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The Western: An Epic in Art and Film





July 12, 2017

“Emigrants Crossing the Plains,” by Bierstadt

What an exhibition! It was totally unlike any other such exhibition of western art I’ve ever experienced. Never before had I seen western art, western films, western photographs, pieces of sculpture, off-the-wall artifacts, etc., thrown together in one exhibition.

,”Breaking Through the Line,” by Schreyvogel

According to Denver Post reviewer Ray Mark Rinaldi, “The question the show raises is: Was Western art ever honest? Or was it always propaganda? Was Western life and history ever captured for anything other than its exotic qualities or to sell commercial and political ideas? The stuff could be beautiful, technically amazing and journalistic, but was it ever really art?”

Rinaldi then posed a key question: “Does all of the western art from the last 50 years exist simply to make fun of the western art in the 100 years that preceded it? The answer, according to this exhibit, appears to be a yes—because it skipped a meaningful incorporation of later Western artists who work with the same vistas without dwelling in full parody.”

“A Dash Through the Timber,” by Remington

As for me, I saw much to admire. It is the finest western show I have seen here in Colorado—it must have been extremely expensive to pull off. But the viewer gets a totally different concept of the Old West than would be true in great western art galleries such as the Amon Carter in Fort Worth, the Thomas Gilcrease in Tulsa, Oklahoma City Hall of Fame, the Gene Autry in Southern California, etc.

“The Holdup,” by Russell

The modern tendency to mock the past and its novelists, painters, photographers, sculptors, movie producers and actors, etc., is not a pretty thing to observe. Deconstructionism tears down and discredits but leaves little that is positive after its carnage.

There was some great art. Seeing

“The Night Stagecoach,”
by Remington

Remington’s magnificent 1889 “A Dash Through the Timber;” Bierstadt’s stunning 1867 oil painting, “Emigrants Crossing the Plains;” Russell’s action-packed robbery scene, “The Hold Up;” Charles Schreyvogel’s jolting “Breaking Through the Line” (where the viewer stares straight into the business end of a pistol); and the painting I had long heard about but never before seen, Koerner’s 1921 “Madonna of the Prairies,” was riveting. I could have stood there for hours drinking in its absolute perfection (a young woman crossing the prairie in a covered wagon with an opening in the canvas that transforms the woman into a madonna halo-ed)—it alone would have been worth a transcontinental fight to gaze on it once in a lifetime.

“Madonna of the Prairies,” by Koerner

Kudos to curators Thomas Brent Smith and Mary Dail Desmarais, and the staff of the Denver Art Museum.

The John Ford and High Noon movie exhibits were unlike any other such exhibits I have ever seen as well.’

If you are in Colorado between now and September 10, drop everything, pay your $15, and prepare to spend a day you will not soon forget.