Museum Admission: Frohawk Two Feathers at MCA Denver

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Denver is an institution and space that is not to be missed – as is the case with Denver itself.  Nestled near the South Platte River, Union Station, LoDo, and Commons Park, MCA is a wide-open, three-story exhibition space that has cultivated an innovative and energetic program, thanks to its visionary director Adam Lerner and its entire team.

View of MCA Denver. Image courtesy of Taylor De Cordoba.

On June 21st, MCA hosted Frohawk Two Feathers’ (NAP #73) first solo museum show opening. Co-curated by Nora Burnett Abrams and Tricia Robson, Frohawk’s We Buy Gold, We Buy Everything, We Sell Souls, features 20+ paintings on both paper and stretched leather.  The leather sculptures include drums and stretched panels on wood.  And at times, the feaux-aged paper also appears sculptural with its deep divots and contours. - Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor

Frohawk Two Feathers | W.G.K.T.A. (Wolf Gang Kill Them All), 2012, ink, acrylic, coffee, and tea on paper, 60" x 44.5", Image courtesy of Taylor De Cordoba.

Frohawk Two Feathers | W.G.K.T.A. (Wolf Gang Kill Them All) – DETAIL. Image courtesy of Taylor De Cordoba.

With recent gallery shows in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., New York, and South Africa, Frohawk Two Feathers has continued to reveal and recount contiguous installments in his ever-evolving Frenglish saga.  Reimagining history, he plays with historical facts and fictions in retelling an invented past where France and England once united in the 1800s.  Often an oppositional combination of humor, violence, and solemnity, his work easily draws audiences in. Complex and layered, his work, at times, is hard to follow chronologically and logically (if one’s mind works in a strictly linear fashion).  This confusion can arise because his stories and saga installments time-travel and geographically-travel between exhibitions and cities, taking tumultuous turns throughout intricately recrafted and recast historical battles.

Frohawk Two Feathers |  Mamacitas Carry Real Heaters.“ Christina “Tina” Little Bear, a mestizo interpreter and skilled fighter for Chief Calm Arrow, 2012, ink, acrylic, coffee, and tea on paper, 44" x 30", Image courtesy of Taylor De Cordoba.

However, ultimate knowledge of the Frenglish Empire is not needed to appreciate his work.  In fact, Frohawk’s own understanding of the empire itself often changes as he discovers and invents new key players and places, seeing where the characters and their emotional turmoils and conundrums lead him.

Denver seemed to be a logical place for this latest installment of empire.  As Frohawk Two Feathers describes in the exhibit’s brochure, “The only constant in Frengland is war…However constant warfare and colonization comes at a cost—namely, the complete disintegration of Frenglish dominance in the region.  This power vacuum allows the Spanish crown to reassert its dominance over Nueva Espana (Mexico and Central America) and Nueva Granada (Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador).”

Frohawk Two Feathers | Map of New Spain and Various Indian Fiefs 1794, 2012, ink, acrylic, coffee, and tea on paper, 50" x 50", Image courtesy of Taylor De Cordoba.

Thus bringing his work and narrative to North America and the U.S., with the artist even making a specific map about Colorado itself.

While I was walking through Denver, at such galleries as the David Cook Galleries and in Commons Park, I was often reminded of the artist’s work at MCA.  I came across a park sign giving a brief history of the Southern Arapaho Native Americans who had first lived in the area. The story read like that of Frengland’s menacing tales of empire, disease, and woe.  Or more aptly, Frohawk’s stories read like true historical accounts that have not been whitewashed in the history books.

View of David Cooke Gallery. Image courtesy of Ellen C. Caldwell.

Sign from Commons Park. Image courtesy of Ellen C. Caldwell.

This particular sign in the park even mentioned that the Arapaho in Denver were referred to as the “Tattooed people” because of their ancient tattooing system.  This immediately reminded me of one of Frohawk’s instructive paintings that recounts the Frenglish imperial tattoo system, demarcating individuals’ passions, family ties, violent histories, and militia companies served.

Frohawk Two Feathers | They killed my father man. Jacques Charbonneau Jr. Tracker, scout and trader., 2012, Ink, acrylic, coffee, and tea on paper, 44" x 30", Image courtesy of Taylor De Cordoba.

Ranging from the birth of the Frenglish Empire (2006) to the very contemporary 2012, We Buy Gold is not just the first solo museum show of Frohawk’s work, but it is somewhat of a retrospective of his work to date.

Frohawk Two Feathers | Emperor Nancy Heckled by his Peers, 2006, acrylic on canvas, 48” x 36”, Image courtesy of Taylor De Cordoba.

Seeing one of his earliest works “Emperor Nancy Heckled by his Peers” from 2006, next to another portrait from 2009, and then against the backdrop of all the most current works, I was reminded of how Frohawk’s styles, subjects, and portraits have changed and developed over the past six years.  And seeing them in Denver and at the MCA made the exhibit even more enjoyable.  Recently, there has been much to do, fuss, and snobby questioning over why the current YSL retrospective would have ever landed in Denver (“of all places!”).  But after this trip, I got it.  The city has a deeply rooted history while it is also burgeoning, and its people are craving, demanding, and creating an interactive art scene that makes me want to visit again and again.

Installation view of MCA, Denver. Image courtesy of Taylor De Cordoba.

Highlights of the show include an epic battle scene featuring Lady Liberty in W.G.K.T.A. (Wolf Gang Kill Them All), the newest Denver map Map of New Spain and Various Indian Fiefs 1794, and such portraits as “Mamacitas Carry Real Heaters” and “They killed my father man.”


Frohawk Two Feathers’ We Buy Gold, We Buy Everything, We Sell Souls runs at MCA Denver now through September 9, 2012.  Frohawk will be giving an artist’s lecture in Denver on July 18th.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.

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