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October 20 2014

Plains Art is a Real Show-Stopper at Frieze Masters 2014

The Financial Times, October 15, 2014

Susan More of the Financial Times describes Plains Indian art on view at Donald Ellis Gallery as ‘one of the real show-stoppers’ at Frieze Masters 2014. Ledger Drawings ‘have a verve, immediacy and spirit, and a strange pictorial expansion of time and space, that is breathtaking.’

‘Despite the presence of such important names as Rembrandt and Picasso, many of the most powerful and moving works of art at Frieze Masters were made by those whose identities are lost to posterity,’ the author notes. Donald Ellis Gallery's presentation is dominated by a painted buffalo hide created by an anonymous Pawnee artist from the Central Plains around 1840. Across the entire surface, nine red and blue horses are evenly arranged in three frieze-like rows. The work is complemented by several dozen Plains Ledger Drawings, also dating to the late nineteenth century, a period during which, as the author notes, ‘the US government was doing its best to destroy a whole way of life.’

As the great buffalo herds were systematically depleted, artists began using pages of accountants’ ledger books instead of hide to commemorate acts of valour, and manifest personal and communal histories. The Ledger Drawings on view are ‘records of a tumultuous time and place (always a good recipe for artistic creation)’ and ‘have a verve, immediacy and spirit, and a strange pictorial expansion of time and space, that is breathtaking.’

As Moore reports, a number of the Ledger Drawings on show were sold to major contemporary artists and collectors. One of them described his acquisition as having ‘as much energy and movement as anything I have ever seen.’ The Pawnee pictorial hide was acquired by the artist Julian Opie.

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Plains Art is a Real Show-Stopper at Frieze Masters 2014