First Major Retrospective for Artist Robert Houle To Go on View at the National Museum of the American Indian

Exhibition Celebrates More Than 50 Years of the Artist’s Work
May 19, 2023
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detail from Robert Houle painting

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., will open “Robert Houle: Red is Beautiful” May 25. It is the first major retrospective of Robert Houle’s (Saulteaux Anishinaabe, Sandy Bay First Nation, b. 1947) work and covers more than 50 years of his career. The exhibition, which is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario and curated by Wanda Nanibush (Anishinaabe-kwe, Beausoleil First Nation), will be on view until June 2, 2024.

A colorist primarily working in oil, Houle’s work has brought his Indigenous cultural heritage together with Euro-American ways of making and thinking about art, a result he calls “transcultural.” The exhibition includes large installations, paintings, video, mixed-media sculpture and drawings created between 1970 and 2021.

The exhibition is divided into themes that more deeply explore Houle’s work at various points in his career. These include “Beyond History Painting,” which sees Houle inserting an Indigenous perspective into historic events, and “Sacred Geometry,” where the artist’s work fuses modernist painting and ancestral design to create powerful expressions of emotion. In “Residential School Years,” Houle explores his childhood memories of the trauma he experienced while at Sandy Bay Residential School. Other themes examine tribal sovereignty and its defense and the spiritual legacy of the Anishinaabe people.

Some of the works featured in the exhibition are “Red is Beautiful” (1970), the piece for which the exhibition is named; “Kanata” (1992), a reimagining of Benjamin West's famed painting “The Death of General Wolfe”; “Parfleches for the Last Supper” (1983), a group of 13 acrylic paintings representing Jesus and his apostles; and “The Pines” (2002 to 2004), which was created in support of the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) defense of Kanehsatake, their tribal territories near Montreal.

“Robert Houle: Red is Beautiful” is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario. Support is provided by the Canada Council for the Arts and Ameriprise Financial.

Media Preview

The National Museum of the American Indian will hold a media preview Tuesday, May 23, from 9 to 11 a.m. Members of the media wishing to attend need to RSVP to

“Robert Houle: Red is Beautiful” Artists’ Conversation

The museum will host an artists’ conversation Saturday, June 3, at 11 a.m. featuring Houle,  Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee Nation, b. 1935) and Nanibush, the exhibition’s curator. The panel will be moderated by David Penney, the National Museum of the American Indian’s associate director for museum research, scholarship and public engagement.


The exhibition is accompanied by the fully illustrated hardcover catalog “Robert Houle: Red is Beautiful.” It features essays by Houle’s niece Ala Goodwill, Gerald Vizenor, Mark Cheetham, Michael Bell, Jessica Horton and Nanibush, as well as intimate recollections and tributes from fellow artists WalkingStick, Duke Redbird, Jamelie Hassan, Ron Benner and Faye HeavyShield and curators Penney and Stephen Borys. The catalog is co-published by the Art Gallery of Ontario and DelMonico Books/D.A.P. 

About the National Museum of the American Indian

In partnership with Native peoples and their allies, the National Museum of the American Indian fosters a richer shared human experience through a more informed understanding of Native peoples. The museum strives toward equity and social justice for the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere through education, inspiration and empowerment. Through two locations, it features exhibitions and programs in New York City and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. For additional information, including hours and directions, visit Follow the museum via social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

About the Art Gallery of Ontario

Located in Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario is one of the largest art museums in North America, attracting approximately 1 million visitors annually. The AGO collection of more than 120,000 works of art ranges from cutting-edge contemporary art to significant works by Indigenous and Canadian artists to European masterpieces. The AGO presents wide-ranging exhibitions and programs, including solo exhibitions and acquisitions by diverse and underrepresented artists from around the world. The AGO is committed to being welcoming and accessible: admission is free for anyone under 25 years, and anyone can purchase an annual pass for $35. In 2022, the AGO began the design phase of an expansion project intended to increase exhibition space for the museum’s growing modern and contemporary collection. When construction begins in 2024, it will be the seventh expansion that the AGO has undertaken since it was founded in 1900. Visit to learn more.

The AGO is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Additional operating support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts and generous contributions from AGO Members, donors and private-sector partners.

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Becky Haberacker


Lisa Austin