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An Indigenous Present: Conversation with Jeffrey Gibson and Jenelle Porter

In this episode I had the honor to sit down with artist Jeffrey Gibson joined by curator and co-editor of An Indigenous Present, Jenelle Porter. We were given space at SITE Santa Fe in Director Louis Grachos office to have a long and generative conversation while we celebrated the book's launch over Indian Market weekend. We talk about Jeff’s practice and his journey to this moment and the Artist shares the vulnerable, complicated, difficult and joyous path of choosing to be an Artist, offering reflection from what he has learned along the way, understanding how the practice and studio has evolved in the 20 some years of being a working Artist. We then dive in with both Jeff and Jenelle to speak on Jeff’s thought process behind An Indigenous Present, learning about the years of care and intention behind the project, which is, as Jeff reflects, an “Artist book about Artists.”  We round out our 2 plus hour chat with the excitement and work that has come with Jeffrey being named the artist to represent the U.S. at the 60th Venice Biennale. As we end our chat, both Jeff and Jenelle share important and practical insight on how to navigate the art worlds and art markets and Jeffrey reminds us all that “Artists do have the power to set precedence in institutions.” 

Featured song: SMOKE RINGS SHIMMERS ENDLESS BLUR by Laura Ortman 2023
Broken Boxes introduction song by India Sky
More about the publication: An Indigenous Present

Jeffrey Gibson:

Jeffrey Gibson’s work fuses his Choctaw-Cherokee heritage and experience of living in Europe, Asia and the USA with references that span club culture, queer theory, fashion, politics, literature and art history. The artist’s multi-faceted practice incorporates painting, performance, sculpture, textiles and video, characterised by vibrant colour and pattern. 

The artist combines intricate indigenous artisanal handcraft – such as beadwork, leatherwork and quilting – with narratives of contemporary resistance in protest slogans and song lyrics. This “blend of confrontation and pageantry” is reinforced by what Felicia Feaster describes as a “sense of movement and performance as if these objects ... are costumes waiting for a dancer to inhabit them.” The artist harnesses the power of such materials and techniques to activate overlooked narratives, while embracing the presence of historically marginalised identities.

Gibson explains: “I am drawn to these materials because they acknowledge the global world. Historically, beads often came from Italy, the Czech Republic or Poland, and contemporary beads can also come from India, China and Japan. Jingles originated as the lids of tobacco and snuff tins, turned and used to adorn dresses, but now they are commercially made in places such as Taiwan. Metal studs also have trade references and originally may have come from the Spanish, but also have modern references to punk and DIY culture. It’s a continual mash-up.”

Acknowledging music as a key element in his experience of life as an artist, pop music became one of the primary points of reference in Gibson’s practice: musicians became his elders and lyrics became his mantras. Recent paintings synthesise geometric patterns inspired by indigenous American artefacts with the lyrics and psychedelic palette of disco music.

Solo exhibitions include ‘THE SPIRITS ARE LAUGHING’, Aspen Art Museum, Colorado (2022); ‘This Burning World’, Institute of Contemporary Art, San Francisco, California (2022); ‘The Body Electric’, SITE Santa Fe, New Mexico (2022) and Frist Art Museum, Nashville (2023); ‘INFINITE INDIGENOUS QUEER LOVE’, deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, Massachusetts (2021); ‘To Feel Myself Beloved on the Earth’, Benenson Center, Art Omi, Ghent, New York (2021); ‘When Fire is Applied to a Stone It Cracks’, Brooklyn Art Museum, Brooklyn, New York (2020); ‘The Anthropophagic Effect’, New Museum, New York City, New York (2019); ‘Like a Hammer’, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, Wisconsin (2019); Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington (2019); Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, Mississippi (2019); Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado (2018); ‘This Is the Day’, Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas (2019); Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art, Clinton, New York (2018) and ‘Love Song’, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts (2013). For the Toronto Biennial 2022, Gibson presented an evolving installation featuring fifteen moveable stages at Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Other recent group exhibitions include ‘Dreamhome’, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia (2022); ‘Crafting America’, Crystal Bridges, Bentonville, Arkansas (2021); ‘Monuments Now’, Socrates Sculpture Park, Queens, New York (2020); ‘Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago’, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois (2020) and The Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, New York (2019). Works can be found in the collections of Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado; Eiteljorg Museum, Indianapolis, Indiana; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts; The Museum of Modern Art, New York City, New York; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada; Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington; Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, New York, amongst others. Gibson is a recipient of numerous awards, notably a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (2019), Joan Mitchell Foundation, Painters and Sculptors Grant (2015) and Creative Capital Award (2005).

Jenelle Porter:

Jenelle Porter is a curator and writer living in Los Angeles. Current and recent exhibitions include career surveys of Barbara T. Smith (ICA LA, 2023) and Kay Sekimachi (Berkeley Art Museum, 2021); Less Is a Bore: Maximalist Art & Design (ICA/Boston, 2019); and Mike Kelley: Timeless Painting (Mike Kelley Foundation and Hauser & Wirth, New York, 2019). She is co-editor of An Indigenous Present with artist Jeffrey Gibson (fall 2023), and a Viola Frey monograph (fall 2024). 

From 2011 to 2015 Porter was Mannion Family Senior Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, where she organized Fiber: Sculpture 1960–present and Figuring Color: Kathy Butterly, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Roy McMakin, Sue Williams, as well as monographic exhibitions of the work of Jeffrey Gibson, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Dianna Molzan, Christina Ramberg, Mary Reid Kelley, Arlene Shechet, and Erin Shirreff. Her exhibitions have twice been honored by the International Association of Art Critics. As Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (2005–10), Porter organized Dance with Camera and Dirt on Delight: Impulses That Form Clay, the first museum surveys of Trisha Donnelly and Charline von Heyl, and numerous other projects.

From 1998–2001 Porter was curator at Artists Space, New York. She began her career in curatorial positions at both the Walker Art Center and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

She has authored books and essays including those on artists Polly Apfelbaum, Kathy Butterly, Viola Frey, Jeffrey Gibson, Sam Gilliam, Jay Heikes, Margaret Kilgallen, Liz Larner, Ruby Neri, and Matthew Ritchie, among others.