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March 06, 2023

Acquisition: Sculpture by Marie Watt

Marie Watt, "Antipodes"

Marie Watt
Antipodes, 2020
vintage Italian beads, industrial felt, and thread
overall: 162.56 cm (64 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Funds from Sharon Percy Rockefeller and Senator John Davison Rockefeller IV
Image courtesy of the artist, Photograph by Kevin McConnell

The National Gallery of Art has acquired Antipodes (2020), a two-part beaded work by Marie Watt (Seneca Nation of Indians/European descent, b. 1967). The sculpture addresses the temporal, material, linguistic, and spatial constructs of distance in Indigenous culture. In her artistic practice, which draws from Native histories, knowledge, biography, and belief systems, Watt investigates past, present, and future in community to better connect to place and to one another.

Antipodes calls on the history and role of trading beads exchanged by Indigenous peoples and European settler colonists to examine ideas of cultural exchange. The work’s stepped design, made of pre-1920s Venetian glass beads that were sewn by hand to two felt backings, alludes to geometric patterns featured in traditional Native American cultural objects. It also suggests the step-back architecture used in 20th-century buildings to increase the natural light and public space that would otherwise be obscured by monolithic skyscrapers. Watt incorporates a word on each of the two beaded wall hangings. “Skywalker,” on the upper left element, honors the Khanawake Mohawk ironworkers who labored at great heights to build New York City’s bridges and skyscrapers in the late 19th and early 20th century. It also refers to the character Luke Skywalker from the Star Wars movie franchise, bringing the work into the contemporary realm. “Skyscraper,” on the lower right element, refers to the towering structure in the Native ironworkers’ story and the means of their separation from the ground, which brought them to celestial and legendary heights.

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