The longtime New York and Santa Fe Native American artifacts dealer John Molloy has just opened a new space, the John Molloy Gallery, next to L&M Arts uptown. Through Valentine's Day, Molloy has mounted a show of artifacts from the Indian Wars of 1860 to 1890 that is stunning in the beauty of its silent savagery.
A raw dignity resides in the minimalistic three-blade tomahawk wielded in an 1860s Sioux attack that wiped out 800 Minnesota settlers in reprisal for those settlers welshing on payment for the use of Sioux territory. There is intimacy in the hammer-like blade of Sioux warrior White Dog, who was caught and hung as much for his Don Juan reputation with white women as for his battlefield skills. A reprieve for White Dog from the U.S. government for saving the life of one these white ladies arrived too late to stop his execution.
No fashion model traipsing through Tribeca is as elegantly accessorized as the warriors of the Plains, who were driven westward in the Trail of Tears by a United States Army with industrialized weaponry perfected in the Civil War. Molloy exhibits a Ute tobacco patch, an Athapascan knifecase and a Blackfoot weapons bag, each rippling with gorgeous beadwork and stunning colors. The exhibition is rounded out with Cheyenne drawings from the 1880s documenting battles with U.S Army regulars, and vitrines of small decorative pipes, used for reflection and solace.
John Molloy and his gallery assistant, a Sioux, have assembled an intimate second floor space, which has the atmosphere of a library, and where you are encouraged to sit and read documents of the Plains Wars such as Bishop Whipple's report of the breakdown of Minnesota settlers' negotiations with the Sioux, a combination of misunderstandings, betrayal and acts of goodness that led to destruction, death and exile. In a time of sober reflection in the New York art world, this kind of space which honors a specific past is a welcome addition.
"Native American Warrior Art & Artifacts," Jan. 23-Feb. 14, 2009, at John Molloy Gallery, 49 East 78th Street, New York, N.Y. 10075
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).