The Denver Art Museum is one of the largest art museums between Chicago and the West Coast, with a collection of more than 70,000 works of art. While the North Building is being renovated, the museum will be hosting cross-departmental exhibitions to display artworks from visitor favorites to ones that are rarely seen. The first such exhibition, Stampede: Animals in Art, is a celebration of the DAM's extensive collection that explores how animals are used in art.
Of the more than 300 artworks included in the exhibition, the Native arts department is represented by objects from its African, Oceanic, and American Indian art collections. These works were selected based on their ability to represent one of the 12 sections in Stampede.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the objects from the Native arts collection included in this “animated” exhibition that inhabits two levels of the Hamilton Building.
Beloved & Sacred Animals
On the third level, the “Beloved” section captures our relationship with pets. David P. Bradley’s (Chippewa) painting O'Keeffe, After Whistler greets visitors to this section. Bradley, inspired by an encounter with O’Keeffe, includes one of her Siamese cats in the painting.
Animals are central to many religions and cultures and often represent gods, guardians, and guides. The section Sacred examines the divine aspects of animals. The Douglas Cranmer Kwakwaka'wakw house posts, formerly located in the Northwest Coast gallery, are featured in this section.
There are many Native arts included in “Tranformed," which depict humans transforming into animals or animals transforming into humans. It also features masks that connect to ceremonial transformations. A dance headdress from our African collection, which Yoruba men would wear in a ritual dance that celebrates elder and ancestral “Mothers’” spiritual power, is also included here.
Across cultures, humans have used animals to decorate themselves and their spaces. The “Adorned” section includes a Pawnee bear claw necklace, which you can learn more about in this video.
Capturing Our Imaginations
Whether soaring through the air or swimming in the depths of the ocean, animals and their habitats have captured our imagination. In “Elemental,” the Malagan figures from the Oceanic collection are used in ceremonies to honor the dead. The fish represents one of the supernatural beings who sustains the clan’s life force.
Tales is a section that highlights how animals are used in stories, myths, and legends as heroes, villains, teachers, etc. Arts from the Northwest Coast are well represented in this section with a wolf headdress, the house partition with the Shakes family crest, and a raven rattle.
The high ceilings on level four allows horses and horse gear to be exhibited in dramatic fashion. “Saddled” is another section with a strong presence of Native arts. Two paintings by White Bird, a Cheyenne/Nez Perce artist, of a buffalo hunting scene (1894-1895) and of warriors capturing horses (1894-1895), narrate his memory of life on the Great Plains before the Reservation Era.
Encouraging us to take a close look and contemplate what entices someone to collect items, “Menagerie” is another treasure trove of Native arts. The “cabinet of curiosities” is filled with miniature items, such as a Zuni fetish and a Pima basket.
Animals are also used in artwork that makes political statements. For example, in Fritz Scholder’s Massacre in America: Wounded Knee (1972) on level 4, a horse in the background situates this heart-wrenching scene in the American West, engaging with the raising awareness theme in the “Politicized” section.
Image at top: Gallery view of objects from the Native arts collection on view in Stampede.