The Mission district’s Gallery Hijinks just wrapped up FRGMNTS, a solo exhibition by New York-based artist Matthew Craven. After viewing his mixed media / collage work, I’m left feeling a little unsettled.
Generally, I consider the “unsettled feeling” to be a good thing when I’m looking at art. With Craven, I’m completely entranced by the beautiful patterns and compositions of his work, but I’m extremely skeptical of his method and his objectives. According to Craven’s artist statement, he uses, “images from lost cultures, relics and landscapes,” saying further, “These arrangements highlight shape and composition rather than historical accuracy, solidifying their participation in a completely unique myth.”
A few things that are problematic: Craven often references “lost cultures,” “myths” and “those who came before us” in relation to American Indians, effectively placing them in the historical past, not to mention asserting a sort of cultural ownership over certain tribes’ patterns and photos. It’s just sort of fucked up when people forget that American Indians are very much part of the present, and calling cultures “lost” sort of reminds me of when anthropologists at the turn of the century would say things like, “The Natives are going extinct.” That said, this is collage art and “found” images. In an arts context, is it useful or is it stifling to bring up issues of cultural appropriation? One of Craven’s collections is called, “History is Written By the Winners.” Is Craven a “winner?” He might be just another white dude capitalizing on the “cool factor” associated with American Indian imagery these days. I mean, why give your collection a politically-charged, historical-commentary title when you’re openly indifferent towards historical accuracy in your storytelling and art? Whether Craven himself identifies as liberal or conservative or whatever is meaningless. I know that it pisses me off when non-Native people benefit from American Indian imagery commercially, but should I care if it’s artistically? Should politics matter AT ALL here? I don’t know- either I’m completely missing the point, or Craven is.
Pretty pictures, I gotta say. For the record, I’m calling that he’ll take take a really important, really high-paying position with Urban Outfitters before 2015. #Longtermbets.