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For the week of January 14 - 20, 2004

Arts and Entertainment

The West seen through
the prism of art

Sun Valley Center exhibits
‘Cowboys and Indians’

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 visual arts.

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.



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