Friday, September 30, 2016

Branding the American West

Brigham Young University Museum of Art Norfolk, Virginia,
Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016 through Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017

Discover a bonanza of Western paintings, films, and sculptures in the Chrysler Museum of Art's fall keynote exhibition. Branding the American West: Paintings and Films, 1900–1950 features classic images of cowboys, Native Americans, mountains and deserts. Though many of the works closely correspond to most Americans' ideas of the "Wild West," the show also includes artworks that challenge those popular views.

Headlining this stampede of more than 100 works of art are iconic images by Frederic Remington, Charles Marion Russell, and N. C. Wyeth. These master illustrators created a visual "brand" for the frontier as a land filled with adventure and rugged individualism. Turn-of-the-century city dwellers adored nostalgic fantasies of the Wild West, but as this show reveals, some artists challenged these stereotypes and acknowledged the taming and modernizing of the region.

Since the Chrysler Collection has very few works of Western art within its sweeping American art galleries, "an exhibition of this scope and scale brings something new to our audiences. It transports visitors across the country—and back in time—to a place of mystery, beauty, and sometimes danger and contradictions."

Paintings and novels about the Wild West fueled tourism and immigration to the region, particularly Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. Branding the American West explores this moment of change, considering how the arrival of railroads, automobiles, and industry shifted the character of Western art.

Painters discovered the bright sunlight and rich colors of the Southwest and responded with experimental and abstract styles of artmaking, as seen in

Maynard Dixon's Mesas in Shadow (1926) 

and other sweeping vistas. The show features more than a dozen powerful landscapes by Dixon, who described his work as capturing the West's "sense of sun and space and silence—of serenity—of strength and freedom."

Maynard Dixon, Round Dance, 1931, oil on canvasboard, 15 7/16 x 19 7/8 in., Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Herald R. Clark

Some of the finest paintings in this exhibition were created in Taos, N.M., a Pueblo village that developed a vibrant colony of artists beginning in the 1910s. These artists' appreciation for both the landscape and cultural history of the West is evident in works like

Joseph Henry Sharp's Council Call of the Crow, 

a magnificent sunset view of an Indian camp. Other works by the Taos painters celebrate the extraordinary craftsmanship and design of Native pottery, baskets, and textiles.

Perhaps the most innovative feature of Branding the American West is its comparison of fine art with film, breaking new scholarly ground by recognizing the importance of the American West to the early history of Hollywood. Throughout the galleries video monitors will juxtapose clips from classic movies by John Ford and Cecil B. DeMille with the works of Remington, Dixon, and their colleagues. These pairings show how filmmakers translated competing "brands" of the frontier from canvas to the big screen. A series of Western-themed programs, talks, films, and family activities complement the exhibition throughout its run.

Branding the American West: Paintings and Films, 1900–1950 is organized by the Brigham Young University Museum of Art, Provo, Utah, and the Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas.

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