PARIS — The beauty, power and spiritual resonance of Plains Indian art will be on view in a major exhibition that opens at Museé du quai Branly on April 7, then travels to Kansas City and New York City. “The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky” will unite Plains Indian masterworks found in European and North American collections, from pre-contact to contemporary, ranging from a 2,000-year-old human effigy stone pipe to Eighteenth Century painted robes to a 2011 beaded adaptation of designer shoes.
Works of art collected centuries ago by French traders and travelers will be seen together with those acquired by Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition of 1804–06, along with objects from the early reservation era and contemporary works based in traditional forms and ideas.
The exhibition is being organized by Museé du quai Branly in collaboration with the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Mo., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. It is curated by Gaylord Torrence, a scholar of Plains Indian art and the Fred and Virginia Merrill senior curator of American Indian art at the Nelson-Atkins.
“It is our goal with this exhibition to present the extraordinary vision of Plains Indian artists throughout time to the present,” Torrence said. “The objects embody both the creative brilliance of their individual makers and the meanings and power of profound cultural traditions.”
The exhibition will be on view at Quai Branly until July 20, then travel to the Nelson-Atkins from September 20 to January 11, then move to the Metropolitan Museum from March 2 to May 17, 2015.
The distinct Plains aesthetic — singular, ephemeral and materially rich — will be revealed through an array of forms and media: painting and drawing; sculptural works in stone, wood, antler and shell; porcupine quill and glass bead embroidery; feather work; painted robes depicting figures and geometric shapes; richly ornamented clothing; composite works; and ceremonial objects. Many nations are represented – Osage, Quapaw, Omaha, Crow, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Lakota, Blackfeet, Pawnee, Kiowa, Comanche, Mesquakie, Kansa and others. Objects will travel from France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Canada and the United States.
The exhibition was conceived by Stéphane Martin, president of Quai Branly, who traveled to the United States in 2010 to explore the idea. He visited the new and highly acclaimed American Indian galleries at the Nelson-Atkins and invited Torrence to curate the exhibition. When the Metropolitan Museum agreed to be the third venue, the tour was complete.
The works on view will reflect the significant place that Plains Indian culture holds in European history and in the heritage of North America. They will also convey the continuum of hundreds of years of artistic tradition, maintained against the backdrop of monumental cultural change.
A fully illustrated 320-page catalog with essays by leading experts, edited by Torrence, will accompany the exhibition.
Museé du quai Branly is at 37, quai Branly. For information, www.quaibranly.fr/en or +33 1 56 61 70 00.