Museum Stories

Native American Art from Donald Ellis Gallery at the Frieze Viewing Room

Alexandra Kiely 8 October 2020 min Read

Donald Ellis Gallery, a New York-based dealer of Native American art, will show Native American drawings and other artworks in the Frieze Viewing Room, opening tomorrow. This online exhibition will offer art fair visitors a window into the fantastic native artistic traditions of the United States and Canada.

Frieze Viewing Room drawing Kovinatilliak Parr, UNTITLED (CARIBOU AND WALRUS HUNT) (E4245), native american art
Kovinatilliak Parr, Untitled (Caribou and Walrus Hunt) (E4245), Cape Dorset, Nunavut, mid 1960s. Coloured pencil on paper, 50.17 × 64.77 cm. Image courtesy Donald Ellis Gallery.

Of the 36 items to appear in the gallery’s exhibit, 27 are drawings. Dating from 1800 through the 1960s, they come from nations in western Canada, Alaska, the Plains, and the American Southwest. These brightly-colored drawings depict people, animals, and cultural events in a variety of styles. However, offerings will also include three-dimensional objects such as a Haida shaman’s rattle and Tsimshian chest.

Frieze Viewing Room bend-corner chest native american art
Bent-corner chest (N4387), Haisla or Coast Tsimshian, ca. 1840-1860, Red cedar, red turban snail opercula. Length: 71.12 cm, width: 48.26 cm, height: 43.82 cm. Image courtesy Donald Ellis Gallery.

The gallery emphasizes the great importance of Native American drawings, which served as permanent records in cultures without written traditions. The accompanying texts stress the sophistication and the diversity of these drawings, while pointing out the differences between Native American and Euro-American ideas about the art form.

Ledger Drawings

Frieze Viewing Room Ledger Drawing Attributed to Nah-hi-yurs (aka Carl Matches), Ledger drawing native american art
Attributed to Nah-hi-yurs (aka Carl Matches), Ledger drawing (P4224-12). Southern Cheyenne, Central Plains, ca. 1875-78. Graphite and coloured pencil on lined paper, 15.56 × 20.96 cm. Image courtesy Donald Ellis Gallery.

The biggest portion of the exhibition contains Ledger Drawings from Great Plains cultures such as the Cheyenne and Crow. Ledger Drawings record cultural history, such as battles and ceremonies, on pages from European ledger books. This tradition was not commercial when it began in the 1870s, but it quickly gained a market among non-native American collectors. One particularly noteworthy example will also appear in a special Forever exhibition curated from different Frieze Viewing Room displays.

Frieze Viewing Room

Frieze Viewing Room Navajo Memory Aid native american art
Memory Aid (S3936), anonymous artist, Navajo, Arizona or New Mexico, ca. 1920. Paint on muslin, 43.18 × 85.09 cm. Image courtesy Donald Ellis Gallery.

The Frieze Viewing Room is the online stand-in for this year’s Frieze Masters and Frieze London fairs. It will be live from October 9-16, 2020 and will feature displays from more than 250 galleries. Visit the Frieze website to learn more and create an account to access the Viewing Room.

The Donald Ellis Gallery has pledged to donate 10% of its profits from sales at the Frieze Viewing Room to charity. Each purchaser can pick from one of the following three charities to support: The Center for American Indian Health, Navajo & Hopi Families Covid-19 Relief Fund, and City Meals on Wheels.

If you like art fairs, read about last year’s Frieze New York here.

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