Exhibit ambushes the Old West

May 30, 1991|By Chicago Tribune

Washington's National Museum of American Art has mounted a show on the American West that has become one of the capital's most controversial exhibitions in memory.

The 164 works in "The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920" are among the most beloved, mainstream and familiar images in the history of American art, including pieces by Frederic Remington, N.C. Wyeth and George Caleb Bingham.

Curator William Truettner and the others involved in preparing this exhibition detect and characterize not only racism, bigotry, bullying and greed, but willing complicity on the part of artists to perpetrate myths and skewed views -- whether for political reasons, popular acclaim or financial reward. They also reveal a fair amount of outright fraud on the part of turn-of-the-century artists like Remington, who painted what no longer was, not to speak of what had never been.

This approach to so cherished a collective memory of America's past has produced considerable outrage.

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