New exhibit looks at the American West through modern art

An award-winning exhibition that challenges cultural and historical notions of the American West is now on view at the UO’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.

“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 region. The show will run through Dec. 18.

Exhibition organizers say “Many Wests” 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 in the exhibition bring a nuanced and multifaceted history into view.

Among the many voices and communities highlighted in the exhibition, “Many Wests” showcases artworks by artists who are Black, white, women, men, LGBTQ+, Native American, Asian American and Latinx. Participating artists V. Maldonado, Ka’ila Farrell-Smith and Marie Watt will give public artists’ talks on campus while the exhibition is on view.

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.

“The development of ‘Many Wests’ reflects the partnering museums’ conversations about collecting institutions’ responsibilities to the artists, communities and cultures that they serve, and the role of the visual arts in shaping public perception,” said Danielle Knapp, the McCosh Curator at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. “The exhibition contends that art of the American West is not confined to specific imagery or stories.”

The exhibition is bilingual with English and Spanish labels and organized into three sections: “Caretakers,” “Memory Makers” and “Boundary Breakers.” Those overarching themes illuminate the different ways artists create countervailing views of life in and the history of the American West.

It is one in a series of American art exhibitions created through a multiyear, multi-institutional partnership formed by the Smithsonian American Art Museum as part of the Art Bridges Initiative. The multicity national tour began at the Boise Art Museum.

Following its time at the UO, “Many Wests” will travel to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. “Many Wests” has been selected for the Western Museums Association’s The Charles Redd Center for Western Studies Award for Exhibition Excellence.

By Debbie Williamson Smith, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art