The West seen through
the prism of art
Sun Valley Center exhibits
‘Cowboys and Indians’
By MEGAN THOMAS
Express Staff Writer
Forget apple pie, baseball or Brittany
Spears. There is nothing more quintessentially American than cowboys and
Indians. More than a game of child’s play, these heroes symbolize the
adventurous individualism, pioneering spirit and romantic historical narrative
of the American West.
"Untitled" by David Levinthal
from the Wild West series, 1998.
Romantic images of cowboys and Indians
evoke a collective understanding of the American West thanks to the help of the
media. From "Gunsmoke" to "High Noon," Louis L’Amour to Johnny Cash, television,
movies, literature and music continue to produce imagery of the Western
experience. The collection of Western images creates an understanding of the
West woven into the fabric of the American identity.
The romanticized myth of the American West
has long been a source of creative inspiration for artists, writers and
filmmakers. Contemporary artists continue to explore the immortalized West
through print, photography, film and music.
The Sun Valley Center for the Arts
explores the romanticized myth of the West from an array of perspectives during
its newest multidisciplinary project "Cowboys and Indians." Playing with the
quintessential Western icons, the multidisciplinary project explores
contemporary, historic and European perceptions of the American West through
photography, slide lectures, a Western film series and the Center’s annual
literature series, titled "West Word: Writing from the New West."
An opening party at the gallery in Ketchum
kicks off the program Friday, Jan. 16, from 7 to 10 p.m. "The opening will be
different than anything we’ve done before!" noted Jennifer Gately, director of
The evening includes a gallery talk with
photographers Andrea Robbins and Max Becher, beginning at 7:15 p.m., and
followed by a performance by the Boulder Brothers, Ted Macklin and Bill Smith at
8 p.m. Beer, wine and food will accompany the Western folk music. The party is
free to members and $8 for the general public.
Throughout the multidisciplinary project,
the Center features two Western photography exhibitions, "The West as Muse in
Contemporary Photography" and "Entering Zig’s Indian Reservation." "The West as
Muse in Contemporary Photography" entertains two photography installations
exploring the influence of the American West abroad.
Both of the installations focus on the
influence of 19th century German novelist Karl May. May’s Western novels
recreate the Old West through his cowboy character Old Shatterhand and Apache
Indian friend Winnetou. The Western novels were read voraciously throughout
Europe, shaping the European perspective of the American West.
Andrea Robbins and Max Becher document
May’s influence on the European perception of the West in their exhibition the
"German Indians," an installation within "The West as Muse in Contemporary
Photography" exhibit. "German Indians" chronicles the annual gathering in May’s
German hometown, during which thousands of enthusiasts gather dressed as
American Indians. The gathering has come to celebrate May’s fictional stories as
true accounts of the American West.
The second installation, "The Wild West"
by acclaimed artist David Levinthal, features photographs of cowboy and Indian
toy figurines. Levinthal arranges the figurines into stereotypical poses
reminiscent of Western films. The toys are none other than German manufactured
"Karl May" figurines. The blurred photographs, rich in color, use the iconic toy
figurines to create an illusion of reality and motion. The simulated reality
abounds with faceless Hollywood imagery. The hazy illusions illustrate the blur
of fact, fiction and perception surrounding the cultural myths of the American
West, while the art rests on the irony of European manufactured toys. Levinthal
will visit the Center’s gallery Feb. 5.
Zig Jackson’s photography headlines the
sister exhibit, "Entering Zig’s Indian Reservation." Jackson, an American Indian
artist, uses contemporary Indians as the subjects of his silver gelatin prints.
The subjects break down stereotypes of Indians perpetuated by media and society.
Both photography exhibitions will be on
display at the Center’s gallery throughout the program.
Guest lectures, a film series and the
annual literature series with visiting author William Kittredge will take place
throughout the program Jan. 16 through March 12 at the Center’s gallery.