Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

David Bradley


Pictures at an Exhibition, 2008, Acrylic on canvas, 42 x 84 inches, Courtesy of the artist

Pictures at an Exhibition, 2008, Acrylic on canvas, 42 x 84 inches, Courtesy of the artist









By Bradley Pecore

While the Indian is sleeping, his homeland is turned into a huge tourist attraction. [1]

The over thirty-year career of multifaceted artist David Bradley encompasses a rich social critique that interrogates the sociopolitical landscape of contemporary Native art. A Minnesota Chippewa born in 1954, Bradley was trained at the Institute of American Indian Arts and received a BA in Fine Arts from The College of Santa Fe in 1980. Bradley’s Peace Corps service profoundly inspired his social consciousness and greatly influenced his use of color. While residing in Central America and the Caribbean, he gathered inspiration from Mexican muralists and the broad palette of Guatemalan folk artists.

In the 1990s Bradley actively founded and organized campaigns to promote Native American and Chicano arts. Bradley considers himself a “socially responsible world citizen.”[2] His activism became focused and highly politicized around concerns of fraud in the Indian arts and crafts business. As a lobbyist for the passage of the 1990 Indian Arts and Crafts Act, he became recognized nationally for questioning the exploitation of culture for commodity.

Noted for his political paintings, Bradley infuses Western pop cultural icons with stereotypical Native motifs in his complex visual narratives. His work goes beyond conventional boundaries of what is deemed authentically Native through his incorporation of modernist elements and post-modern constructions.

I…use repeatedly certain symbols which you could call popular cultural iconography like the “American Gothic,” “Mona Lisa,” “Whistlers Mother”… as archetypical images everyone can relate to. Then you take it from that point of the familiar into the new and unfamiliar and you involve it in humorous or more complicated situations. I juxtapose things and just fit all these symbols, archetypical things, clichés in amongst my own creations.[3]

American Gothic 2008, Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches Courtesy of the artist

American Gothic 2008, Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches, Courtesy of the artist

Bradley renders these counter appropriations in the painting Pictures at an Exhibition. In typical Bradley panoramic fashion, he disorients the viewer with a profusion of archetypes congruent to the Santa Fe art scene, art history and popular culture. Centrally located in the foreground, well-known modern art icons such as the couple in Grant Wood’s American Gothic and the man sporting a bowler hat in Rene’ Magritte’s Le’Homme au Chapeau Melon, mingle with fellow painters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Native artist R.C. Gorman snaps photos with Andy Warhol while Fritz Scholder oversees Georgia O’Keeffe’s dancing. At the center of the chaotic gallery scene, General George Armstrong Custer and Sitting Bull negotiate a treaty of peace. The modernist metanarrative of Western art history is interrupted in this sequence; what may be perceived as chaos and play is at once a strategic placement of intersecting art worlds. In this sense, the viewer witnesses the theatrics of conversations between artists representing both the so-called dominant and subversive art discourses.

Bradley’s projections reformulate latent Native American stereotypes with complex interconnected cognitive images reinvigorating the history of art as intersecting webs. Bradley’s symbolic treaty signing between Custer and Sitting Bull can be seen as a truce between these disparate discourses or a revelation proclaiming the West truly doesn’t exist. Though the painting appears to be a pastiche, Bradley brings forth congruence with a co-mingling of voices, recalling history and placing the Native presence in a contemporary setting. In this way, we bear witness to a menagerie of counter appropriations and cultural borrowing implicit in both dominant and subversive contexts.

Bradley urges viewers to emancipate themselves from previously perceived notions of the Native while being lured into a world of satire infused with multiple systems at play. Through illustrative robust images, he reinvigorates Native American art history and proclaims stewardship while painting us all into his window of Indigenous cultural maintenance and critique.


[1] Joshua Brockman, “A New Dawn for Museums of Native American Art,” New York Times, August 20, 2005.

[2] David Bradley, “Artist Biography,” unpublished data.

[3] David Bradley, “March 1989 Interview by Dorothee Peiper-Riegraf,” www.peiper-riegraf-collection.

 Additional Resources compiled by Students in the Contemporary Native American Art History course at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Spring 2013

Web-based Resources


“David Bradley: Rollin and Mary Ella King Fellowship 2004.” School For Advanced Research.

     In 2004 David Bradley was named the 2004 Rollin and Ella King Fellow. 

 Plains Art Museum. “David P. Bradley.”

     On this website you will find a recent artist biograpghy and a description of his piece, Pow-Wow Princess in the Process of Acculturation


 Selected Bibliography


 Bigfeather, Joanna. Native Views: Influences of Modern Culture. Ann Arbor: Arttrain USA, 2004.

    This exhibition catalogue gives commentary on his piece, The Santa Fe Super Chief, 2003

Jamison, Suzanne. “David Bradley.” Santa Fe Profiles, n.d., 22-24. IAIA Archives.

    This profile is an interview that provides answers for David’s approach to his art. The interview was conducted when David was 26 years old. 

Loniak, Walter. “An Artist to Watch for in the Future.” The Santa Fe Reporter, May 3, 1979, p.14. IAIA Archives.

   This newspaper article was published within the same month David recieved his Associates from IAIA. It covers his senior project and describes his work. 

Pearlstone, Zena, and Allan J. Ryan. “About Face: Self Portraits by Native American, First Nations, and Inuit Artists.” 3-4. Santa Fe: Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, 2006.

In this anthology David’s Bridges and Boundaries: The American Indian Art Ambassadors, 1989, represents his self-portrait. It is a painting of various Native American Artist sitting around German art collector, Dorothee Peiper-Riegraf

 Rostkowski, Joelle. Conversations with Remarkable Native Americans. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2012. 63-69. 

   This is a 2009 interview in which David discusses his stance on the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. He also shares his childhood experiences in growing up in an urban setting. He also touches base on his time spent in the Peace Corps.