A year and a half ago, Gabriel Ritter visited the Chris Sharp Gallery in Los Angeles in hopes of discovering fascinating new art. He hadn’t expected to be flabbergasted by a piece of clothing.
“That jacket stopped me dead,” he recalls. “It’s almost a tall story. Looks like a punk jacket, or a biker jacket made for a giant.
Once he started examining it, he realized there was a lot more to the artwork than just its size.
It was adorned with patches covered in letters and symbols – a mix of images that evoked the past and the present, the personal and the political, ancient traditions and contemporary pop culture.
“It really caught my attention,” he recalls. Not only was it aesthetically stunning, but it was also a fractured portrait of Native American life and art, in all its complex multiplicity. “It is,” he concluded, “a monument to survival.”
Ritter was in Southern California from Minnesota for an interview for the position of director of the Art Design & Architecture Museum (AD&A) at UC Santa Barbara. When he took office in September, he looked at the exhibition schedule and spotted an opening for a year later. He decided it would be the perfect time for his first AD&A exhibition as a curator – an investigation of art by the creator of the colossal jacket, Los Angeles-based artist Ishi Glinsky.
The exhibition “Ishi Glinsky: On a Jagged Labyrinth,is open until January 22, 2023. Its centerpiece is, of course, “Coral vs. King Snake Jacket,” the larger-than-life replica of a leather jacket that at first stunned Ritter. The piece, now part of the permanent collection of UCLA’s Hammer Museum, is one of 25 works by Glinsky included in the AD&A exhibit.
Glinsky, 40, was born in Tucson, Arizona to a mother of German descent and a father who is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. He embraced his Native American heritage from an early age, dancing at traditional powwows as a teenager and making his own badges to do so.
“He’s lived and worked in Los Angeles for 16 years, but he didn’t have a solo museum exhibit at that time,” Ritter said. “Since I consider creating a regional dialogue for contemporary art to be one of my jobs here, it seemed like a great opportunity – and very much on the mark of the vision I want to chart for this institution. “
Ritter, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Art and Architectural History at UC Santa Barbara, describes Glinsky as “a Native American artist with one foot in contemporary art and the other foot in traditions of several indigenous nations”. Like his cultural ancestors, he uses everyday objects in his work — Ritter jokes that he uses Home Depot as a kind of art supply store — as well as found objects and junk ranging from skateboard wheels to skeleton keys.
“His work is comparable to Claes Oldenburg, in that he plays with scale,” Ritter said. “In Ishi’s case, it’s about bringing attention to those artistic traditions and practices that have been largely ignored. He literally creates larger than life pieces, so people can’t help but notice and pay attention to them.
“The works displayed here are a cross-tribal celebration of heritage,” Glinsky said, adding that he hopes to either introduce viewers to or deepen their knowledge of Indigenous artistic movements, history and traditions, including craftsmanship.
One of these movements is “the art of the ledger,” which Glinsky engages in several pieces in the exhibition. This form of art appeared in the 19eaccounting books from the last century, “books that were traded between settlers and Native Americans in the Plains states,” Ritter said. “They have become the repositories of a new language of visual storytelling. Hopefully the works start a conversation around this art form and its history.
As this is Glinsky’s first museum exhibition, Ritter had no roadmap for how to present his art, and he and the artist had many conversations before settling on a retrospective survey. at the start of a career.
“There’s a series of paintings, sculptural works, works on paper, and a series of necklaces,” Ritter said. “They are, again, enormously increased.”
“Looking at the past, or in the mirror, is a bit of a journey,” Glinsky said. “Seeing this work at UCSB allowed me to take an active break and follow in my own footsteps. What is seen and seen is in my DNA.
After assembling the show, Ritter took on another challenge: to create descriptive labels that would put the works into context. He enlisted the help of Kendall Lovely, a Ph.D. student in history at UC Santa Barbara whose research focuses on indigenous history and material culture in the United States. Together they have endeavored to “guide a general audience through these works” by describing both Glinsky’s artistic techniques and the historical traditions from which he draws.
For example, some of the show’s necklaces refer to parts of the Santo Domingo tribe in New Mexico – “necklaces called ‘drum birds,’ because they were originally made from pieces of plastic from car batteries,” Ritter said. “Ishi’s use of found materials is an echo of these earlier practices. It is a kind of homage while being part of his current practice.
But not all the references are historical: there are also nods to the rap group Public Enemy and current political organizations like the American Indian Movement. “What I find so interesting about Ishi’s work is that he refuses to be just one thing,” Ritter said. “It asks the viewer to consider the multiplicity of its meaning.”
That said, Glinsky’s work can also be enjoyed on a more basic level: it’s pleasing to the eye. “These works are meticulously and beautifully crafted,” Ritter said. “But they are also imbued with great meaning and significance. They tell stories about traditions that have been left out of the contemporary art conversation and deserve recognition.
“Ishi Glinsky: Upon a Jagged Maze” is on view through January 22, 2023 at the AD&A Museum on the UC Santa Barbara campus. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Free entry. For more information, visit www.museum.ucsb.edu or call 805-893-2951.