How the West was seen

from The Magazine ANTIQUES, November/December 2013 |

The Last of the Buffalo by Albert Bierstadt, c. 1888. Signed "AB[conjoined]ierstadt" at lower right. Oil on canvas, 60 ¼ by 96 ½ inches.

The challenge of Go West!: Art of the American Frontier is to present us with a century (1830-1930) of familiar and unfamiliar images and to help us see them in revelatory ways. It is a challenge that the exhibition meets so beautifully as to constitute in itself a new frontier in the understanding of our inspiring and disturbing western heritage.

Most of the some 250 works on view come from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, a consortium of five museums and a research facility that should be better known as a repository for these masterworks. By the time Go West! has finished its run at the High Museum of Art on April 13, 2014, it will be.

Our first and our most durable impressions of the frontier derive from the paintings, photographs, and sculptures by artists such as Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, Charles M. Russell, Edward Curtis, Fred­eric Remington, and from Native American art and artifacts. To these William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody added his high gloss of showmanship, nostalgia, and celebrity in the Wild West shows that were seen by an astonishing fifty million people internationally.

The question of what we are to make of this vast and complex legacy is one that the organizers and curators of Go West! have addressed with great delicacy in a series of essays and commentaries. The catalogue pub­lished by the High in conjunction with Yale University Press (titled Art of the American Frontier) is an indispensable companion to the exhibition.

We present here a tiny fraction of the images in Go West! along with brief commentary drawn from the catalogue to give a hint of its richness.

Go West!: Art of the American Frontier • The High Museum of Atlanta • to April 13, 2014 • high.org

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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