los-angeles

James Luna

ICA - Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

James Luna once lay in a vitrine of the kind found in natural-history museums, a live exhibit, his scars from drunken accidents marked with little labels. And in a videotape of a Christmas Eve spent at home on the Luiseño reservation in California (made in 1993 with filmmaker Isaac Artenstein), Luna was the picture of abjection, going through a six-pack and innumerable cigarettes while making abortive telephone calls to loved ones. The bleakness in I.una’s work has functioned as a protective camouflage, as a way of saying, “There’s no transcendence here, no Indian spirituality to salve your souls. We’re in trouble, too. Go away.”

In contrast to these previous works, Luna’s recent installation at the Santa Monica Museum of Art was positively cheery. Where his earlier work has deflected outsiders’ romantic projections onto Native American culture, “The Dream Hat Ritual” invited viewers to

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