The West as America

Scholarly Reviews

American Quarterly Review, "How the West Was Hung, Or, When I Hear the World 'Culture' I Take Out My Checkbook," Bryan J. Wolf
Compares why "West as America" is controversial and an exhibit by Bierstadt in Brooklyn is not. "In 'The West as America' the West was conquered by makes clear how much the history of the West is a history of rhetoric...There is something here to offend everyone." The show "is out to expose fraud." ..."'The West as America is more compelling as a show about interpretation than as an account of the American West....[it] is about how history is simultaneously written and read."

book adAmerican Art, "Showdown at 'The West as America' Exhibit"
This article reproduces many of the public's comments on the exhibit. Of 735 comments, 509 were positive about some aspect of the show. One hundred and ninety-nine people praised the wall labels, 177 criticized them.

Public Historian, "Visualizing Conflict in The West as America," Roger B. Stein
Stein takes a last look at the exhibit without the text labels and notes how visually stunning it is. The comment books shows most of the public liked it, but the press attacked it because of its "political correctness" and the tone of the wall labels. "The textblocks, as many have pointed out, did sometimes overargue the revisionist case that western expansion was at the expense of native peoples and the environment." Sometimes the problem with the textblocks was tonal; sometimes the textblocks contradicted the image and the viewer was asked to believe the curator. The review goes into some detail about how the show was set up—the order of the paintings. Many felt the "Inventing 'the Indian'" section was preachy and belaboring the obvious. Significant verbal comment on gender was withheld until the last room, when the "Captive" text shocked visitors. "Where [the show] failed was in calibrating the relation of its verbal script to the visual presentation."

In the News

Hyatt ad"Old West, New Twist at the Smithsonian," Michael Kimmelman, New York Times, May 26, 1991
The show "represents art historical revisionism of the kind that has given rise to the phrase political correctness." Republican senators express concern about a leftist slant in the exhibit. Leutze's wall label is singled out for contradicting the image. "It is the latest example of a reappraisal of the history of the American West, the effects of which have stretched from the classrooms to Hollywood...the problem is not the idea behind the show but its execution." The Indian section is the worst—only through "curatorial contortions" can they fit the paintings into their thesis. The order the paintings were painted in shows the progression does not fit. But nothing justifies the senators' reaction.

Letters to the Editor, New York Times, June 16, 1991
One letter praises Kimmelman for criticizing revisionism, the other praises his research and reasonable review.

"Vox Populi," New York Times, July 7, 1991
A selection of public comments.

"The Western Historians: Don't Fence Them In," Alan Brinkley, New York Times, Sept. 20, 1992
A post-exhibit examination of the revisionist movement of the history of the American West. Briefly mentions "The West as America."

Teacher’s Guide

The Smithsonian produced a teacher's guide for high schools, which shows instructors how to discuss select paintings. The guide interestingly uses "Native Americans" instead of adopting the language of the exhibit, "Indians." There is also a discussion of " what is myth?" The writer credited is Alex Nemerov. View pages of the guide.


Ideology and Image
Prelude to Expansion
Picturing Progress
Inventing the Indian
Settlement and Development
The Kiss of Enterprise
Doing the Old America
Views and Reviews
Mary Wood  |  ARTH 958  |  September 2004