Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison, on view at the Heard Museum from Oct. 25, 2014, to Jan. 11, 2015, presents a comprehensive array of drawings, paintings, prints and sculptures from an important American Indian modernist. The exhibition surveys the prolific career of Chippewa artist George Morrison (1919–2000), a distinctive and well-loved artist whose works bring together concepts of abstraction, landscape, and spiritual reflection and draw from his physical and spiritual homelands— speaking to both American urban settings and to the solitude of Northern Minnesota.
“The Heard Museum is proud to showcase the work of George Morrison, who has transcended the ‘Indian artist’ genre to be recognized as one of the great 20th-century American Modernist artists,” says James Pepper Henry (Kaw/Muscogee Creek), director and CEO of the Heard Museum. “Morrison’s influence has been felt even at the White House, where his work ‘Red Totem,’ one of several pieces from our museum collection, was on display during the Clinton administration.” The Heard is one of five institutions across the country showing Modern Spirit before the exhibition closes in May 2015, and “Red Totem” will be included in the Heard’s showing.
The core of this retrospective issues from one of the largest and most important collections of Morrison’s artwork in the country, the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul, Minn. Some of these pieces were lent for a two-person show with Allan Houser that helped inaugurate the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. in September 2004. Supplemental works are borrowed from important private and public collections of Morrison’s work throughout the country.
The exhibition is curated by W. Jackson Rushing III, Adkins presidential professor of art history and Mary Lou Milner Carver chair in Native American Art at the University of Oklahoma. "George Morrison was both a major American modernist and an influential Indian artist,” says Rushing, “whose beautiful images and objects have inspired generations of viewers, including younger artists. His later paintings especially are imbued with what he called inherent Indian values, affirming the importance of place."
Modern Spirit spans the entire breadth of Morrison’s oeuvre, from early figurative drawings and Regionalist paintings of the 1940s to monumental abstract landscapes and wood sculptures of the 1970s onward. Many of the works in the exhibition draw from Morrison’s early career in New York, Providence, and Provincetown and refer to important art historical movements such as Cubism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. Modern Spirit also presents Morrison’s works from the 1970s to the 1990s, which were inspired in part by the artist’s home on the north shore of Lake Superior. This body of work includes line drawings on colored papers, sketches of constellations over Lake Superior, and several painting of forms breaking up in front of the abstracted shoreline. In terms of technique, these later paintings—quiet, lyrical, and meditative—synthesize Impressionism with Expressionism, while retaining the artist’s trademark representation of nature, land and the horizon.
A full-color catalogue published by University of Oklahoma Press accompanies Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison. The exhibition is also supported by an interactive website that includes images, biographical information on Morrison, as well as educational resources to support student and adult learning about Morrison’s contributions.
Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison is organized by the Minnesota Museum of American Art and Arts Midwest with the Plains Art Museum. The exhibition and its national tour are supported by corporate sponsor Ameriprise Financial and foundation sponsor Henry Luce Foundation. Major support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and the generous contributions of individuals across the Midwest. Learn more about the exhibit at mmaamorrison.org or at heard.org.