Marie Watt in Many West: Utah, Salt Lake City
A groundbreaking, nationally touring exhibition re-examining the American West through modern and contemporary art is coming to Salt Lake City in early 2023.
Many Wests: Artists Shape an American Idea will be on view at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) at the University of Utah Sunday, February 5–Sunday, June 11, 2023. The exhibition is organized by, and drawn from the collections of, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and four museums in the American West. An exhibition preview party (ticketed event) will be held Saturday, February 4.
“This exhibition is a fantastic opportunity to see the West from different perspectives and to appreciate a fuller range of voices who stake a claim in the art of our region,” says Gretchen Dietrich, executive director of the UMFA. “Visitors will gain a wider-ranging view of the art of the West and be inspired to consider new contexts and possibilities.”
A Broader and More Inclusive View
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. Many Wests: Artists Shape an American Idea examines the perspectives of dozens of modern and contemporary artists—Black, white, women, men, LGBTQ+, Native American, Asian American and Latinx—who offer a broader and more inclusive view. It presents an opportunity to examine previous misconceptions, question racist clichés and highlight the multiple communities and histories that continue to form this iconic region. In various media, from painting and sculpture to photography and mixed media, the featured artists featured bring a nuanced and multifaceted history into view.
A Collaborative Curatorial Effort
The exhibition 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. Along with the UMFA, the partner museums are the Boise Art Museum in Idaho; the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene, Oregon; and the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington. E. Carmen Ramos, former 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 has been or will be presented at all five venues: Boise Art Museum (July 31–Feb. 13, 2022), Whatcom Museum (March 19, 2022–Aug. 21, 2022), the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art (Sept. 26, 2022–Dec. 31, 2022), the UMFA (Feb. 5–June 11, 2023), and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. (July 28, 2023–Jan. 14, 2024).
“This nationally touring exhibition, organized through a deeply collaborative process with our colleagues, presents the opportunity to see the West anew through the eyes of diverse modern and contemporary artists,” said Stephanie Stebich, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
“Thanks to the generous support and encouragement from Art Bridges to think differently about how art is seen in communities across the United States, we see this as a model for both collection sharing and better understanding the rich and varied, and sometimes contradictory, stories of the American people and their histories.”
Organizers include Amy Chaloupka, curator of art at the Whatcom Museum; Melanie Fales, executive director/CEO of the Boise Art Museum; Danielle Knapp, the McCosh Curator at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art; Whitney Tassie, former senior curator and curator of modern and contemporary art at the UMFA, and Alisa McCusker, senior curator and curator of European and American art at the UMFA; and Ramos, with Anne Hyland, the Art Bridges Initiative curatorial coordinator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
“Through strategies grounded in documentation, historical inquiry, cultural tradition and aesthetic and material experimentation, the artists featured in this exhibition catalyze new understandings of a region and history that is so often submerged in stereotype and distortion,” Ramos said. “Their works address the past and present, revealing that ‘the West’ has always been a place of multiple stories, experiences and cultures. Organizing this exhibition with museum partners who are based in the American West itself allows us to feature many artists with deep ties to this region. This fact makes this exhibition especially meaningful.”
Themes: Caretakers, Memory Makers, and Boundary Breakers
The exhibition is bilingual with English and Spanish labels, and organized into three sections: “Caretakers,” “Memory Makers” and “Boundary Breakers.” These overarching themes illuminate the different ways artists create countervailing views of life in and the history of the American West.
“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). Through their work, these artists demonstrate a commitment to the stewardship of land, history, language and culture. They draw upon personal narratives, communal ties and collective experience in the American West to honor the past and shape legacies for generations to come.