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Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer

Feb 28 – May 12 2019

Seattle Art Museum

Simonyi Special Exhibition Galleries

I am alive
You are alive
They are alive
We are living

–Jeffrey Gibson

The first major museum exhibition of contemporary artist Jeffrey Gibson, Like a Hammer presents a significant selection of the prolific artist’s evocative and meticulous works created since 2011. Blending traditional elements of Native American art with contemporary art and popular culture references, the 65 works on view include geometric paintings on rawhide and canvas, a significant number of works from Gibson’s beaded punching-bag series, large and mid-sized sculpture, wall hangings, video, and multi-media installations.

A contemporary artist of both Choctaw and Cherokee descent, Gibson’s art draws on his Native heritage and reflects his own multi-faceted, multi-cultural identity. “It’s important for me to find the places where I’m not looking to adhere to cultural definitions around what it means to be Indigenous. Instead I’m looking to provoke an awareness of how meaning shifts from one context to another,” Gibson states. In his work, traditional Native items and materials, such as glass beads, drums, trade blankets, and metal jingles used to decorate powwow regalia coexist with elements of modernist abstraction, minimalism, and pattern and decoration. Utilizing bold patterns, bright colors, and painstaking detail, Gibson creates a unique and pervasive visual vocabulary.

Words play an important role in Gibson's work. Lines from poems, his own writing, and song lyrics take on new meaning within the diverse inspirations in Like a Hammer. The text referenced above is Gibson's original writing and is a statement at once specific and inclusive, much like the artwork that it is embroidered into.

Gibson draws from his work as a research assistant in the 1990s upholding the Native American Graves Protections and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), a law that enforces the return of human remains, grave offerings, and sacred objects. This sparked his life-long exploration of the colonial and post-colonial mindset and an interest in the value and cultural significance of objects and rituals. Since then he has been weaving contemporary alternative subcultures and historical tribal traditions into a vast array of artistic mediums.

About the Artist

Jeffrey Gibson received a BA from Art Institute of Chicago (1995) and an MFA from the Royal College of Art, London. He was recently artist in residence at California College of Arts and has taught studio art at Bard College. His art is in the collections of MFA Boston, Nasher Museum of Art, National Gallery of Canada, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and Denver Art Museum; and recent solo shows at National Academy Museum in New York, Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, and the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center. Gibson has participated in Greater New York, Prospect New Orleans, Site Santa Fe, and has been a TED Foundation Fellow and Joan Mitchell Grant recipient.

Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer is organized by the Denver Art Museum. SAM is the second stop on the exhibition's national tour.

Special exhibitions at SAM are made possible by donors to

Lead Sponsor

Major Sponsors
Bette and David Sprague Exhibition Endowment

Supporting Sponsors
Ellen Ferguson
Muckleshoot Indian Tribe
Port Madison Enterprises
The Stranger

Additional Support
Lummi Indian Business Council
Puyallup Tribe of Indians
Tulalip Cares Foundation

Image: Like A Hammer, 2014, Jeffrey Gibson, Mississippi Band Choctaw/Cherokee, b. 1972, elk hide, glass beads, artificial sinew, wool blanket, metal studs, steel, found pinewood block, and fur, 56 x 24 x 11 in., Collection of Tracy Richelle High and Roman Johnson, courtesy of Marc Straus Gallery, New York, image courtesy of Jeffrey Gibson Studio and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California, photo: Peter Mauney.

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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