October 15, 2009
Brian Jungen is quite the craftsman. The Vancouver-based installation artist is known for using common objects as raw materials in the construction of playful, and often provocative, sculptures. For example, he’s built whale skeletons from plastic patio chairs, totem poles from golf bags, an enormous turtle shell from trash bins and ceremonial masks from Nike Air Jordans.
Jungen—half Dunne-za (a Canadian Indian tribe), half Swiss— credits his Dunne-za relatives, who repurposed everything from boxes to car parts, for his resourcefulness. “It was a kind of salvaging born out of practical and economic necessity,” he has said.
Critics say his use of consumer products in native art shows the commodification of Indian culture. And his interest in sports objects emphasizes how professional sports fill the need for ceremony and ritual within society. (I sense a bit of a love-hate relationship here: “…if it’s okay for North American sporting teams to use imagery and language and even some crude ceremonial practices of Native Americans, then I feel I have every right to use sports equipment,” says Jungen.)
And the overall effect is entertaining, intriguing, thought provoking—well, you be the judge. Tomorrow, “Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort” opens at the National Museum of the American Indian. The show is the first solo exhibition of a contemporary artist at the museum since it opened five years ago, and it features pieces in Jungen’s body of work that have never been seen before in the United States.
For a preview, see our photo gallery and Smithsonian‘s September-issue story on Jungen. Even better yet, attend the sneak peek of the exhibition tonight from 8:30-10:30 p.m. at the museum. Works like his People’s Flag, a red banner made of clothing, thrift-store bags, hats and umbrellas, are large in scale and, at the same time, so intricately detailed that photos don’t do them justice.
Jungen will be be in town for a “Meet the Artist” program this Friday, 7 p.m. at the Hirshhorn Museum. The artist will talk about his work and influences with curator, art historian and critic Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev.
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