the golden rain
MARCH 2020-JANUARY 2021
Danaë Receiving the Golden Rain (2015) by Kent Monkmanfeatures the figure of Monkman’s genderfluid alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle in a woodland setting: reclining nude on a boulder adjacent to a stream, wearing her trademark Christian Louboutin stiletto heels. In the background you see the depiction of a stag, an image utilized often throughout the Western art historical canon as a symbol of fertility. Invoking a passage in Ovid’s Metamorphosis (published 8 BCE), Monkman portrays a narrative in which an oracle informs King Acrisius that his daughter, Danaë, will bear a son who will kill him. King Acrisius attempts to avoid his fate by imprisoning his daughter in a bronze chamber outfitted with only a skylight to allow for oxygen and illumination. Danaë’s imprisonment is interrupted by the lust of the god Zeus, whose desire for Danaë is not stopped by Acrisius’s actions. He takes the form of golden rain, enters the chamber through the skylight and impregnates her. The child would be born as Perseus, who eventually fulfills the prophecy and kills King Acrisius. Monkman is one of many of artists who have depicted this tableau, including Titian, Rembrandt van Rijn, Anthony van Dyke, Gustav Klimt and Orazio Gentileschi. Concurrently, the visuality of the work is reminiscent of artists from the Hudson River School, such as Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Church and Thomas Cole, all of whom attempted to capture Edmund Burke’s heady notion of the sublime into their landscapes during the 19th century. Burke’s definition of the sublime was a combination of beauty and terror which created an overwhelming sense of awe. To add layer to this, the idea of land in the 19th century was centered around the colonial notion of wildernessas vacant land, therefore justifying manifest destiny. If an understanding of wilderness equates to the land being uninhabited upon arrival,ignoring the millions of Indigenous peoples who lived on Turtle Island (North America) pre-contact,thenthat landis there for the taking. By utilizing Hudson River School imagery, Monkman fights against colonial understandings of the land. The insertion of Miss Chief, whom Monkman describes as “a time-traveling, shape-shifting, supernatural being who reverses the colonial gaze to challenge preconceived notions of history and Indigenous peoples,” into the “wilderness” allows the artist to participate in a formal action of space-making in the history of art. Instrumentalizing the persona of Miss Chief, who can lithely move across time and space, Monkman interrogates the art historical canon as a means to “authorize Indigenous experience both historic and contemporary into this canon of art history.” By doing so, Monkman unsettles romanticized notions of Indigenous peoples from Turtle Island and refutes notions of disappearance.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Kent Monkman (Cree, b. 1965) is an esteemed contemporary painter and multidisciplinary artist who has exhibited his work at prestigious institutions globally including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Musée des Beaux-Arts Montréal, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and Palais de Tokyo in Paris. He made his United States debut at the Heard Museum in 2007. Monkman is known for his engagement with the Western European and Settler-American art historical canon, including movements like the Hudson River School and American academic painting. He appropriates those modalities of representation in painting,intervenes in the colonial depiction of Indigenous bodies and landscapes,and inserts new meanings and narratives including themes of Indigenous sexuality and sovereignty.