NORMAN — A vast array of artistic creations from “The James T. Bialac Native American Art Collection,” striking for both its scope and the excellence of individual works, is on view at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.
Supplying a one-two punch, in a run that continues through Dec. 30 at the University of Oklahoma museum, are an exhibit of “Selected Works” on the first floor, and a smaller “Indigenous Aesthetics” show on the third.
Begun in 1964 by the Phoenix attorney, the Bialac collection, which was given to OU in 2010, contains more than 4,000 objects, including paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, kachinas, pottery and jewelry.
Among early works is a crayon sketch of “Two Warriors on a Horse,” looking more playful than warlike, done in the traditional plains style in about 1880, by an anonymous Northern Cheyenne artist.
Flat, but stylized, is Harrison Begay's undated watercolor of a line of costumed “Navajo Yei'bichai Dancers,” angling across the horizontal picture plane, their white body paint making them stand out dramatically.
Blue-gray winds over the heads of Indians, trying to pull up the body of one man, become integral to a melancholy 1969 watercolor by Choctaw artist Valjean McCarty Hessing called “Some Died Along the Way.”
Robert Haozous scrambles traditional, modern, cowboy and Indian art elements in his painted limestone sculpture of a seated female “Nude with Cowboy Boots,” whose only other apparel is a turquoise necklace.
Timeless and traditional, yet modern and expressive, is Chiricahua Apache artist Allan Houser's 1989 bronze sculpture of a nearly life-size dark figure doing the “Dance of the Mountain Spirits.”
Speaking at the show's opening weekend, Bialac told potential collectors to “pick what you personally like, not what your next-door neighbor likes,” stressing that it's the work, not the artist's name, that matters.
Not easily described in a few words and worth several visits, the Bialac collection shows are highly recommended during their run at the museum, after which they will be part of OU's permanent collection.
Parts of the collection will be on display at OU's Law Library, the Charles Russell Center and the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History.
— John Brandenburg