October 12, 2014

MODERN ART & DESIGN AUCTION

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Lot 153: Fritz Scholder

Lot 153: Fritz Scholder

Cat Person #3 (Native American series)

1978
Oil on canvas
Signed lower right; titled and dated on canvas stretcher verso
Canvas: 20" x 16"
Estimate: $6,000 - $9,000
Price Realized: $6,250
Inventory Id: 16153

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Celebrated for his unconventional, postmodernist paintings of American Indians, Fritz Scholder (1937-2005) is a central figure in the transformation and popularization of Native American art. His paintings of American Indians subvert stereotypical, romantic images of the "noble savage" and portray American Indians as he saw them in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the 1960s and 70s—in the back of a car, walking out of a bar, or holding an ice cream cone. His works convey an idiosyncratic take on social realism, convention, and myth: each painted with the artist's inimitable blend of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, learned from heroes and teachers such as Wayne Thiebaud, Francis Bacon, and renowned American Indian artist Oscar Howe.

In Upside Down Dog (1977), Scholder borrows the contorted, gaping mouth made famous by Bacon. Using a similar palette as his predecessor, the dark, moody environment is interrupted by a hint of intense color for psychological effect. The same year that he created Upside Down Dog, Scholder was profiled by People magazine, where it was reported that his work resided in the collections of movie star Robert Redford and designer Bill Blass. In addition to private collections, Scholder's work is in major museums such as the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Leading up to this commercial and institutional art world success was Scholder's important contribution to the Native art movement, which began in 1961 with a scholarship to the Rockefeller Foundation's Southwest Indian Art Project at the University of Arizona. After earning an MFA in 1964, he began teaching art history and advanced painting at the newly established Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. Touring American Indian schools across the United States and surrounded by the culture, Scholder began his now famous Indian Series in 1967. In this series, he portrays reservation life through his eyes—a man of mostly German descent who claimed to have been "raised white" and only one-quarter Luiseño, an indigenous tribe of what is now Southern California. Cat Person #1 (Native American Series) features an enigmatic and alluring figure, cloaked with horns and holding a spear. Menacing and sinister, these types of portrayals angered some in the American Indian community. The images were seen as being negative and damaging, especially coming from someone of Scholder's background.

Scholder himself would remain somewhat ambivalent about his chosen subject for the majority of his career, but it cannot be denied that he was an advocate for change in the stymied development of Native American art. In 1972, the artist made a prescient and powerful statement proclaiming his aims for American Indian art: "I believe that there is a new Indian Art emerging. It will take many forms and will be vital. A merging of traditional subject matter with the contemporary idiom will give us a truer statement of the Indian." Scholder made strides in combating an imperialistic and orientalist view of the American Indian, substituting it with a refreshingly real viewpoint.

Brockman, Joshua. "Indian or Not? Fritz Scholder's Art and Identity." NPR.org. National Public Radio. Web. 19 Aug. 2008
Ewing, Robert. "The New Indian Art." El Palacio (Spring 2013): 33-39. Web. 19 Aug. 2013.
Fritz Scholder: Indian/Not Indian. National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian, 2009. Web. 19 Aug. 2014.

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