Back to the Future

Museum of Indian Arts and Culture Living Treasure Virgil Ortiz

When Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti) was named the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture’s 2022 recipient of the MIAC Living Treasure award, he had an unconventional reaction. “I had to take a step back,” Ortiz says quietly over the phone, “and see what it could be used for.”

His approach toward the designation is reflective of the community of ancestral potters who shaped him. “When I was 17, I realized it wasn’t about me, and how lucky I was to be born into a family of potters,” he says.

Thus, Ortiz says he plans to turn the spotlight toward other Indigenous artists in his cohort, “to let everybody know it is fine arts we are creating, not just arts and crafts.” He’s also preparing to launch a podcast that will bring attention to a new group of Indigenous artists.

In a year that will see the museum making bold strides into the future by reopening its permanent exhibition Here, Now and Always, Ortiz signifies the propulsive force of Native American art-making in a new era.

“It’s exciting,” says Matthew Martinez (Ohkay Owingeh), the museum’s interim director, of Ortiz’s MIAC Living Treasure honor. “It’s going to be a new direction. Virgil is such a next-media artist. He’s traditionally trained in Cochiti pottery, in that whole family legacy, but he does pottery, glasswork, fashion and videos. I don’t know what to expect, but it’s going to be amazing. He has no shortage of ideas.”

For example, Ortiz’s new media focus tells of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt through a futuristic timeline of 2180. This, he says, “allows me to create superheroes that will catch the eye of the next generation and teach them a history lesson.”

Ortiz’s virtuosity as a potter, sculptor, painter, fashion and jewelry designer, and futurist is encapsulated in the 2021 book Virgil Ortiz: reVOlution, co-authored by Charles S. King (Museum of New Mexico Press). Despite his daring breaks with tradition, the artist says, “The traditional works are at the heart and soul of everything I do. The traditional pottery is the nucleus, and all the other mediums orbit around it.”

An exhibition of works by Ortiz will be held in conjunction with the Native Treasures Art Market on Memorial Day weekend. Ortiz plans a spectacle that combines performance and the monumental figures he constructed last fall at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Montana.

Martinez says Ortiz’s cutting-edge preoccupations offer important messaging for our time. “His 1680 Pueblo Revolt series honors the past, but speaks to the future of survival and existence. It’s what the museum and the larger community need—an affirmation of why we exist and the beautiful traditions we come from.”



This article is from the Member News Spring 2022.

Image of Virgil Ortiz, 2022 MIAC Living Treasure. Works by Ortiz will be featured in an exhibition at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture as part of the Native Treasures Art Market on Memorial Day weekend. Photo courtesy of the artist.