Many Wests: Artists Shape an American Idea

 The Protagonist of an Endless Story by Angel Rodríguez-Díaz

Angel Rodríguez-Díaz, The Protagonist of an Endless Story, 1993, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible in part by the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool and the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program, 1996.19. © 1993, Angel Rodriguez-Diaz

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 this region, which too often has been dominated by romanticized myths and Euro-American historical accounts. 

Description

This exhibition presents an opportunity to examine previous misconceptions, question racist clichés, and highlight 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 to light. 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’s three sections — Caretakers, Memory Makers, and Boundary Breakers — highlight the various ways artists explore singular conceptions of the American West, often demonstrating the resilience of marginalized communities who survived against the odds. The modern and contemporary artists featured in Many Wests reveal that “the West” has always been a place of multiple stories, experiences, and cultures.  

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. 

Memory Makers explores how artists act as transmitters of cultural memory as they bring forth neglected histories of the West through their work. Featured artists include Jacob Lawrence, Roger Shimomura, Christina Fernandez, and others who go beyond the familiar accounts of European settlers and bring to light lived histories and identities that are essential to a truthful history. 

Boundary Breakers highlights artists that unsettle common beliefs that inform the popular understanding of the American West. Their representations break away from myths and assert their continued presence despite centuries of omission and erasure by mainstream culture. They question simplified notions of identity, affirm their lived experiences, and refute romanticized imagery. Featured artists include Angela Ellsworth, Raphael Montañez Ortiz, Wendy Red Star (Apsáalooke/Crow), and Angel Rodríguez-Díaz. 

Many Wests features artwork from the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and four partner 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 multi-year, joint curatorial initiative made possible by the Art Bridges Foundation. The collaborating 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 in Bellingham, Washington.   

This exhibition is organized by 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, senior curator and curator of modern and contemporary art at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts; and E. Carmen Ramos, former curator of Latinx Art with Anne Hyland, curatorial assistant and coordinator for the Art Bridges Cohort Program at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.    

Visiting Information

July 28, 2023 January 15, 2024
Open Daily, 11:30 a.m.–7:00 p.m
Free Admission

Tour Schedule

The Boise Art Museum
Boise, ID
July 31, 2021 February 13, 2022
Whatcom Museum of Art
Bellingham, WA
March 19, 2022 August 21, 2022
Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
Eugene, OR
September 28, 2022 December 18, 2022
Utah Museum of Fine Art
Salt Lake City, UT
February 4, 2023 June 11, 2023
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Washington, DC
July 28, 2023 January 14, 2024

Installation Images

Videos

Credit

Many Wests: Artists Shape an American Idea is one in a series of American art exhibitions created through a multi-year, multi-institutional partnership formed by the Smithsonian American Art Museum as part of the Art Bridges Cohort Program. 

Logo for the Art Bridges Initiative and SAAM

Online Gallery

Artists

Laura Aguilar
born San Gabriel, CA 1959-died Long Beach, CA 2018
Juan de Dios Mora
born Yahualica, Mexico 1984
Christina Fernandez
born Los Angeles, CA 1965
Miguel A. Gandert
born Española, NM 1956
Ken Gonzales-Day
born Santa Clara, CA 1964
Media - J0001840_1b.jpg - 89303
Jacob Lawrence
born Atlantic City, NJ 1917-died Seattle, WA 2000

Painter. A social realist, Lawrence documented the African American experience in several series devoted to Toussaint L'Ouverture, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, life in Harlem, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Hung Liu
born Changchun, China 1948-died Oakland, CA 2021
Delilah Montoya
born Fort Worth, TX 1955

Delilah Montoya graduated from Metropolitan Technical College in Omaha in 1978 and went on to study photography at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where she received her BA in 1984, her MA in 1990, and her MFA in 1994.

Raphael Montañez Ortiz
born New York City 1934
Al Rendón
born San Antonio, TX 1957
Angel Rodríguez-Díaz
born San Juan, Puerto Rico 1955-died San Antonio, TX 2023
Josefa Roybal

One of the few female Pueblo painters in the first years of the movement, Josefa Roybal (of San Ildefonso Pueblo), the sister of Awa Tsireh (also called Alfonso Roybal), received little attention in an artistic community dominated by male artists.

Black and White Image of Fritz Scholder
Fritz Scholder
born Breckenridge, MN 1937-died Phoenix, AZ 2005
Roger Shimomura
born Seattle, WA 1939

Born in Washington. Painter of Japanese descent who has been a diligent arts educator most of his life.

Awa Tsireh
born San Ildefonso Pueblo, NM 1898-died San Ildefonso Pueblo, NM ca. 1955

Awa Tsireh, also known as Alfonso Roybal, was one of the first Pueblo painters to receive recognition by the Santa Fe art community.

Marie Watt
born Seattle, WA 1967