Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith

By Gail Tremblay

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith is an artist whose work explores Native American aesthetic traditions in contemporary art contexts. Over the course of her long and productive career, she has worked in many media, using an impressive vocabulary of techniques. She has made paintings, prints, pastels, and richly layered mixed-media works. Few artists working today are as sensitive to the effects of texts on images. Smith is skilled at creating and appropriating texts that capture the paradigms of American society in ways that reveal the cultural implications of capitalism, historic amnesia, and assignment of racial categories. She embeds her texts in a rich environment of images she creates or among images she borrows from a variety of sources, including art books, magazines, newspapers, and other print materials. By doing this, she creates complex juxtapositions that re-contextualize the ways viewers understand relationships between Euro-American and Indigenous American cultures.

In Celebrate 40,000 years of Indian Art (1995), Smith makes references to the long tradition of Indigenous art in the Americas. In this collagraph, she uses six petroglyph-like images of trickster rabbit, to let the viewer know that Indigenous people have been making art on this continent for millennia. In another work, Indian Drawing, she cuts up images and text from Western art history books and pastes them among drawings of Indians, traditional designs, stereotypical images of Indians and a large drawing of a buffalo with several renderings of its back legs as though they were in motion. In this piece, she makes reference to the way that work by American Indians is often left out of the art history at the same time that Indigenous images are appropriated by advertising and mythologized.

In the 2005 painting Fear, Smith uses the human torso, with one arm cradling faces, including that of Frida Kahlo next to the mask-like face of a Mexican deity.  Around the torso there are red mountains and dead branches. An elaborate pattern of eye forms flow across and down the canvas. One eye on the left breast of the torso looks out at the viewer as though the torso can see into a world out of balance. Smith’s work is a call to learn, even when we are afraid—that there are ancient lessons that can teach us how to live. These reminders are challenges to the dominant culture’s exploitation of the natural world and the chaos it produces.

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith is an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation. She has shown her art in galleries and museums throughout the United States and around the world. Her work is part of the collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, Museum der Weltkulturen in Frankfurt, Germany, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Walker Art Center, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Museum of Modern Art in Quito, Ecuador, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. She has won numerous awards for her work as an artist and arts activist including the American Academy of Arts and Letters Purchase Fund, the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant, the Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award and honorary degrees from Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.  Quick-to-See Smith has additionally devoted herself to promoting the careers of numerous young and emerging American Indian artists and intellectuals.