alibi online
Free Will AstrologyAlibi's Personals
 V.23 No.11 | March 13 - 19, 2014 

Book Review

The Red Mean vs. The Golden Mean

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: An American Modernist

Carolyn Kastner
University of New Mexico Press
art criticism

A person not especially fond of modernist art (Kandinsky or Basquiat, for example) might be tempted to skim over Jaune Quick-to-See Smith's art. It is rough, one might think, or haphazard. It is disjointed, it is simplistic, perhaps alienating. These curt dismissals would be premature—and in a roundabout way, the dismissal itself would be a concrete validation of her work’s messages. Smith, native to Montana’s Sqelix’u (Salish) tribe, and with nearly four decades of roots here in New Mexico, is not a painter so much as a visual narrator. Those with the patience and openness to follow her narrative will be rewarded.

The reader is implicated in this culturally pointed critique, inescapably so: Reading this book in English, in America, being the owner of a body … there is no neutral position for a viewer.

Carolyn Kastner's sympathetic and contextualized readings of Smith's work provide access in a way few of us would achieve without a guide. Kastner is a well-versed, expressive guide, methodically opening doors and windows into Smith's paintings. Through years of close interaction with Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and her family, Kastner has shepherded together a series of tightly organized chapters leading readers to, into and through Smith's richest work. Major themes are Smith's frequent, weighted use of the color red, her lexicon of symbolism, her need to communicate experiences of displaced Native American life and the pointed activism readily overlooked by context-less viewers.

One particularly evocative section is a detailed comparison and contrast between Quick-to-See Smith’s 1992 piece, “The Red Mean: Self Portrait,” and Leonardo da Vinci’s ur-famous “Vetruvian Man.” From a piece's title to the tiniest collaged bit of newsprint, Smith is taking da Vinci to task, and by extension, all of Euro-centric Western culture’s definitions of humanity. The reader is implicated in this culturally pointed critique, inescapably so: Reading this book in English, in America, being the owner of a body … there is no neutral position for a viewer.

“Chapter Five: The Discourse of Modern Art in a Post-Columbian World” hits pretty close to home. Where I was raised, Columbus Day is one of the sacred holidays, and the revolting tidal wave of insult and injury brought here from Europe was not part of my formal education; I found out on my own, as an adult. Therefore, Smith's “Paper Dolls for a Post-Columbian World” is a satisfying upending of what I was taught. My own sense of betrayal at having been taught falsehood cannot compare with Natives' multi-generational experience of betrayal, but getting reality into the open air is an unqualified good.

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith is a political commentator who uses brush strokes, textual elements, composition and pop cultural reference points as confidently and intently as Dorothy Parker used the bon mot. Whether Smith's work suits your decorative aesthetic or not, Carolyn Kastner's sincere and erudite unpacking of her intention will broaden your appreciation of what is seen through the lens of the artist’s expression.


Today's Events

Menopause The Musical at The Lensic


A musical parody staged to classic tunes from the '60s, '70s and '80s set in a department store, where four women who seemingly have nothing in common discover they have more to share than ever imagined.

Petroglyph Plática: Mark MacKenzie at Oñate Monument and Visitors Center

Excavations: Field Dressing at Tricklock Performance Laboratory

More Recommended Events ››

  • Select sidebar boxes to add below. You can also click and drag to rearrange the boxes; close using the little X icons on each box. To re-add a box you closed, return to this menu.
  • Because you are not logged in, any changes you make to these boxes will vanish as soon as you click to another page. If you log in, the boxes will stick.
  • Latest Posts
  • Web Exclusives
  • Recent Classifieds
  • Latest User Posts
  • Most Active Users
  • Most Active Stories
  • Calendar Comments
  • Upcoming Alibi Picks
  • Albuquerque
  • Duke City Fix
  • Albuquerque Beer Scene
  • What's Wrong With This Picture?
  • Reddit Albuquerque
  • ABQ Journal Metro
  • ABQrising
  • ABQ Journal Latest News
  • Albuquerque
  • NM and the West
  • New Mexico FBIHOP
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • Only in New Mexico
  • Mario Burgos
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • High Country News
  • El Grito
  • NM Politics with Joe Monahan
  • Stephen W. Terrell's Web Log
  • The Net Is Vast and Infinite
  • Slashdot
  • Freedom to Tinker
  • Is there a feed that should be on this list? Tell us about it.
    Outdoor Cats & Birds
    Outdoor Cats & Birds4.6.2017