Beyond Awesome
True West|October 2018
Beyond Awesome

The Grandeur of the West in Western Art.

Johnny D. Boggs

Grandeur is often associated with the paintings of early artists of the American West: George Caleb Bingham, Karl Bodmer, William Jacob Hays, Thomas Moran, Alfred Jacob Miller, John Mix Stanley and especially Albert Bierstadt.

The later is the subject of a new exhibition, Albert Bierstadt: Witness to a Changing West, closing at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s Whitney Western Art Museum in Cody, Wyoming, Sept. 30, 2018, before moving to the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Nov. 1, 2018 - Feb. 10, 2019. The University of Oklahoma Press has published a companion book—written by Peter H. Hassrick, director emeritus and senior scholar at the Center of the West, with contributions by other art scholars— that reappraises the career of Bierstadt (1830-1902).

Bierstadt certainly illustrated the West’s grandeur, but Karen McWhorter, the Whitney’s Scarlett Curator of Western American Art, prefers another word.

“I think of awesome,” she says, “which has been used in pop culture since the ’90s for so many different things, like awe-inspiring, truly awestruck. Words to describe the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains.”

Besides, “the grandeur and sublimity of the Western landscape is a more loaded subject than might be predicted, as the manner in which it has shaped our ideas and aspirations relies as much on fact as on imagination and projection,” says Toby Jurovics, chief curator at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska.

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October 2018