Jaune Quick-to-See Smith

[09 Jun 2023]

An auction record hammered at $642,600 last November, five times the high estimate and four canvases sold at over $400,000 each since the start of 2023: Jaune Quick-to-See Smith – absent from Artprice’s market rankings just a few years ago – now finds herself among the 300 most successful artists in the world in 2023.


I’m a miracle, and any Native person here is a miracle.” (Jaune Smith, quoted by Joshua Hunt in his article “Jaune Quick-to-See Smith Maps New Meanings” in the New York Times Style Magazine, 2 December 2021)


Native American artist and activist Jaune Quick-to-See SMITH has been making art since the mid-1970s and exploring collage since the 1990s. She uses her collage technique as a metaphor for investigating visibility, between what holds the surface and what could emerge. As a young woman from the Confederate Salish and Kootenai nation of Montana, she first followed an artistic education in parallel with small jobs necessary for her subsistence: waitress, secretary and janitor. Now, after more than 80 solo exhibitions over the past three decades, her reputation is growing rapidly.

The year of her 80th birthday, in 2020, she became the first Native American artist to have one of her works purchased by the National Gallery of Art in Washington. After that, players in the art market – collectors and auction houses alike – reacted. Slowly at first, with four works sold during 2020 for a total of $52,500, then more firmly in 2022, with 26 works sold, generating an annual turnover exceeding a million dollars ($1.14 million).

Geographical distribution of auction turnover from sales of works by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (copyright Artprice.com)

This year, the Whitney Museum of American Art is hosting the artist’s first New York retrospective. Memory Map brings together nearly five decades of Smith’s drawings, prints, paintings and sculptures in the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of her career to date.

Her $642,600 auction record rewarded a highly political work

“I See Red: Talking to the Ancestors”, the work that fetched $642,600 (vs. a mid-range estimate of $100,000) on November 17 in New York last year, was presented by Christie’s as “one of her most powerful paintings”. Combining abstraction and figuration with fragments of newspapers, the work is reminiscent of Picasso’s famous collages, but also of works by Paul Klee, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Because, if Jaune Quick-to-See Smith first honors Native American history to bear witness to a cultural universe that is her own, she has also absorbed the codes of Western art via Abstraction, American Pop Art and Neo-Expressionism. It is therefore with a strong and singular creativity that this artist joins an Art History written by others, and, more recently, an art market now convinced that it is necessary to repair “omissions” in this Art History. Jaune Smith is finally stepping out of the shadows in the art market, and her success should pave the way for other Native American artists of her caliber.

Christie’s continues the description of the work I See Red: Talking to the Ancestors with some indications about Smith’s approach: “Painted in 1994, the present work is part of Smith’s I See Red series, which began in response to the quincentenary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas in 1992. The color red is symbolic in Smith’s practice. She uses red to contrast the symbolism of white as innocence within Native American history. Similarly, the color red not only refers to the anger caused by the quotidian indignity facing many Indigenous populations but also a derogatory label for Native Americans. Alternatively, red is also a significant color in the dances and ceremonies of Indigenous cultures across the world, used to mark and protect bodies and objects of importance.

Although the market clearly appreciates Jaune Smith’s cultural and symbolic testimony, it also values Smith’s deep commitment to her Native American cause as she has always campaigned to promote Native American artists and their culture. The Whitney Museum of American Art, which is exhibiting her work until 13 August 2023, recalls that Smith “has led and initiated some of the most pressing dialogues around land, racism, and cultural preservation – issues at the forefront of contemporary life and art today”. Already, in 1977, while she was a student, she joined the Gray Canyon collective aimed at improving the general public’s limited understanding of contemporary Aboriginal art, then she co-founded, some fifteen years later, the collective Coup Marks, which organized exhibitions of Indigenous art in numerous galleries in New York, Montana and Washington D.C. Having supported her peers, it is now her turn to be recognised by major American institutions. Her works are notably in the permanent collections of the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), the MoMA (New York), the Brooklyn Museum (New York) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), in addition to the Whitney.