Many Wests: Artists Shape an American Idea
Ka'ila Farrell-Smith, Enrollment, 2014, oil on canvas. JSMA General Acquisition Fund purchase made possible with support from Native American Studies, 2018:17.1.

Many Wests: Artists Shape an American Idea

Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, Eugene, OR - To Dec 18

by Joseph Gallivan

The West has been claimed by settlers for a long time, first by farmers and ranchers, then gold diggers and oil prospectors, now by suburbanites and work-from-homers. And, of course, cultural theorists and curators. This show looks at more than just cowboys and Indians. Forty-eight modern and contemporary artists, offering a broader and more inclusive view of this region, try to wrestle the perspective back from the Euro-American historical accounts.

Racism is on trial, naturally, but so are subtler isms, such as industrialism, Romanticism and vandalism. Many Wests features a generous number of artworks from the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and four partner museums in the West, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art (JSMA) in Eugene (hosting the show), the Boise Art Museum, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake Cityand the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, WA.

Many Wests highlights many voices, especially those of artists who identify as Black, Indigenous, Asian American, Latinx, and LGBTQ+,” according to the JSMA. Multiple curators have mixed works by Indigenous artists, including the late Rick Bartow (Wiyot), Ka’ila Farrell-Smith (Klamath Modoc) and Marie Watt (Seneca), with those by Latinx painters and sculptors such as V. Maldonado and Rubén Trejo.

The exhibition smartly divides the artists into three categories. The section titled “Caretakers” looks at how artists define self-care and community. “Memory Makers” shows transmitters of cultural memory and neglected histories of the West. “Boundary Breakers” unsettles common beliefs that inform the popular understanding of the American West despite omission and erasure by mainstream culture.If your experience of the West is a selfie at the Grand Canyon and a beaded purse from a California gift shop, this exhibition could really open your eyes.

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