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Jaune Quick-to-See Smith:
Memory Map

Apr 19–Aug 13, 2023

This exhibition is the first New York retrospective of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (b. 1940, citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation), an overdue but timely look at the work of a groundbreaking artist. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map brings together nearly five decades of Smith’s drawings, prints, paintings, and sculptures in the largest and most comprehensive showing of her career to date. 

Smith’s work engages with contemporary modes of making, from her idiosyncratic adoption of abstraction to her reflections on American Pop art and neo-expressionism. These artistic traditions are incorporated and reimagined with concepts rooted in Smith’s own cultural practice, reflecting her belief that her “life’s work involves examining contemporary life in America and interpreting it through Native ideology.” Employing satire and humor, Smith’s art tells stories that flip commonly held conceptions of historical narratives and illuminate absurdities in the formation of dominant culture. Smith’s approach importantly blurs categories and questions why certain visual languages attain recognition, historical privilege, and value.  

Across decades and mediums, Smith has deployed and reappropriated ideas of mapping, history, and environmentalism while incorporating personal and collective memories. The retrospective will offer new frameworks in which to consider contemporary Native American art and show how Smith has led and initiated some of the most pressing dialogues around land, racism, and cultural preservation—issues at the forefront of contemporary life and art today.

This exhibition is organized by Laura Phipps, Associate Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, with Caitlin Chaisson, Curatorial Project Assistant.

Generous support for Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map is provided by Judy Hart Angelo; the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation; Lise and Michael Evans; the Henry Luce Foundation; the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; Kevin and Rosemary McNeely, Manitou Fund; the Terra Foundation for American Art; and the Whitney’s National Committee.

Major support is provided by Forge Project, Garth Greenan Gallery, Sueyun and Gene Locks, and Susan and Larry Marx.

Significant support is provided by Chrissy Taylor and Lee Broughton, Stephanie and Tim Ingrassia, Ashley Leeds and Christopher Harland, Susan Hayden, John and Susan Horseman Collection/Horseman Foundation, The Keith Haring Foundation Exhibition Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, Brooke Garber Neidich and Daniel M. Neidich, and Nancy and Fred Poses.

Additional support is provided by Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund and Komal Shah and Gaurav Garg.


En Español

Esta exposición es la primera retrospectiva que se presenta en Nueva York de la obra de Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (n. 1940, ciudadana de la nación confederada Salish y Kootenai), una esperada y oportuna mirada al trabajo de la innovadora artista. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map [Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Mapa de la memoria] aglomera casi cinco décadas de los dibujos, grabados, pinturas y esculturas de Smith, en la mayor y más abarcadora muestra de su carrera hasta la fecha. 

La obra de Smith se involucra con modos contemporáneos de producción, incluyendo su adopción idiosincrática de la abstracción y sus reflexiones sobre el arte pop estadounidense y el neo-expresionismo. Estas tradiciones artísticas se reincorporan y reimaginan a través de conceptos enraizados en las prácticas culturales propias de Smith, reflejando su creencia en que “el trabajo de vida implica examinar la vida contemporánea en Estados Unidos e interpretarla a través de la ideología de los pueblos nativos”. Mediante la sátira y el humor, el arte de Smith cuenta historias que invierten concepciones comunes sobre narrativas históricas e iluminan los absurdos presentes en la cultura dominante. El punto de vista de Smith difumina categorías significativamente y se cuestiona por qué ciertos lenguajes visuales adquieren reconocimiento, privilegio histórico y valor. 

A través de décadas y medios, Smith ha desplegado e incorporado ideas sobre la elaboración de mapas, la historia y el ambientalismo, a la vez que integra recuerdos personales y memoria colectiva. La retrospectiva ofrecerá nuevos ángulos para interpretar el arte contemporáneo nativoamericano y demostrará cómo Smith ha guidado e iniciado algunos de los diálogos más relevantes en torno a la tierra, el racismo y la preservación cultural, temas que están en la palestra de la vida y el arte contemporáneo hoy en día. 

Esta exposición fue organizada por Laura Phipps, Curadora asistente en el Whitney Museum of American Art, junto a Caitlin Chaisson, Asistente de proyectos curatoriales.  


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Minisode: Jaune Quick-to-See Smith on her Whitney Retrospective

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith on the occasion of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map.

Minisode: Jaune Quick-to-See Smith on her Whitney Retrospective 


Minisode: Jaune Quick-to-See Smith on her Whitney Retrospective 


Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Yes it is like that—fall down the stairs and land on my feet. That is how it is. I think I am a pretty lucky person, a lucky duck.

My name is an old family name. It doesn't have anything to do with art. It is not about seeing art it is about insight. I've been making art as far back as I can remember. When I was in the first grade I didn't know the word artist, I had never heard that word. I didn't know anything about it. I just knew that it was my zone—I wanted to be where I could use those materials.

The maps that I've been doing, I see them as landscapes and they all tell stories. My art practice has grown over the years. I always see my works as inhabited landscapes. From early pastel abstract swaths of color to where we are now, even figures, to me it is still landscape. 

We are in Corrales, New Mexico which is north of Albuquerque. Corrales is a small farm community of about 15,000 people. This land was given to Spanish people who grew vineyards here. It was given to them by the King of Spain they like to say but, of course, it is unceded land. And of course it once belonged to Pueblo people. Anytime people dig in their backyard here they dig up doubloons and tin cups and underneath that they dig up pottery shards and house foundations. So this has been a farm community probably for eons of time.

Native peoples have always studied the flora, fauna, and land here. It is a culmination of figuring out where we came from. All of the origin stories are about that. These stories go back 15,000 years and they match what the scientists are saying about the movement of glaciers. And that is extraordinary, it blows my mind to think that our oral history goes back that far. 

Our Indian elders studied it so well. Their knowledge of it is so complete. They are always looking back and asking what would the ancestors do? What would they say? We have to think about our future generations and if these resources will be here to serve them.  Will our tribe be able to support them? And so how can we get some of these messages out there? Part of it is in the work that I do.

Being Indigenous and making art means that you are looking at the world through lenses that are curved or changed by your upbringing and by your worldview as an Indigenous person. We get together and talk amongst ourselves about how we can change things or make things better—how we can put messages out there that have a relationship to the Indigenous world. Indigenous peoples believe that we live in harmony with all of the plants, animals, fishes, and cosmos. We really do believe that. So that's the first thing that is really distinct in our work and in what we present to the public.

Who has a better reason to paint a map? Me, a Native person who is all about the land and the history that's taken place here. How can I tell it all in a way that is different from what you learned in school? I'm showing you an American map; I'm putting my heritage in there. I take newspaper clippings and put them in every single state just to prove that there are Indians doing things there. Yes, there is Indian life there. Yes, they live everywhere all over the United States. When I started using text it seemed like a way to say something directly instead of just alluding to it—whether it be text from old Indian speeches or headlines from the New York Times or Albuquerque Journal.

What I am doing is putting messages inside the Museum, inside the corporate world where they are not supposed to be. It is where you are supposed to make nice and entertain people with money. That is kind of a given. And I am going to the source. They will find things about the environment, racism, and the treatment of animals. 

People walk through a museum and they are drawn to what they are drawn to whether it is color or figures. Some people stop and take the time to read things but not everyone wants to do that. The messages in my paintings are placed where they are not totally expected. 

Most people will never have heard of me and that is not off-putting. Maybe it will start to crack this issue of Native Americans being invisible. Most people say, "I've never met an Indian, I've never seen one before." That is pretty prominent. There are a bunch of Indians living in New York who encounter this. That is how it goes in this society. This is high society and it is white. And this is BIPOC here; we are just little grains of sand trying to make a little change.

I just move forward and do what I know how to do and what I am teaching myself to do because I am constantly learning new things. It is about growing no matter my age. Am I engaged with my practice? I would say I am right now and I take advantage of every opportunity to demonstrate that. But time is fleeting and we don't know where things will be ten years from now. So I don't concentrate on that; I just concentrate on making work that I think counts for something.

Audio guides

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith 
Floor 5

Hear directly from artists and curators on selected works from the exhibition.

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Jaune Quick-to-See Smith
Floor 3

Hear directly from artists and curators on selected works from the exhibition.

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Exhibition Catalogue

Throughout her career as artist, activist, and educator, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (b. 1940) has forged a personal yet accessible visual language she uses to address environmental destruction, war, genocide, and the misreading of the past. An enrolled Salish member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation, Smith cleverly deploys elements of abstraction, neo-expressionism, and pop, fusing them with Indigenous artistic traditions to upend commonly held conceptions of historical narratives and illuminate absurdities in the formation of dominant culture. Her drawings, prints, paintings, and sculptures blur categories and question why certain visual languages attain recognition, historical privilege, and value, reflecting her belief that her “life’s work involves examining contemporary life in America and interpreting it through Native ideology.” Also central to Smith’s work and thinking is the land and she emphasizes that Native people have always been part of the land: “These are my stories, every picture, every drawing is telling a story. I create memory maps.” The publication illustrates nearly five decades of Smith’s work in all media, accompanied by essays and short texts by contemporary Indigenous artists and scholars on each of Smith’s major bodies of work.

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