In conjunction with Relational Aesthetics, Jessica Stockholder has invited the First Nations sculptor, painter, and printmaker Robert Davidson (Haida, born 1946 in Hydaburg, Prince of Wales-Outer Ketchikan division, Alaska) to exhibit a selection of works on paper. Davidson is a member of the Haida people of the Pacific Northwest. His Haida name is G̶uud San Glans, which means Eagle of the Dawn. He currently splits his time between the city of White Rock, near Vancouver, and the village of Massett, in Haida Gwaii, both in British Columbia. An accomplished artist and craftsman, in 1969 he worked to create and then raise the first totem pole in Massett in nearly a century. Since then, he has consistently championed the renaissance of Haida visual art, music, dance, and culture. Skilled in both two- and three-dimensional work, Davidson’s style reflects the unique visual language of the Haida developed over thousands of years: prominent positive and negative spaces delineated by an overall “formline,” with distinctive S- , U-, tri- , and ovoid-shapes. Over the past fifty years, in his paintings and prints Davidson’s work has evolved to include his own style of abstraction, strongly graphic, playful, and saturated with intense color.
Stockholder’s sculptural platform, The situation @ the party, 2018, acts as the viewing area for Davidson’s prints. Here, the “party” of Stockholder’s title can be seen as the grouping of all the elements in the room, including Davidson’s work. Tellingly, both exhibition titles, Relational Aesthetics and U and Eye, are puns on relationships, boundaries, and autonomy, as both Stockholder and Davidson have a long history of highlighting the lineage of other artists to whom they are indebted. As Davidson has said, “I draw on the lessons of our ancestors. Our ancestors left an incredible legacy of art and, in order to honor them, it’s our responsibility to relearn that legacy, whether it’s through the art, whether it’s through the song, or through the dance.” In her exhibition invitation to Davidson, Stockholder similarly noted: “I am interested in how we, and the things we make, are at once isolated and inextricably connected to so many other people and things.”
I invited Robert Davidson to exhibit his work alongside mine because, though our two bodies of work grow from quite different histories and cultures, his work and the tradition it springs from has been enormously influential for me. I grew up climbing on a bear sculpture by Haida artist Bill Reid, which was at that time installed in the woods on the University of British Columbia’s campus in Vancouver. I was deeply affected by the overwhelmingly beautiful and intense formality of the iconography embedded in the many works of First Nations artists that I encountered at that time. Since then I have been fortunate to have some family friends in common with Robert Davidson, and in 2001 I invited him to give a talk at the Yale School of Art, a talk in which he shared the history of his work, generously describing his own journey of discovery and creation. Robert Davidson recognized the importance and wonder of the Haida carving tradition and has made it his life’s work to keep that tradition alive, and newly accessible to his community.
In my own work I have for many years now been involved in exploring the ways in which art is both autonomous and dependent. I explore the blurred boundary between framed artwork and its context. I am invested in the potential for art to bring both the artist and the audience in touch with our capacity for independent thinking. At the same time I am aware that all of our thoughts and creations occur in tandem with culture, history, and the collaboration of many others. This gesture of invitation to an other in the context of my exhibition is an acknowledgment of my debt. This gesture of invitation is also resonant with the thinking embedded in the Assist sculptures also included in the exhibition. They don’t stand on their own and require strapping to some kind of a ‘prop’ in order to be exhibited; in this way they pose pressing questions about boundary, dependence, and autonomy.
This exhibition is organized by Julia V. Hendrickson, Associate Curator. Text is also by Hendrickson.