Contemporary Art, Historical Resonance | Current UCSB

A year and a half ago, Gabriel Ritter visited the Chris Sharp gallery in Los Angeles in the hope of discovering compelling new art. He didn’t expect to be enchanted by a garment.

“This jacket stopped me in my tracks,” he recalled. “It’s almost a long story. It looks like a punk jacket, or a motorcycle jacket made for a giant.”

As soon as he began to examine it, he realized that there was much more to the work than its size.

It was adorned with patches covered in letters and symbols—a mix of images that evoked the past and the present, the personal and the political, ancient traditions and contemporary pop culture.

“That really caught my attention,” he recalls. Not only was it aesthetically stunning, but it was also a fractured portrait of Native American life and art, in all its complex variety. “It is,” he concluded, “a monument of survival.”

Ritter was in Southern California from Minnesota to interview for the position of director of the Museum of Art Design and Architecture (AD&A) at UC Santa Barbara. When he took over the job in September, he looked at the exhibition calendar and noticed an opening for a year later. He decided it would be the perfect time for his first AD&A show as a curator—a study of art by the creator of the colossal jacket, Los Angeles-based artist Ishi Glinsky.

The exhibition, “Ishi Glinsky: On a Serrated Labyrinth,” is open now through January 22, 2023. Its centerpiece is, of course, “Coral Jacket vs. The piece, now part of the permanent collection at UCLA’s Hammer Museum, is one of 25 works by Glinsky included in the AD&A show.

Glinsky, 40, was born in Tucson, Arizona, to a mother of German descent and a father who is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. He embraced his Native American heritage from a young age, dancing in traditional Powwows as a teenager and donning his regalia to do so.

“For the last 16 years, he’s lived and worked in Los Angeles, but he hasn’t had a museum exhibit in that time,” Ritter said. “Since I see creating a regional dialogue on contemporary art as one of my jobs here, this seemed like a great opportunity – and very much on brand for the vision I want to craft for this institution.”

Ritter, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Art History and Architecture at UC Santa Barbara, describes Glinsky as “a Native American artist with one foot in contemporary art and the other foot in the traditions of many indigenous nations.” Like his cultural forebears, he uses everyday items in his work—Ritter jokes that he uses Home Depot as a kind of art supply store—as well as found objects and junk ranging from skateboard wheels to keys. of the skeleton.

“His work is comparable to Claes Oldenburg, in that he plays with scale,” Ritter said. “In Ish’s case, it’s to draw attention to these largely overlooked traditions and practices of art making. He literally creates larger-than-life pieces, so people can’t help but notice them and pay attention.”

“The works presented here are an intertribal celebration of heritage,” Glinsky said, adding that he hopes to introduce viewers to or expand their knowledge of indigenous movements, history and artistic traditions, including crafts.

One such movement is the “Art of the Book,” which Glinsky includes in several pieces in the show. This art form appeared in the 19th– century accounting books, “books that were traded between settlers and Native Americans of the Plains states,” Ritter said. “They became the repository of a new language of visual storytelling. We hope the works will start a conversation about this art form and its history.”

Since this is Glinsky’s first museum show, Ritter had no guide on how to present his art, and he and the artist had many conversations before deciding on an early career retrospective.

“There are a series of paintings, sculptural works, works on paper and a series of necklaces,” Ritter said. “They, again, have grown tremendously.”

“Looking at the past, or in the mirror, is a bit of a journey,” Glinsky said. “Seeing this work at UCSB has allowed me to actively stop and retrace my steps. What is seen and seen is in my DNA.”

After mounting the show, Ritter faced another challenge: creating descriptive labels that would put the works in context. He enlisted the help of Kendall Lovely, a Ph.D. student in history at UC Santa Barbara, whose research focuses on indigenous history and material culture in the U.S. Together, they sought to “guide a general audience through these works” by describing Glinsky’s artistic techniques and the historical traditions from which he draws .

For example, some of the necklaces in the show reference pieces from the Santo Domingo tribe in New Mexico — “necklaces that are called ‘battery birds,’ because they were originally made using pieces of plastic taken from car batteries,” Ritter said. “Ishi’s use of found materials is an echo of these earlier practices. It’s a kind of homage, while also being part of his actual practice.”

But not every reference is historical: There are also calls to the rap group Public Enemy and such modern-day political organizations as the American Indian Movement. “What I find so interesting about Ish’s work is that it refuses to be just one thing,” Ritter said. “It asks the viewer to consider the multiplicity of its meaning.”

That said, Glinsky’s work can also be appreciated on a more fundamental level: it’s pleasing to the eye. “These works are crafted with precision and beauty,” Ritter said. “But they are also filled with great meaning and significance. They tell stories about traditions that have been left out of the contemporary art conversation and deserve to be recognized.”


“Ishi Glinsky: On a Serrated Labyrinth” is on display through January 22, 2023 at the AD&A Museum on the campus of UC Santa Barbara. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Entry is free. For more information, visit or call 805-893-2951.

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