(Daily Montanan) The Montana Museum of Art and Culture has acquired a new collection that director and professor of art history and criticism Rafael Chacón said shaped people’s ideas of the West and offers viewers a chance to reconsider its mythologies.
“It’s such an important part of the landscape of the nation, that it behooves us to reinvestigate what is true and what is in fact a construction,” Chacón said. “What is an idealization of the West? And so the visual arts give us an opportunity to ask those questions.”
The University of Montana announced last week that its MMAC had acquired the significant collection of 125 works from UM alumni Stan Goodbar and the late Donna Goodbar of Wyoming, and an exhibit called “Imagining the West: Selections from the Stan and Donna Goodbar Collection of Western Art” will be on display from Feb. 4 to Mach 26. Chacón said the acquisition came at the right time for the museum and fills gaps in its Western art holdings.
The museum, which has the state’s largest public art collection, currently operates out of a couple of galleries in the PAR-TV Center on campus, and space is constrained. The timing is right because the museum soon will break ground on an estimated $8 million building on the north end of campus. Paid for with private fundraising, the new home means the museum can expand its holdings.
“When this collection came up from the Goodbars, it was an opportunity for us to deepen our Western art collection,” Chacón said.
The Goodbars focused on artists from the last century that the MMAC didn’t have represented in its collection, he said, like illustrators Nick Eggenhofer and Will James. UM noted other Montana artists represented include John Clarke, Joe De Yong, Elizabeth Lochrie, Ace Powell and O.C. Seltzer. Chacón said they carried on the traditions of Charlie Russell and Frederick Remington but expanded the illustrative traditions into popular media.
“That’s really how people learned about the West, how they understood the West,” Chacón said. “And they did it by looking at pulp fiction and magazine covers and Hollywood.”
The artists promoted an idea of what the West is, and at times a romanticized notion of Westerners, he said. So he said the exhibition will give people the opportunity to rethink Western art and its ideology, images, stereotypes and cliches. People can ask themselves if what they see is an accurate representation of the people who settled the West, and of Indigenous people of the West.
“This exhibition is a golden opportunity for us to rethink all of Western art and basically how the participants are depicted,” Chacón said.
One piece that will be on display is a carved bear by Blackfeet artist John Clarke, who lived in East Glacier and had a reputation for carving animals in wood, Chacón said. Western artists were responding to the hunger about the West, and Clarke sold a lot of work to tourists coming to Glacier National Park. Tourism encouraged Indigenous artists to in some ways change their own artistic traditions, but also to embrace the tastes of the dominant culture, Chacón said.
“The fact that he was a Native artist making works of art for tourists is, I think, a very interesting part of the story, and it’s a story that needs to be told,” he said.
UM noted the collection also includes work by California artists Edward Borein and Olaf Wieghorst and modernists Frances Senska and Peter Voulkos.
Chacón said fundraising for the new building is ongoing. It will be a while before the permanent collection will be on view, but he said they’re hoping to begin construction this spring on the site opposite the recreation annex in the Adams Center near an extension of Memorial Row.
“It’s a long time coming,” Chacón said.