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James Luna (1950–2018)

Installation and performance artist James Luna has died. Luna, who was of Puyukitchum, Ipai, and Mexican American Indian descent, passed away on March 3, 2018. The artist interrogated the various dimensions of American Indian culture through his work, creating sites and experiences that would “transform gallery spaces into battlefields,” according to Luna’s website.

Luna has had more than forty solo shows and participated in eighty-five group exhibitions. His work was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the New Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario; among other institutions. He was also the recipient of numerous awards, including a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation in 2017; a grant from Art Matters in 2014; an honorary Ph.D. from Santa Fe’s Institute of American Indian Arts in 2011; a Distinguished Visiting Faculty Award from the University of California, Davis, in 1994; and a Bessie Creator Award from the New York Dance Theatre Workshop in 1991.

“Luna has created a space for ritual from ordinary materials, many of which represent suffering and poverty,” said critic Laura U. Marks in her review of the artist’s show at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles for the October 1996 issue of Artforum. “The crutches refer to the crippling diabetes common on reservations; one can imagine golf clubs scavenged from a course bordering Indian land, and TVs salvaged for the tube that still transmits a shadow of an image, even if the picture is purple. Onto a screen behind the group were projected archival photos of Native men, contemporary images featuring traditional dress, and pictures of stars and planets. These last, well-worn references to ‘cosmic connectedness’ are yet more material for Luna’s polemical recycling. Slides that showed Luna, in boots and shorts under traditional dress, holding aloft a boom box and various tools, made literal the artist’s suggestion that Indian survival is a matter for the bricoleur’s cunning.”