Ideas about the American West, both in popular culture and in commonly accepted historical narratives, are often based on a past that never was, and fail to take into account important events that actually occurred. The exhibition Many Wests: Artists Shape an American Idea examines the perspectives of 48 modern and contemporary artists who offer a broader and more inclusive view of the West, which too often has been dominated by romanticized myths and Euro-American historical accounts.
This exhibition presents an opportunity to examine previous misconceptions, question racist clichés, and draw attention to the multiple communities and histories that continue to form this iconic region of the United States. Working in various media, from painting and sculpture to photography and mixed media, the artists featured bring a nuanced and multifaceted history into view. Many Wests highlights many voices, including artists who identify as Black, Indigenous, Asian American, Latinx, and LGBTQ+, who stake a claim in the American West.
The exhibition is presented in both English and Spanish, and organized around three central themes, Caretakers, Memory Makers, and Boundary Breakers. “Caretakers” examines how artists can redefine what it means to take care of themselves, their communities, and their futures. Featured artists include Ka’ila Farrell-Smith (Klamath Modoc), Awa Tsireh/Alfonso Roybal (San Ildefonso Pueblo), Patrick Nagatani, and Marie Watt (Seneca).
“Memory Makers” explores how artists act as transmitters of cultural memory as they bring forth neglected histories of the West through their work, and includes artists Jacob Lawrence, Roger Shimomura, Christina Fernandez, and others.
“Boundary Breakers” includes artists whose representations break away from myths of the West and assert their continued presence despite centuries of omission and erasure by mainstream culture. Featured artists include Angela Ellsworth, Raphael Montañez Ortiz (Apsáalooke/Crow), and Angel Rodríguez-Díaz.
Many Wests is organized jointly by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and four nationally accredited art museums located in some of the fastest growing cities and states in the western region of the United States. It is the culmination of a five-year exhibition partnership made possible by the Art Bridges Foundation. The partner museums are the Boise Art Museum in Idaho; the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene, Oregon; the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City; and the Whatcom Museum. E. Carmen Ramos, acting chief curator and curator of Latinx art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum has led the collaborative curatorial effort.
Many Wests features artwork drawn from the permanent collections of all five collaborating museums and the exhibition will be presented at all five venues. The multi-city national tour began at the Boise Art Museum (July 31 to Feb. 13, 2022). It travels to the Whatcom Museum (March 19 to Aug. 21, 2022), the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art (Sept. 26 to Dec. 31, 2022), and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (Feb. 4 to June 11, 2023). The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, will be the final stop on the tour, where the exhibition will be on view from July 28, 2023 to Jan. 14, 2024.