Nationally Touring Exhibition “Many Wests” Re-Examines the American West Through Modern and Contemporary Art

Indigenous woman sits in the grass with a red and yellow dress and beaded accessories with a mountain and lake scene behind and cutouts of deer and a wolf around her

Wendy Red Star; Spring from Four Seasons series: Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, 2006; Archival pigment print, edition 27; 23 x 26 in. Boise Art Museum Permanent Collection, Collectors Forum Purchase, 2019.

Opening at the Whatcom Museum Lightcatcher building March 19

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Bellingham, WA, February 14, 2022—The exhibition Many Wests: Artists Shape an American Idea examines the perspectives of 48 modern and contemporary artists who offer a broader and more inclusive view of the West beyond how it is often narrowly represented in popular culture and through dominant historical narratives. The traveling exhibition, organized jointly by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and four nationally accredited art museums located in the West, opens March 19 at the Whatcom Museum Lightcatcher building.

This exhibition presents opportunities to examine previous misconceptions, question racist clichés and draw attention to the multiple communities and histories that continue to form this iconic region of the United States. Working in various media, from painting and sculpture to photography and mixed media, the artists featured bring a nuanced and multifaceted history into view. Many Wests highlights many voices, including artists who identify as Black, Indigenous, Asian American, Latinx, and LGBTQ+, who stake a claim in the American West.

The exhibition is presented in both English and Spanish, and organized around three central themes, Caretakers, Memory Makers and Boundary Breakers. “Caretakers” examines how artists can redefine what it means to take care of themselves, their communities and their futures. Featured artists include Ka’ila Farrell-Smith (Klamath Modoc), Awa Tsireh/Alfonso Roybal (San Ildefonso Pueblo), Patrick Nagatani and Marie Watt (Seneca).

“Memory Makers” explores how artists act as transmitters of cultural memory as they bring forth neglected histories of the West through their work, and includes artists Jacob Lawrence, Roger Shimomura, Christina Fernandez and others.

“Boundary Breakers” includes artists whose representations break away from myths of the West and assert their continued presence despite centuries of omission and erasure by mainstream culture. Featured artists include Angela Ellsworth, Raphael Montañez Ortiz (Apsáalooke/Crow) and Angel Rodríguez-Díaz.

Through the artists’ varied inquiries into cultural experiences as well as material expressions, we see that there are wide-ranging visions of this region. The late artist Hung Liu spoke to this plurality when she said that by including the voices of those so often excluded from dominant histories, “The American Wests are much richer in the telling.”

Related programming enhances exhibition themes

A variety of programs and activities aim to engage people from different age groups and cultural backgrounds. On opening day, a drop-in print-making activity inspired by the work of Seattle artist Barbara Earl Thomas will be offered. Curator of Art, Amy Chaloupka, will lead monthly gallery tours. Guided docent tours will be led in English and Spanish. Additionally, the Museum will launch a youth docent program involving high-school students who will participate in training to build skills and confidence in discussing art, culture and current events.

Auburn-based artist Marita Dingus will initiate a new art piece related to the exhibition for a community art experience called, “Rip, Write, Reflect.” Using found and repurposed materials, Dingus will construct a mixed-media wall tapestry. Visitors will be invited to add their thoughts through words or drawings on torn map pieces, responding to a prompt about the West.

Many Wests: Artists Shape an American Idea is organized and drawn from the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Boise Art Museum, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and the Whatcom Museum. This is one in a series of American art exhibitions created through a multi-year, multi-institutional partnership formed by the Smithsonian American Art Museum as part of the Art Bridges Initiative.

Many Wests will be on exhibit March 19 – Aug. 21, 2022 at the Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher building. The exhibition tour began at the Boise Art Museum (July 31 to Feb. 13, 2022), and after the Whatcom Museum will travel to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art (Sept. 26 to Dec. 31, 2022), the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (Feb. 4 to June 11, 2023) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., July 28, 2023, to Jan. 14, 2024.

Generous support for the youth docent program and Marita Dingus’ art piece and community installation is provided by Art Bridges.

The Whatcom Museum presentation of “Many Wests” is sponsored by Peoples Bank and Rafeeka and Neal Kloke and supported in part by a Pandemic Relief Grant from ArtsWA (sub-granted from the National Endowment for the Arts).