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collage of images of and work by Nicholas Galanin

Nicholas Galanin | “Art can be so powerful. It can change the world." 
By Michelle Laver
December 3, 2021

In an exclusive interview with DDW, visual artist Nicholas Galanin goes in-depth over what multidiscipilary art entails.’

Art Basel is considered the world’s biggest art fair. Now, with its roots set in Miami, the show intends to shine a light on the top artists of our time and act as a driving force in supporting galleries and the roles they play in the careers of artists.

From woodwork, photography, sculpture, installation pieces and even physical performance, the fair attracts people from all over the world and brings art lovers, creators, collectors, and dealers together for a showcase of a lifetime.

“Art can be so powerful, it can change the world. It can influence, it can impact legislation, it can compact and change peoples lives or perspectives and even their realities.” – Nicholas Galanin

One artist, who is considered to be a highlight of the Miami weekend event, is displaying a number of his artworks for all to see. Peter Blum Gallery has been working with the artist for over a year and saw something exquisite within his inspiring cultural pieces.

“In 2011, we organized an exhibition with the title “Kindred Spirits: Native American Influences on 20th Century Art.” It included approximately 15 artists who moved to the Southwest for a part of their life - among others Georgia O’Keeffe, Max Ernst, Josef Albers, Agnes Martin, and Jackson Pollock. We felt that the exhibition must include a young contemporary Indigenous artist. We came upon the work of Nicholas Galanin and were immediately struck and excited by his insightful and intelligent art. We were thrilled to discover Nicholas’s work and have him be a big part of this show.” – David Blum, Director of Peter Blum Gallery

Yéil Ya-Tseen, commonly known as Nicholas Galanin is a Tlingit/Unangax╠é multi-disciplinary artist and musician from Sitka, Alaska.

His work often explores a dialogue of change and identity between Native and non-Native communities but overall engages contemporary culture from his perspective, rooted in connection to the land.

This year, Peter Blum Gallery is presenting a solo presentation of Galanin at the Galleries booth at the fair. This will join an extraordinary installation The Value of Sharpness in a curated section called Meridians.

The work will be on view in booth M12 from November 30 – December 4, 2021, at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

It’s been 11 months since the start of his latest project – a 24 foot hand-carved wooden canoe. ­­The completed piece is currently on route to a community called Juneau. From there it will be painted by the local youth.

However, Galanin recently took a break from his busy schedule to tell us more about his creative journey and what we can expect from his exhibit at the Art Basel Miami 2021 event.

Can you remember the first moment when you realised that art was your calling?

From an early age, it was very clear that I could not deny the joy of being part of a creative continuum.

Doing work was not something that I wanted to spend this life on in terms of working for other people in non-creative fields. I was 18-years-old and it was my last summer job that didn’t involve creative work.

During that time I was just sitting at a desk, collecting fees and welcoming visitors to this historical house and a National Park. There would be these very quiet moments where nobody was coming through so I would draw.

By this time I was studying the art form and I wanted to use any moment I could to fill in my sketchbooks. My boss approached me and told me that I could NOT practise drawing Tlingit cultural art. He told me that I could only read history books on Russian history.

This was the first time that someone told me that I couldn’t practise my cultural creativity – I was told that I could only read these colonial history books.

At that moment I said I QUIT and I never looked back.

What does your art mean to you?

For me it’s a form of freedom, it’s a form of voice and infinite possibility. I feel like I am still growing and just enjoying the process of that. It means everything to me. It’s connected to where I come from, where I live, the culture and the land.

In your opinion, how can contemporary art be more inclusive of native voices?

I think it’s the places that hold institutions and the places that have access to some of the spaces that provide a place for voices. You have to let us in.

Yes, it’s happening slowly but it is not happening fast enough.

If you look at the statistics of where opportunity and what collections value you will find that a lot of our artists are not included in those spaces. There is still so much more work that needs to be done institutionally.

Can you tell me a bit more about how you got involved in Art Basel this year and what we can expect at your booth?

Well, I am represented by Peter Blum Gallery. I have been working with them for a few years. I did my first solo exhibition with them in 2019/2020. The work that they do is what brought my work to Art Basel.

They reached out to me a year ago after I was planning the Meridians installation as well as a solo presentation. I have never been down there but I have seen images of my space and the event looks incredible.

They sent me images of my work displayed. There is quite a variation. Some from early years, mono prints like Familiar Faces, larger mono prints including the work of Let Them Enter Dancing and Showing Their Faces. 

White Noise, American Prayer Rug, Things Are Looking Native, Native’s Looking Whiter, Never Forget The Photo, Indian Children’s Bracelet, Architecture of return, Land Swipe and more.

I would love to go but I am working on a couple of projects back here and it doesn’t make sense to travel.

It’s nice to stay put. I have been constantly travelling for 20 years. It’s just nice to work and be home.

Why do you think the concept of Art Basel or contemporary art fairs are important?

I feel that it’s important to support artists and create spaces for that to happen. The exchange of supporting artists allows us to continue creating and continue the conversations that are hopefully at times often necessary.

The beauty of creating art and the necessity of creating objects is providing dialogue and space for these conversations to continue. Even though I am not there, the art can speak for itself and continue that dialogue. I feel like that’s the purpose of these things – to allow for engagement from other perspectives and to create some concepts to help support that.

What does the phrase ‘Don’t Die Wondering’ mean to you?

It means not to be afraid, investigate things and be curious. It’s a failure if you leave all your dreams or ideas on sketch pads only.

“With the size and importance of Art Basel Miami Beach, it gives us the opportunity to showcase Galanin’s brilliant work to the many collectors and curators attending.” – David Blum, Director of Peter Blum Gallery

View his solo presentation of work in Galleries Sector booth F10 and his single, largescale art installation in Meridians Sector booth M12.

For an online viewing room experience visit the Peter Blum Gallery website here.

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