Western union

“Back­story” fills in cru­cial con­text for Western art and his­tory with high-pro­file mu­seum col­lab­o­ra­tion

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By John Wen­zel

The ro­man­tic al­lure of the West that con­tin­ues to se­duce peo­ple to Colorado is, in many ways, un­changed from the mid-19th cen­tury.

Op­por­tu­nity, as sym­bol­ized by gor­geous land­scapes and open skies, draws new res­i­dents while in­ject­ing chal­lenges for long­time res­i­dents, who grouse (of­ten jus­ti­fi­ably) about re­source man­age­ment and over­crowd­ing, as well as the aes­thet­ics these trans­plants bring.

Valu­able knowledge is swapped. Com­pro­mises are found. The cul­ture is changed. Sound fa­mil­iar? “Peo­ple have been in Colorado a very long time and have had tra­di­tions long be­fore EuroAmer­i­can set­tle­ment and peo­ple com­ing in

from the East — not only Amer­i­can In­di­ans, but His­pan­ics and the Span­ish in­flu­ence,” said Alisa DiGi­a­como, se­nior cu­ra­tor of ar­ti­facts and cu­ra­tor of art & de­sign at His­tory Colorado, as she stood over a dis­play of pot­tery from Mesa Verde’s An­ces­tral Pue­bloans.

That’s one of the first things visi­tors learn in the new ex­hibit “Back­story: Western Amer­i­can Art in Con­text,” which opens at His­tory Colorado Cen­ter on March 18 and runs through Fe­bru­ary 2018.

Pre­sented by the Sturm Fam­ily Foun­da­tion, the 8,500-square­foot ex­hibit is a cozy col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween His­tory Colorado and the Den­ver Art Mu­seum’s Petrie In­sti­tute of Western Amer­i­can Art, which over­sees the lat­ter’s most iconic Western pieces. Think Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton’s bronze sculp­tures, and paint­ings by Al­bert Bier­stadt, Thomas Mo­ran and Charles Deas (in­clud­ing “The Rocky Moun­tain Man”).

How­ever, the works on Level 7 of the Den­ver Art Mu­seum’s North Build­ing (where many of Petrie’s works are dis­played) are be­com­ing in­ac­ces­si­ble while the mu­seum stares down a years­long, $150 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion.

“Back­story” of­fers a chance to keep show­ing them in public, as well as pro­mot­ing a smart, Colo- rado-cen­tric ex­hibit that builds upon His­tory Colorado’s swing to­ward more sub­stan­tive fare af­ter three rocky years of em­ployee turnover and fi­nan­cial wran­gling.

“When we started the plan­ning, the spine of it was the mas­ter­works from the Petrie In­sti­tute’s col­lec­tion,” said Jen­nifer R. Hen­ne­man, as­sis­tant cu­ra­tor of the Petrie In­sti­tute. “They tell the story of largely white, male artists (who were) in­ter­na­tion­ally trained, mov­ing from the East into the West and back to the East again — and creat­ing works that be­come pro­foundly mean­ing­ful for Amer­i­can iden­tity.”

Among the 50 loaned pieces from the Den­ver Art Mu­seum is a sculp­ture by Henry Kirke Brown called “The Choosing of an Ar­row,” which de­picts a Na­tive Amer­i­can in the style of Michelangelo’s David. It neatly por­trays the in­ter­sec­tion of aca­demic train­ing and (then) trendy ideas of artis­tic beauty, since sculp­tures like it were pop­u­lar in well-to-do East Coast homes circa 1849.

The ex­hibit’s fo­cus — roughly mid-19th through mid-20th cen­tury — in­cludes lay­ers of text and im­agery that ex­am­ine the im­plicit ide­ol­ogy of Man­i­fest Des­tiny, which was used to jus­tify the bru­tal­ity and ex­ploita­tion of na­tive peo­ples. It’s present in the gor­geous, im­por­tant works of

“Com­mer­cial­iz­ing the West,” fea­tur­ing Stet­son hats, Rock­mount shirts and Soli­taire and Mount Cross cof­fee cans, is part of His­tory Colorado Cen­ter’s new ex­hibit, “Back­story: Western Amer­i­can Art in Con­text.” Pho­tos by Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

Alisa DiGi­a­como of His­tory Colorado, left, and Jen­nifer Hen­ne­man of the Den­ver Art Mu­seum col­lab­o­rated to cu­rate “Back­story: Western Amer­i­can Art in Con­text.”

His­tory Colorado Cen­ter as­sis­tant col­lec­tions man­ager Bethany Wil­liams puts the fi­nal touches on “Out­fit­ting a Cow­boy,” part of the mu­seum’s “Back­story: Western Amer­i­can Art in Con­text.” The col­lab­o­ra­tive ex­hibit pairs over 50 mas­ter­pieces from the Den­ver Art Mu­seum and His­tory Colorado’s ar­ti­facts, all from the mid-19th to mid-20th cen­turies, tak­ing a look at the rapidly chang­ing West. Pho­tos by Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

Na­tive Amer­i­can ar­ti­facts on dis­play in­clude an Ara­paho cradle­board from 1880-1900, right, and a Sioux dress from 1860-65.

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