Visual Arts

Shallow Storyteller

Virgil Ortiz, ceramicist, fashion designer and Cochiti Pueblo Indian, makes visual mash-ups by putting designs inspired by traditional tribal pottery in contemporary places.

In "La Renaissance Indigène" at the Heard Museum, Ortiz's black-and-white swirls, lines and animals show up on purses, corsets and skirts; in a jerky black-and-white video; and on freaky-deaky storyteller figures.

The exhibition's premise is that Ortiz's blend of traditional and contemporary influences breaks new ground by adding personal imagery deemed missing from traditional Native art. Unfortunately, his updated storytellers, masks and a fiberglass, S&M-themed horse are still more decorative than expressive. His work is cool, but it isn't deep.

The strongest part of the show is Ortiz's clothing designs. He pulls the patterns off pueblo pottery and puts them on edgy, haute couture clothing. The result is Cochiti meets club, and it's pure brilliance.

Ortiz's storytellers are the weakest part of the show. The traditional, 19th-century Cochiti figures on which they're based captured the collision of cultures that would change history forever. Look at the 125-year-old storytellers on display in a corridor off the main gallery -- cutting caricatures of white storekeepers and Spanish landowners -- and you can feel their creators' anxiety about the strangers who had arrived in their midst via the Santa Fe Trail.

Look at Ortiz's slick storytellers and you won't feel a thing. They're beautiful, well-crafted, and empty -- storytellers with no stories to tell. Worse, they're weird for weird's sake, with more flash than heart.

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Leanne Potts