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The American West

Sat 25 June 2005, 11.00amMon 29 August 2005, 5.00pm

Curated by Jimmie Durham and Richard William Hill

The identity of the American West is bound up with a number of different myths arising from European expansion across North America. This exhibition challenges these notions of identity, freedom and politics to represent a contemporary view of this complex subject. The American West presents rarely seen historical and contemporary work loaned from the United States and is programmed to be shown in all the exhibition galleries, in addition to the grounds at Compton Verney.

Jimmie Durham, the Curator of the exhibition, is an artist, writer and activist of Cherokee descent. He previously worked for the American Indian Movement as Head of the International Indian Treaty Committee at the United Nations. The exhibition has been jointly curated by Richard William Hill, of Cree heritage and formerly a Curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario. His background is in collecting and exhibiting historical and contemporary Native North American art.

The American West offers the first opportunity for audiences in Britain to view an extensive selection of work from an era that continues to hold such global fascination. The exhibition has been conceived as a series of visual stories. Themes include invasion and genocide; frontiersmen; the concept of Manifest Destiny; captivity narratives; the first official Indian wars; Native American encounter with white settlers and the U.S. army; natural resources and environmental destruction, and Hollywood and the cowboy. The exhibition also brings the mythology of the West up to date, exploring popular cowboy culture that has emerged from the election of George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq.

Included in the exhibition are historical depictions of the subject by Charles M. Russell, Arthur Tait, Charles Schreyvogel and Alfred Jacob Miller; nineteenth-century Plains Indian Ledger drawings; work by Indian prisoners, and a large selection of works by contemporary Native North American artists including Minerva Cuevas, Kent Monkman, Edward Poitras, James Luna and Cisco Jimenez. Interpretations on the theme by Ed Ruscha, Elaine Reichek, Luigi Ontani and Ed Kienholz are also included.

The exhibition contains a diverse selection of historic ephemera from popular culture, including documentation of Buffalo Bill’s roadshow, photographs, dime novels, billboards, film posters and JFK’s presentation colt gun. Exhibits have been loaned from the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma; Museum of the American West, Los Angeles; Milwaukee Art Museum; Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Buffalo Bill Historical Centre, Cody, Wyoming.

A fully illustrated catalogue with essays by Jimmie Durham, Jean Fisher and Richard William Hill accompanies the exhibition.