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September 22 2017

Growing Recognition of Art from the Arctic


Hrag Vartanian of Hyperallergic commends Donald Ellis Gallery for contributing to the growing recognition of the remarkable artistic practices of the Indigenous peoples of the North American Arctic. Two Thousand Years of Inuit Art, an exhibition on view at Frieze Masters 2017, brings dozens of exceptionally sophisticated works to the city’s biggest commercial art event.

The northernmost tip of North America is often poorly understood, the author laments: ‘There’s the mistaken notion that the Arctic is a barren region without art.’ Two Thousand Years of Inuit Art showcases the historic continuity and enduring artistic legacy of the Indigenous cultures of the Arctic region. Historical works are shown alongside modern drawings and sculptures from some of the best known Inuit artists of the 20th-century, including John Pangnark, Andy Miki, and Parr. 

The exhibition will include the most important group of Yup’ik masks ever offered for sale, several having formerly been in the collections of Surrealist artists André Breton, Roberto Matta, and Robert Lebel. Highlights will be an extraordinary Yup’ik dance mask from the village of Napaskiak, Alaska, often referred to as the Donati Studio Mask, which is widely considered the most important work in private hands; and an exceptionally rare Pre-Koniag Culture Madonna from Kodiak Island, Alaska, a sculptural masterpiece dating to 500 BC.

‘The survival of art by indigenous groups in the arctic demonstrates that regardless of European colonization, the Inuit and other nations continued to reflect their world in the objects with which they surrounded themselves,’ Vartanian writes. ‘The elegance of the objects themselves point to the sophistication of the arctic peoples and their ability to fully adapt to the area’s harsh climate.’

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Growing Recognition of Art from the Arctic