The American West: Out of Myth, Into Reality. By Peter H. Hassrick. (University of
Washington: Washington, D.C., 2ooo. Pp. 175. Acknowledgments, lenders
to the exhibition, notes, further reading, index of artists. ISBN 1-882507-
08-8. $39.95, paper.)
Vzsions of the West. Edited by Melissa Baldridge, introduction by Patricia Nelson
Limerick. (Gibbs-Smith: Salt Lake City, 2000. Pp. xiv+32o. Foreword, pref-
ace, acknowledgments, biographical notes, index. ISBN 0-87905-854-4.
After scanning the myriad of color illustrations in Peter Hassrick's The
American West: Out of Myth, Into Reality, one can only wish that the exhibition in
which these pictures appeared would travel to one's own city where good west-
ern art is largely ignored by art historians. With a connoisseur's eye, Hassrick has
assembled a stunning array of western American works for the Mississippi
Museum of Art. The title for the exhibition is also challenging because all art is
in some sense mythological or the product of the artist's imagination, else it
would not be art.
The text by Hassrick and his students at the University of Oklahoma Center
for Western and Native American Art is also interesting. In the introductory
essay, "The Elements of Western Art," Hassrick points up three themes and four
phases of western art. The themes: "progress, Eden, and masculinity." The phas-
es: "1) The art of exploration; 2) the frontier experience; 3) landscape grandeur
and national identity; and 4) the demise of native cultures and indigenous ani-
mals." These are not necessarily original or even exhaustive categories, but they
do bring some kind of order to the catalogue and provide "food for thought."
Of course, one wonders, if the exhibition had gone beyond 1925, whether
Hassrick and his students would have included Native American modernism,
Chicano political art and even the early Native American-inspired works of
Jackson Pollock (who was nothing, if not masculine).
Early on (p. 15) Hassrick seems to see the study of western art as "sleepy" and
"self-satisfied," ignoring the long and interestingly interdisciplinary studies of
western art ranging from anthropologist John Ewers's work to that of this review-
er, who was trained in both history and art history. Perhaps Hassrick is contrast-
ing in his mind the "before" and "after" of the Marxist-inspired Smithsonian
exhibition, The West as America (a title selected by the present reviewer long
before the Smithsonian debacle which I found merely comical). It is true that art
history and even western "art" history has been threatened by the academy and
enforced Marxism, called Postmodernism, which theorizes that all art is political
and its agenda often surreptitious and a sneaky bourgeois-capitalist plot against
the working class that is too stupid to notice. Hassrick valiantly eschews such a
paranoid approach though he seems worried about the consequences. Not to
worry. Postmodernism has been identified as the ahistorical, aformalistic canard
that it is by people as distinguished as Robert Conquest (a world historian) in
Reflections on a Ravaged Century (a book about the totalitarianism of our time),
and more recently Lynne Munson in Exhibitionism, Art in an Era of Intolerance.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101221/. Accessed July 2, 2015.