Bently Spang

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Bently Spang
Born 1960 (age 56–57)
Crow Indian Reservation[1]
Occupation Multidisciplinary artist

Bently Spang (born 1960) is a Northern Cheyenne multidisciplinary artist, writer, and curator. His work has been exhibited widely in North America, South America, and Europe.[3]


Spang was born on the Crow Indian Reservation in 1960[1] and grew up both on and off the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, living in places such as Sitka, Alaska and Portland, Oregon.[4]:300 He graduated from Montana State University Billings and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.[5][6] He taught at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston from 2007 to 2009 as a full-time Visiting Faculty Member in Video.[7] The University of Wyoming's American Indian Study Program named Spang its "Eminent Artist in Residence" for the spring semester of 2014. During this time he taught a class on Native American art and held exhibitions at the university's art museum.[8] Spang now works as an independent artist and has a studio in Billings, Montana.[9]

Art work[edit]

Spang's early work included mixed media sculptures, often made out of metal, and installations. His later work focused on incorporating digital technologies such as film and photography.[2] Spang drew inspiration for his work in mixed media from how his Cheyenne ancestors incorporated European materials into their artwork; he has stated, "There was this fearlessness about mediums that we don't really have today."[6] Spang considers his art autobiographical, addressing his cultural identity as a Cheyenne living in a modern society and bridging the gap between these two worlds.[4]:288–289 Spang often adds humor to his works to help present these themes to his audience.[6]

For example, in his sculpture Pevah (meaning "good" in Cheyenne), Spang used stone and wood to signify the Cheyenne part of him, and he used aluminum to signify the contemporary world. In constructing the project, he explained, "The metal binds the stone, the wood binds them both. I am bound by my culture; we are still here after all."[4]:295 Another one of Spang's sculptures is inspired by the Cheyenne tradition of adorning the fringe of war shirts with the hairs from the warrior's community. The fringe on Spang's War Shirt #1 is likewise composed of the photographic negatives of people he knows to show that he draws his strength from the community.[10]

Spang collaborated with techno DJ Bert Benally to create the Techno Pow Wow, a mix of rave dance culture with into a traditional pow wow.[11] This piece was inspired by the 1990s electronic music movement. Spang claimed that the energy and effortless dancing reminded him of the pow wows at the reservation. Spang performed as part of this piece as "The Blue Guy", the tribal chief figure of the future.[12] Through the installation's mix of cultural music and dance, Spang hoped to showcase the similarities between Native American and modern culture.[1] In his New American Relics: Redux 2 (2009), Spang satirized museums and anthropologists' depiction of indigenous America as a "lost culture" using irony. He designed a futuristic museum exhibit for the "vit-heut" (meaning "white man" in Northern Cheyenne) with "artifacts" molded from the plastic encasings of ordinary modern objects.[3][6]

Awards and recognition[edit]

In 2003, Spang won an Outstanding Alumni Award from MSU Billings for "Exceptional Contribution"[13] and a Woodrow Wilson Foundation: Imagining America grant. The next year, he was awarded a Paul G. Allen Family Foundation Grant for his residency in conjunction with the Techno Powwow Project. Spang has also gained artist fellowships from the Creative Capital Foundation and the Joan Mitchell Foundation.[2]


  1. ^ a b c "Bently Spang: Techno Powwow". Creative Capital. New York, NY. Retrieved 20 December 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c Hoffman, Elizabeth Delaney (2012). "Leap of Faith". American Indians and Popular Culture, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger. p. 201. ISBN 978-0313379901. 
  3. ^ a b Mattes, Catherine. "Bently Spang". Museum of Contemporary Native Arts. Institute of American Indian Arts. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c Hansen, Emma I. (2007). Memory and Vision: Arts, Cultures, and Lives of Plains Indian People. Cody, Wyoming: Buffalo Bill Historical Center. ISBN 978-0-295-98580-0. 
  5. ^ "American Indian Housing Initiative Will Link Tribal and Academic Communities". College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. University of Wisconsin-Madison. 18 May 2005. Retrieved 21 December 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d Rod, Luann (11 March 2011). "Bently Spang examines culture with humor in Emerson installation". Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Bozeman, Montana. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  7. ^ "Bently Spang". SMFA Boston. Archived from the original on November 3, 2013. Retrieved March 25, 2013. 
  8. ^ "Spang is UW American Indian Studies Program Eminent Artist in Residence". University of Wyoming. 7 January 2014. Retrieved 28 August 2015. 
  9. ^ "bently spang". Yellowstone Art Museum. Retrieved 28 August 2015. 
  10. ^ Patricia A., Johnston (2006). Seeing High & Low: Representing Social Conflict in American Visual Culture. Berkeley, CA: University of California. pp. 138–9. ISBN 9780520241886. 
  11. ^ "Bently Spang: Techno Powwow: Overview". Creative Capital. New York, NY. Retrieved March 25, 2013. 
  12. ^ Larsen, Jessica Hunter (Fall 2007). "Tekcno Powwow: Ancient Rhythms for the I-Pod Generation" (PDF). La Tertulia. 23 (3). 
  13. ^ "Outstanding Alumni of the 2nd Millennium". Montana State University Billings. Archived from the original on 6 November 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 

External links[edit]