Into a New West: Contemporary Art from the Booth Museum
An upcoming exhibition at Briscoe Western Art Museum explores the realm of Western art in a contemporary context.
San Antonio, TX
This summer, Briscoe Western Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas, tells the story of contemporary Western art through the exploration of the groups, movements and artists who transformed the subject into what it is today. Into a New West: Contemporary Art from the Booth Museum, an exhibition running through September 1, features around 40 works of art on loan from the Booth Museum of Western Art, with a small selection from the Briscoe’s own collection. Exploring such topics as environmentalism, gender equality and various social commentaries, the exhibition demonstrates a shift from traditional representations of the West to new ideologies and modes of expression.
“There’s so much to do with contemporary Western art that hasn’t been done yet,” says Michael Duchemin, president and CEO of Briscoe Western Art Museum, and curator
for the exhibition. He breaks down the core principles of the show: two pivotal movements that emerged in the 1960s, the establishment of Cowboy Artists of America and the Institute of American Indian Arts. “So when you look at contemporary Western art, the first message in the exhibit is that the 1960s were a really transformative time in American culture and Western art, and that can be seen in the CAA and the IAIA which embraced modernism and abstraction for what were young traditional Native American artists…the IAIA really transformed Native American art and in the process became the vanguard for transforming Western art.” While CAA was crucial as well, works from CAA artists are not a part of the exhibition. Rather, a retrospective for the historic artist group will be held the summer of 2021.
Powerful works are on view during Into a New West, from artists like R. Tom Gilleon, Donna Howell-sickles, Thom Ross, Anne Coe, Paul Pletka and Carrie Fell, as well as six of the original IAIA members: Allan Houser, Shonto Begay, R.C. Gorman, Fritz Scholder, Dan Namingha and Kevin Red Star.
In Begay’s Our Promised Road, a family is seen in a pick-up truck driving off the Navajo reservation, presumably heading toward Flagstaff, Arizona, says Duchemin. Four Peaks can be seen off to one side, and a bumper sticker on the truck reads “save our peaks.” Duchemin explains that this piece is a commentary on the convergence between Native American beliefs and identity in regard to sacred land and the broader environmental movement.
“The open space of desert in Arizona is being consumed by suburbanization,” Duchemin says of Coe’s Suburban Ranchette: The New
Watering Hole. In the composition, we see a cowgirl on horseback approaching a “watering hole,” which is actually a pool with a beach ball in it. “In this image, I could see that this rancher may have been visiting a watering hole in that location for generations and now it’s been replaced by a suburban overlay,” says Duchemin.
Other standout pieces in the show include Gilleon’s Northern Plains, which takes prominent Native American chiefs and renders them in Warhol’s Pop Art aesthetic, and Fritz Scholder’s Indian at Bus Depot, an impressionistic piece of a Native American leaning against an arcade game at a bus stop.
“What makes it Western art is the subject matter and themes,” says Duchemin. “What makes it contemporary is that it moves away from the romanticism and realism and takes on 50 different styles.”
Kevin Red Star, Ready for the Two Step (detail), mixed media and acrylic washes finished in oil, 50 x 62”. Booth Western Art Museum permanent collection, Cartersville, GA.
Donna Howell-sickles, Not Without Its Ups and Downs, mixed media, pastel and charcoal on board, 68½ x 49”. Booth Western Art Museum permanent collection, Cartersville, GA.
Anne Coe, Suburban Ranchette: The New Watering Hole (detail), acrylic on canvas, 42 x 48”. Booth Western Art Museum permanent collection, Cartersville, GA.
Paul Pletka, Mescaleros- La Silla Negra, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30”. Booth Western Art Museum permanent collection, Cartersville, GA.