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May 02 2019

Meet the Dealer: Donald Ellis Gallery at Frieze New York


Torey Akers of Artspace has spoken to Donald Ellis Gallery about the works on show at Frieze New York 2019. ‘Nestled in booth C39 of Frieze 2019 lives a quietly exciting spotlight on historical works by Native American artists,’ Torey Akers writes. ‘Just the sort of underrepresented artistic legacy that should draw our collective eye on Randall's Island.’

The work currently on view 'places ledgers drawn by warriors in the Great Plains in dialogue with art by women,' remarks gallery associate Maximiliane Scheppach. While figurative Ledger Art was a privilege of male warriors, the manufacture and abstract designs of stiff hide containers were the exclusive right of Plains women. Akers writes that ‘expanding our cultural appreciation for this precious and overlooked genre proves a breath of fresh air in the flashy context of the fair.' 

Plains Ledger Drawings are a continuation of pictographic storytelling, a way of recording history in an oral culture. These drawings record significant acts of personal heroism and valor. After the systematic relocation of the Indigenous people of the Great Plains to government reservations and the coinciding destruction of wild buffalo populations, the practice of recording history on hide became increasingly rare. Instead, artists began using ledgers, lined accounting paper obtained from Euro-American settlers. Dating to as early as the 1860's, the drawings on view at Frieze New York ‘signal a turn away from the golden age of the warrior under colonization to depictions of domestic and ceremonial life, providing an invaluable record of the 19th century Native experience.’

The drawings are shown alongside parfleche. Following the introduction of horses to the Plains, communities required stiff hide containers that would support a nomadic lifestyle. The various forms of parfleche were exclusively made by Plains women, who painted them with abstract geometric designs. ‘Pairing them with culturally male-coded ledger drawings is “not typical,” according to Scheppach, but the contrast encourages rumination on the necessity of community in the social imprint of art.’

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Meet the Dealer: Donald Ellis Gallery at Frieze New York