of Climate Change, global resistance to mass human displacement/migration, while visually embracing universal commonalities. At the Christies Education Conference, June 2019, it was stressed that “art brings the invisible to our attention.” Let’s hope the aesthetic continues to do so!
# 1: Allison Akootchook Warden Becomes a 2019 United StatesArtists Fellow (Online, January 23, 2019)(Warden is one of the most multi-talented artists hailing from Alaska): Congratulations to Allison Warden who was among 45 artists and collectives just winning an unrestricted $50,000 and a place in aesthetic history along with these former female Fellows: Carolee Schneemann, Mickalene Thomas, and Kara Walker, and last year’s Alaska recipient Sonya Kelliher-Combs. Warden told me, “Being a recipient of a 2019 US Artists Fellowship is an honor that is truly transformational, for myself and my artistic practice.” Her poetry speaks about Native issues and Climate Change especially to her Native Kaktovik community.
# 2: The Art of Alison Marks, Decaf/Regular (Online, February 18, 2019)(I look forward to seeing more of Alison Marks’ intermingling art genres constructed with imaginative media): Marks hails from Southeast Alaska and is the first Tlingit woman to carve a ten foot Yakutat totem pole. She presents hot topics that cause the art world to spit and
spar: cultural appropriation/appreciation and the Female Gaze, which she offers up along with some Pop and gorgeous recreations of Tlingit robes.
# 3: Goodbye to Nordstrom, goodbye to the pipeline era (Online, July 2, 2019)
(Losing Nordstrom, Alaska’s premier clothier was another indication that Anchorage is changing sociologically and economically): With all the urban problems we have in Anchorage, the September closing of the downtown Nordstrom — an emporium for Alaskans with superfluous money — took center stage when it was announced last week. It will really be sad to see another empty building, and a sign Anchorage needs to reshape its post-Pipeline psychological security blankets.
#4: ‘The Day the Music Died’ at UAA (Online, July 8, 2019)(Alaska’s high school seniors are choosing not to apply to UAA, while their talented professors are vanishing, especially from the only art school in the North): It is hard to imagine Anchorage without an aesthetic resource like the University of Alaska, Anchorage (Fairbanks, and Southeast). Closer scrutiny, it’s hard to comprehend Alaska without UA satellite campuses that give Bush villagers opportunities. Governor Michael Dunleavy’s proposed cuts are not only shortsighted, they’re a travesty.
# 5: Alaska’s Nicholas Galanin Stays in the Whitney Biennial, 2019 (Online, August 5, 2019)(Galanin’s courageous protestations changed how museums will solicit future funding): When the Eight, including Galanin, left The Whitney Biennial 2019 show I surmised their aura-trace would dominate this Biennial, regardless. A week went by, Kanders resigned after he had just been re-elected to the Board, and no art was ever taken down. What really happened behind-the-scene at the Whitney? (NYTimes, Pogrebin, Harris, 7/25/19). Galanin’s pieces contain social messaging that challenge materiality, while allowing viewers to further contextualize. ‘White Noise, American Prayer Rug, 2018’ is one of the best pieces in this Biennial.
#6: ‘Proud Raven, Panting Wolf’ — a History of Totem Poles inAlaska (Online, August 12, 2019)(One of this year’s best books explaining Alaska’s checkered historical narratives): Have you ever gone past a Totem Pole and thought: silly, weird, even Disneyland-esque? True, the black, red, and blue-green coloration against the tall brown cedar post is iconic, along with creatures popping eyes, bird-like figures staring, and stacked out-of-proportion humans, all puzzling viewers. Emily Moore’s book ‘Proud Raven, Panting Wolf’ explains why Totems are still up and thriving as tourist attractions, and Tlingit/Haida historical/cultural heritage works that might have been overlooked if they had not been rounded up and placed into parks.
#7: What Can We Learn from Yup’ik Masks? (Online, September 4, 2019)(Masks need to be appreciated for their beauty and evolving context. Dr. Riordan’s research and resulting books are definitely undervalued): ‘Kegginaqut:Yup’ik Masks’ at the Anchorage Museum (thru September 8) were made in the early 1900s, and still hold truths about how humanity should embrace living in the present. As Formalist works, these four wooden faces soar through time, thanks to their large holes that blow in the cosmos. Sadly, masks are often overlooked by museum visitors who see them as cartoon-esque, unlike representational portraiture or sculpture, which is easier to comprehend. Removing masks from their original purposes: dancing, storytelling, and making them into museum objects, alter meanings, which requires some sleuthing and contemplation--well worth it. ‘Living Tradition of Yup’ik Masks’ by Ann Fienup-Riordan is essential to learning about Yup’ik masks.
#8: James Temte’s Outdoor Mural — It’s Not Outsider Art (Online, November 4, 2019)(Less is visually more, when getting the Climate Change message across): This entire piece becomes a narrative for Climate Change, with the ‘every-youth’ cradling a piece of Earth. Driving by Temte’s mural forces Anchorage residents, who are going about their daily routines, to consider Global Warming—subtlety generally overrides being scolded. Climate Change has been happening/accelerating/ignored since the Industrial Revolution and can’t be fixed ASAP, which really depresses teens like the one depicted in this mural.
#9: Dahr Jamail’s ‘End of Ice’ — Gifting Climate Change for the Holidays (Online, Nov 23, 2019)(Jamail’s quick-at-a-glance facts become great reference points for Climate Change artists): In a large classroom on the third floor of UAA/APU’s Consortium Library, a small group of Anchorage citizens gathered to hear Dahr Jamail hawk his acclaimed book, ‘The End of Ice’, reportage about the state of the planet. When Jamail concluded his talk, several listeners chastised him for dismissing any hope for the Earth to recover. Others conceded that motivating by fear has been proven unsuccessful. No one has answers that don’t involve going on a severe planetary diet. So Jamail’s advice to appreciate the environment while it lasts might be the only rational approach. Humanity’s disconnection to the environment becomes a major theme meandering through this book
#10: Aesthetic Subsistence: Julia O’Malley’s, ‘The Whale and theCupcake’ (Online, Dec 16, 2019)(This well written essay/cookbook explains Julia O’Malley’s take on today’s Alaska living): It’s December’s first Friday at the Anchorage Museum, and I’m looking at the crowd lining up to buy/have autographed Julia O’Malley’s cookbook: ‘The Whale and the Cupcake’. O’Malley sits nearby, Sharpies at the ready, lovingly writing personal notes (even to strangers) in each book. Her broad smile beneath red hair and large glasses presents a contrasting sassy/academic demeanor, especially when someone gives her a hug. O’Malley composes visual verbiage gleaned from statewide travel as she discovers/comments on Alaska’s regional cuisine.
The Sleuth wishes everyone an aesthetic New Year 2020.
Jean Bundy aica-usa, is a writer/painter in Anchorage