Robert Houle: Red Is Beautiful

The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. is proud to present the contemporary art of Robert Houle in his final exhibition location and the only venue in the United States.

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Robert Houle welcomes you to a sample of his large paintings located on the 3rd level gallery of the NMAI-Mall Museum in Washington D.C. The artist, Robert Houle (Saulteaux Anishinaabe, Sandy Bay First Nation, b. 1947), was warmly welcomed to Washington D.C. with a round of applause from museum patrons and Natives gathered in excited anticipation. The first major retrospective of Houle’s work, Red Is Beautiful celebrates more than fifty years of the artist’s remarkable career. 
Anishinaabe jingle dress dancers Misty Rose Nace and Jennifer Night Bird Miller in full traditional attire danced down a red and gray carpet leading honored guests into the opening preview of Robert Houle: Red Is Beautiful. Damon Bowe for the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

The exhibition consists of approximately 90 large installations and paintings created between 1970 and 2021. Houle’s pieces blend Canadian First Nations histories and aesthetics with modernism and contemporary conceptualism. A perfect example of this is Paris/Ojibwa (2010), a multimedia installation: oil on wood, oil on canvas and preceded by an urn filled with sage, sweetgrass and tobacco. Other iconic pieces Parfleches for the Last (1983), which addresses his respect for Indigenous spiritual traditions and Kanata (1992), an adaptation of Benjamin West’s The Death of General Wolfe.

Patrons gather at the entrance of the Red Is Beautiful exhibit. Damon Bowe for the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
Robert Houle was born in St. Boniface, Manitoba, Canada. He spent his early years in Kaa-wii-kwe-tawang-kak (aka Sandy Bay First Nation) on the western shore of Lake Manitoba, where he was surrounded by the Plains Ojibway community, culture, and language. Due to Canada’s Indian Act, Houle was forced to attend Catholic residential schools where he and his peers were assimilated away from their language and culture. In some of his paintings, Houle reveals his memories of abuse and being forcibly taken from his community and family. His piece Sandy Bay (1998-1999) gives a retrospect of this experience.
Robert Houle and Kay WalkingStick reflect the symbolism contained in one of his large paintings inside the gallery. Damon Bowe for the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

Throughout his career, Houle’s work has expressed what he values, the spiritual power of enduring Indigenous knowledge and history through Western and Indigenous artistic traditions. The result is a body of work he calls “transcultural.” Today the National Museum of the American Indian is proud to exhibit Red Is Beautiful by internationally recognized Indigenous artist, curator, and writer Robert Houle.

Robert Houle, Red is Beautiful, 1970. Acrylic on Canvas, 45.5 x 61 cm. Canadian Museum of History, V-F-174, IMAGE2017-0112-0003-Dm ©