Pop Art conversations are between the artist and hyper-familiar objects and images — lowercase-"c" culture as depicted by and in the media. But in a classic example of diplomacy — like Diane Rehm politely cutting off an angry caller with a point — the museum seems to stop the conversation where it could turn really controversial. The important conversations here are not between Singer and Warhol or Jason Garcia and Roy Lichtenstein (whose 1963 Ben-Day dot lithograph, Whaam! — the original is in the Tate Gallery — is in the show).

Singer, who's also a talented classical portrait artist, is a Pop artist with a punk rock brushstroke and a lot to say. He should have more exposure here. You'll have to visit that web site to see his paintings depicting Indians as Playmobil or Fisher-Price "people" complete with hogan and sheep farm, or the "Land-O-Fakes" Indian maiden, or the Morton Salt girl as an old Native woman. What is not on exhibit — hot sex, Coors cans, anger, nihilism — speaks volumes. Where the Heard plays it safe, Singer is unafraid to mix metaphors. Seriously. See his online gallery.

You'll understand why the Campbell's Soup papery sheath, Souper Dress, standing on a mannequin near Singer's painting, is obvious and disappointing. Maybe it's supposed to anchor or contextualize the other fashion elements in the show. Some of those elements work, but mostly they're distracting. Paco Rabanne's 1967 kit for an assemble-it-yourself gold-disc party number on loan from PAM? Why? Virgil Ortiz's collaboration with Donna Karan, which resulted in Cochiti pottery patterns on Karan's fabrics that season, and a tuxedo jacket by Lloyd Kiva New for Hopi jewelry designer Charles Loloma mumble something here, but not enough to carry the center of the exhibit. And the pieces certainly aren't Pop Art.

Icon by Marcus Amerman
Icon by Marcus Amerman
Souper Dress by Campbell's Soup
Souper Dress by Campbell's Soup
A bowl by Diego Romero
A bowl by Diego Romero
A beaded buckle by Marcus Amerman
A beaded buckle by Marcus Amerman
Clearly Red Hot Mama 
by Paula Rasmus-Dede
Clearly Red Hot Mama by Paula Rasmus-Dede
We Gave Two Horses in Honor of Our Son by Teri Greeves
We Gave Two Horses in Honor of Our Son by Teri Greeves
POPcorn #5 by Stephen Wood
POPcorn #5 by Stephen Wood

Details

"POP! Popular Culture in American Indian Art" at the Heard Museum, 2301 N. Central Ave., through April 2011. Call 602-252-8848 or visit www.heard.org.

White vinyl go-go boots from Japan are retro-fabulous and I want to put them on my feet, but they make no sense juxtaposed with Teri Greeves' exquisitely detailed seed-bead Chuck Taylors, We Gave Two Horses in Honor of Our Son. Greeves' adornment is all hand-stitched Kiowa tradition, and the message/medium disconnect leaves the viewer wondering about that honored son.

Basket weaver Lisa Telford has crafted both a pair of high heels and a bodice from red cedar bark and other materials, like cotton cordage, guinea feathers, leather, and carved-bone frog-button closures. The bodice, A Night on the Village, especially, earns its place in this show, displaying both the ancient and the contemporary in a costume a spiritually evolved and overly muscled Pop singer might wear.

The work of potters Diego Romero and Jason Garcia is among what works best here, though. Romero, whose work confronts the negative views toward Indian art as "craft," employs Greek imagery in the ancient amphora tradition that reflects native narratives. His sociopolitical Chongo Brothers characters walk and drive a desert landscape of solstices and comets in the night sky. Romero's bowls have both the bold graphic toughness of comic book art and a Keith Haring playful sensitivity.

Other than Singer's missing work, Garcia's ceramics are, perhaps, the most compelling. His hand-formed, slipped, and painted tiles offer a series of native peoples in traditional dress leaning against cars, licking lollipops, and talking on cell phones while casinos loom large in the background. In one titled Grand Theft Auto, Garcia confronts gang violence. Other tiles are fictitious comic books, like Tewa Tales of Suspense. Garcia adorns a traditional ceramic pot with superheroes — including Wolverine and Iron Man, a 10-year-old patron pointed out to me (where I only recognized Spider-Man and Wonder Woman).

Don't miss the metalwork and beadwork of Marcus Amerman, Coren L. Conti, and Cody Sanderson. It's all small and tucked in a corner display case but perfectly Pop. Sanderson's Lego jewelry and his Barrel of Monkeys belt buckle might tweak the way you think about native jewelry. It should, anyway.

The venerable Heard is a classy joint, no doubt. But I wish it had more faith in its patrons: Expect us to be mature enough to handle concrete controversy and smart enough to make connections without reliance on clever installation. The native Pop Art hanging here speaks for itself and, in speaking, says something ancient and new for all of us. We don't need Andy Warhol to translate.

Build more than a coffee bar, and we'll come. On the days I visited, viewers sure weren't lingering over the Pop artifacts like they were the silver seed pots in the Sandra Day O'Connor Gallery. Nobody's depicted a Twin Towers-less NYC skyline in a seed pot. Yet.

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4 comments
Amy Silverman
Amy Silverman

we very much regret the typo in mr. new's name and have fixed it.

Xplicitndn
Xplicitndn

Fabulous article. However, attention to detail is lacking on your journalistic endeavors. The late Mr. Llyod Kiva New was a legacy and influenced art, fashion, culture, and higher learning, his name should be preserved, respected, and honored. In your article, you list him as Floyd Kiva New.

Troycie Talk
Troycie Talk

...i retract and bite my tongue, I spelled it wrong too... i'm sorry Mr. Kiva. :0) lol!

 
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