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American West: Dust and Dreams

July 1, 2005 - January 8, 2006


The American West captured the imagination of many artists with its wide open spaces, dramatic geological formations, and promise of freedom. American West: Dust and Dreams, presents more than 70 artists including Diane Arbus, Albert Bierstadt, Georgia O'Keeffe, Carleton Watkins, Edward Weston and William and Marguerite Zorach, whose works evoke the essence of the West. On view in the MFA's Trustman Gallery and Huntington Corridor through January 8, 2006, this exhibition features nearly 100 works -- paintings, drawings, etchings and photographs -- dating from 1820 to 2004, that immortalize the varied artistic visions of the western experience throughout history. Primarily grouped by region, American West, which is drawn primarily from the Museum's permanent collection with select loans, focuses on areas west of the Mississippi, ranging from Yellowstone National Park and the southwest deserts to Pacific-coast beaches and the timberlands of the Northwest.

Artists have always been drawn to the natural wonders of the western terrain, and their images both romanticize the area, and act as a record of the historical events and changes in the landscape. One of the earliest works in the exhibition, Scalp Dance of the Dacotahs (1850), by Seth Eastman, uses watercolor to depict Native American life. Other themes include the California Gold Rush of 1849, documented in the watercolors Panning for Gold, California (1850s), by William McIlvaine, Jr., and Washing Gold, Calaveras River, California (1853), by an unidentified French artist. The Northwest is represented through several photographs of the logging industry in the early 1900s including Log Train (around 1900) by an unidentified artist.

The Southwest attracted many artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, largely because of its climate, its vividly colored natural formation, and its ancient and modern Native American and Spanish cultures. These artists created images of both the landscape and its people such as New Mexico (1930) by John Marin, John Sloan's etching Knees and Aborigines (1920s) and Dorothea Lange's intimate photograph, Hopi Indian (1927). Georgia O'Keeffe liked the area so much that she stayed for the rest of her life. Including in the exhibition is her abstract watercolor Red and Black (1916).

The exhibition also includes works by Native American artists including drawings by Silver Horn, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith's abstract pastel El Morro (1981) which evokes an ancient inscription rock, and Fritz Scholder's color lithograph Cowboy Indian (1974), an ironic image of an Indian made to look like a cowboy.

The page in the MFA's web site announcing the exhibit says:

Inspired by the arrival of "Ansel Adams" in the Gund Gallery, we mined the riches of our collection of works on paper for prints, photographs, watercolors, and drawings that convey different visions of the Western landscape and its inhabitants -- native peoples, gold miners, migrants, and movie stars. This selection of more than one hundred works -- recent acquisitions as well as a few loans -- created between 1800 and the present day, evokes the realities and myths of the West, its "dust and dreams."

"This exhibition explores the changing face of the American West through the eyes of a remarkably wide range of artists," explains Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. "From Thomas Moran's colorful landscapes to Edward Weston's Hollywood photographs, there is something to engage every visitor."

"Through the travels of these amazing artists -- some accompanied explorers, others served in the army, panned for gold, or immigrated to seek a better life -- the extraordinarily beautiful and natural wonders of the West have been recorded in a wide range of media," said Sue Reed, Curator of Prints and Drawings. "American West offers a unique look at the breathtaking scenery that inspired these artists."

American West will be on view in conjunction with Ansel Adams, a comprehensive exhibition of Adams career on view in the Gund Gallery from August 21 through December 31, 2005. Many of the artists represented in American West were contemporaries of Adams, and in the case of William and Marguerite Zorach, close friends. The Zorachs and Adams met in Yosemite in 1920, when William was 31 and Adams just 18. They both found inspiration in Yosemite's dramatic beauty, which the Zorachs captured through modernist paintings, and Adams through photographs. The Zorachs' Yosemite paintings will be grouped with other depictions of Yosemite, comprising an entire wall of the exhibition.


RL editor's note: For Southwest art history and Western art, readers may also enjoy these articles and essays:


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