Land of the free?

The McLellan Gallery’s new show features priceless artefacts never before seen in Europe, boasts the latest in infra-red technology and cost £2 million to stage. But does it do justice to the story of the indigenous peoples who survived Columbus? Miranda France finds out.

“m; f 1 ~ / decidedly upbeat. Different rooms evoke different >~ p , , cmvwv l "Wm a" regional settings. One, a showcase for Central Exhibitions that endeavour to educate, as well as "179” “VG/7‘ ) g; 1/ a, , American artefacts, is laid out like a shrine, and entertain, inevitably come up against an obstacle: WV , 5’ the accompanying» brOOding mUSiC i5 50 evocative words. However interesting the material, however i .' 3 / ““n some that it is tempting not to move on. The North . . . e a g . . . . seductive the hands-on gimmicks and colourful V .. v. R a ,n 9““6 . _ American section 18 dominated by a tOtem pOIe. displays, where a series of panels of text is integral 7’ fifidtmm v” c x" ' / (7 / especially commissioned from a young Vancouver to a show, attentions will waver. The McLellan ~ W ‘32:" //”5:;T:16/ /‘. artist. There are head-dresses, leather garments, ' c - , .mflrdoofi L‘u ' " \J 4, _. o . . Gallery rather cleverly pastiched the educational twin-V13." a... W. ; x x as, g ( a weapons and a Sit-1n teepee. The various wooden exhibition idea this time last year with David flyover W (aim , f objects exude a heady smell. Kemp’s The Tribe thatheld the Sky Up, in which ' L' ‘t x. 1-- Me's" “j/ saga _,,,,,,,__, In his introduction to a book which accompanies phoney masks, costumes and artefacts were “WW ‘1 \~~’wzahor7'1“/S‘"’§5fl¥?"5:‘\:"‘"‘° . the exhibition, Americas Lost, the great displayed in earnest glass cases, meticulously gm“ 3% octogenarian philosopher and anthropologist \ ,fin FONT-0‘ IROOUOIS , . . labelled and catalogued. pic-‘0?» m. '0' m“;wa ./ 2: infr- : {/4 Claude Lew-Strauss talks of the deliberate < " “MST”?- l,l:.-§3:~/,.._-f/&TQ 1' 1 blindness’ of America’s early discoverers. ‘In both . I; :3, Sit-1" "‘c4'5~<acr"°£..°;‘ “Vs. ". Americas, these white men effectivel saw a table Here there Is little opportunity to forget our 3 m g W], x. #5 SC, forthem whm theycouldsatisfytfiei, forefathers greed. I ~"”‘-‘_ ‘5’ \‘x In“ 3'3"“ \‘Q rapacious appetites. Is there any need to recall the ' 3°" < " . .. ‘3’} ,7 giant profits that they made?’

Home of the Brave The Story of Native ' "ta New“ ' ,9 Here there is little opportunity to forget our Americans since Columbus is very much for real, 3 ' * Q” ' . is“ u’ mm a,“ // forefathers’ greed. Many of these exquisite silver multi-media, multi-million extravaganza designed l I f s p - ,1 . and gold objects and pieces of jewellery come to put the McLellan on the international map (the l \ MW '3“ . z from European museums, not their countries 0f exhibition will tour to the Continent and Mexico). a.” mfg, ,3 sum-«s way \\ origin, and the exhibition winds up with an ironic But this time the gallery has bypassed the 7 ' JFWVPW “L “5‘” look at the way in which the Amerindian way of stumbling block of text panels altogether by 5,, ‘\ \ life became packaged. sold and misportrayed in equipping each visitor with a personal headset. As 3’ 6",, a, “we, \gJ’ American Westerns. There is also an end-piece, you move through the exhibition, watching a an epilogue perhaps, which feels gratineg series of video ‘chapters’ and looking at artefacts, 709: 3mm!” "will" t0 7'8"" to ho baptised mawkish portraits of Indians shown suspended in infra-red sensors in each room automatically “0": n” mm Mb" I" "w “u M "on" ""9"" a large cage ' bu‘ Wi” “like many 35 POIgnam. switch you onto the right narrative or, where says of the experience, ‘people were absolutely ‘I feel that in this exhibition you see the centuries appropriate, play atmospheric background music enraptured. I thought, “these are people who can roll past’, says Spalding. ‘You feel that you’ve to accompany your browsing. tell a story”.’ He intends to make use of the new experienced 500 years of history’. That‘s a tall

If this were a commercial for washing powder, it technology in future exhibitions and, order. Home of the Brave is certainly not the whole should now be said that the new method is twice as interestingly, in permanent museum displays. story there is little, for example to tell us of the effective as the old one given a certain initial Spalding was keen that Home of the Brave lives of contemporary Latin Americans. But this is disorientation - and the hour or so it takes to walk should begin with Columbus’s arrival and show hair-splitting. This is theatre, art, film and music through the show does not weigh as heavy as one something of the devastation wreaked on the rolled into one an evocative , sensual, experience would expect of something so instructive, indigenous peoples of America since then, ending that appeals on many different levels. For its

The technology is pioneered by the Fondation with the shaming present-day situation, in which content, for its ground-breaking technology, and Mecenat Science et Art, of Strasbourg, who were North American settlers have the run of their for what it says about the McLellan’s own future, it invited to collaborate on Home of the Brave by countries while the indigenous people are is a show that demands to be seen.

Julian Spalding, Director of Glasgow Museums, confined to ‘reservations’, as if they were Home of the Brave: The Story of the Native after he saw their Memoires d’Egypte show in picturesque, but troublesome , animals. Americans since Columbus is at the McLellan France last year. ‘I’ve never seen a show like it’, he Having said that, the tone of the show is Gallery, Glasgow, until 20 Sept


50 The List 22 May— 4 June 1992