Blanton Museum showcases western art reflecting American expansion

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Chris Jackson admires The Calvary Scrap by Frederic Remington, a painting that captures horses at full speed in a quintessential depiction of the American Old West. The piece is part of a new exhibition by the Blanton Museum of Art that will run until late September.

Photo Credit: Andreina Velazquez | Daily Texan Staff

The paintings of America’s westward expansion are now featured in the Blanton Museum of Art and give insight into popular representations deep in the American psyche.

The Blanton is hosting “Go West! Representations of the American Frontier”, which started Jan. 14 and ends Sept. 23, an exhibit dedicated to showing the development of the American West over time through a series of photographs, drawings and paintings. The museum hosted a public tour of the exhibit Thursday.

The exhibition includes pieces from the Blanton’s permanent collection and was brought out to contrast the upcoming exhibit focusing on the Hudson River School style of painting.

The idea behind the exhibit is to get people to look beyond the West as a basic geographic location, but rather as a concept, said Blanton Museum spokeswoman Brady Dyer.

“We want people to walk away with the idea that the West is bigger than just being a location or time in history,” Dyer said. “We want them to walk away having learned something new.”

Dyer said she believes it is important for people to gain a better understanding of the West’s history and to learn about how the ideas of the past have developed over time.

“The response that we are getting is that people are much more curious in the West than we originally thought,” Dyer said. “There is a fascination that goes along with the idea of the West.”

Karen White, a Blanton Museum docent, said many of the paintings in the exhibit were painted after the time that they depict to represent people’s view of the West.

“The exhibit shows the ideas of the West and what Americans were supposed to know or think of the West over time,“ said White.

Emily Dunn, a St. Edwards fine arts junior, said she attended the exhibit to view the historically significant art and she believes the history of the West is relevant to where Americans currently are in society.

“Not only are the techniques of the different artists gorgeous, but they also depict a good world view of history and show what shaped the present,” Dunn said. “I think they are a reminder of the hardships portrayed of the West.”

While some think the exhibit depicts an important part of American history, others believe it is lacking.

Associate history professor Erika Bsumek said the paintings were used to create a visual language that reflects a very narrow historical view of the American West and ignores the history of Native Americans.

“It gives the impression that Indians were either leaving or easily conquered.” Bsumek said. “This depiction of the American West erases a whole other history of development in the West.”

The paintings do not accurately reflect the levels of development that the Indian people had achieved, Bsumek said.

“The West was a fairly well-developed region,” Bsumek said. “The indigenous people had vast trading networks, had developed diplomacy, and had a wide-reaching society.”

Printed on Friday, February 17, 2012 as: Exhibit presents incomplete portrait