A splendidly illustrated introduction to the rich history of Native American art, distinguished by its broad coverage and nuanced discussion.
Although ethnography has cast off most vestiges of its sometimes racist past, virtually no aspect of the study of the objects produced by the people of our continent's First Nations is presently free of controversy. Aesthetic object or museum artifact? Caretaking or plunder? And tired notions of "pre-history" and "pre-contact" are crumbling under the weight of archeological discovery. Though Penney, curator of Native American Art at the Detroit Institute of Arts, has steered a careful, thorough course, he has produced anything but a bland text. Emphasizing the continuity and adaptability of native cultures, he is able to make objects from several millennia and a dizzyingly complex variety of cultures into a broadly coherent and living whole, seen here in 187 illustrations (80 in color). Organized geographically with a separate chapter for contemporary practice Penney's volume moves from the cultures of the Florida Seminole to the unconquered Haida of the Northwest Coast with unerring intelligence and sympathy, combining history, archeology and aesthetics in a seamless meld. Aided immeasurably by the numerous excellent illustrations, Penney keeps his narrative squarely centered on the objects in question, which constitute so far our continent's most enduring and vital artistic legacy. Outstanding maps, chronology and an up-to-date bibliography further enhance this book's usefulness. (Aug.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.