Nancy Netzer, Director
(617) 552-8587

Classic and Contemporary Works from the American West

EXCLUSIVE EXHIBITION: Cowboys, Indians and the Big Picture
October 6 - December 8, 2002


CHESTNUT HILL, MA (7-29-02) — The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College
will host an exclusive exhibition this fall, Cowboys, Indians and the Big Picture, which will be on display from October 6 through December 8, 2002. The exhibition—which comprises 38 works of art, including paintings and sculptures—showcases classic and contemporary works from the American West, and includes works from the private collection of McMullen Museum of Art benefactor John J. McMullen, many of which have never before been on public display.

"The McMullen Museum is pleased to present this ‘big picture’ of the visual culture of the American West," said McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer. The exhibition, she adds, "is the first to bring together works by artists from different generations, places, perspectives and ethnic backgrounds and to look at the images’ messages from a broad interdisciplinary perspective."

[MEDIA NOTE: Color images from the exhibition are available upon request from the McMullen Museum: (617) 552-8587. A complete list of works also is available.]

Opening Reception

To commemorate the opening of the exhibition, the McMullen Museum will host a preview and lecture—which is open to the public, free of charge—on Sunday, October 6, 2002, from 1 to 5 p.m. A lecture, titled Expanding the Visual Frontier: Art and Artists in the American West 1830-2002, will be given at 2 p.m. in Devlin Hall room 008 by exhibition organizer Heather Fryer, an adjunct assistant professor in the Boston College History Department.

Cowboys, Indians and the Big Picture
According to exhibition organizers, the American West has had an enormous influence on the course of American history, mythology and popular culture. This exhibition brings together Western images from both the genres of Western realism and Western modernism, to present a full and complex picture of the American West. In presenting this body of work, the exhibition highlights many Wests, and offers an alternative to the debate about which images and styles represent the American West as it really was—and is—in the present day.

"The exhibition includes paintings and sculptures from the collection of John J. McMullen, benefactor of the McMullen Museum of Art, who has assembled a collection of some of the best known and the most accomplished Western realists. An art collector for many years, Dr. McMullen’s holdings reflect the extraordinary diversity and accomplishments of his own career," according to Boston College Chancellor J. Donald Monan SJ. "A graduate of the Naval Academy and a Naval officer during World War II, John also earned a master's degree at MIT and a doctorate in Marine Engineering from Zurich (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). After leaving the service, he had a distinguished record of accomplishment in the shipping industry before establishing McMullen Associates, one of the nation’s foremost marine architectural and engineering firms. But it was in Zurich that he first developed his appreciation and initial experience of art collecting. In addition to his Western collections, Dr. McMullen assembled several extensive collections of marine paintings as well as a unique personal collection of European Impressionists."

[At a dedication ceremony in June 1996, the Boston College Museum of Art was named The Charles S. and Isabella V. McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College, in honor of McMullen’s late parents.]

The American West
The magnificence of the Western landscape and the young Americans who took risks to settle there—spurred by high ideals of freedom and progress—drew artists to document Westward expansion. Such early artists as Frederic Remington, Karl Bodmer and Charles Russell believed their paintings of cowboys, Indians and landscape would serve as an objective historical record.

Known as the Western realists, their followers—who adopt the palette, subject matter and rigorously literal styles of the early Western artists—carry on their mission and generate images of the Old West. They draw from years of study of Western artifacts, history—and in many cases their histories as cowboys, ranchers, and rodeo riders—to lend authenticity to scenes. Principal subject matter includes landscapes, horses, buffalo, cowboys, wagon trains, mountain men, cavalry men and Indians.

Though this genre retained its popularity throughout the twentieth century, abstraction, conceptual art and more politically charged themes in postwar American art threatened to relegate Western realism to a second-class, regional style. This led the most accomplished Western realists to gather in Sedona, Arizona in 1965 to discuss the future of the genre and to encourage continued production of high-quality painting, printmaking and sculpture. They established a society—the Cowboy Artists of America (CAA)—which holds member, and potential member, artists to high technical standards and inducts only those who produce "authentic representations of life in the West, as it was and is."

Although the CAA and its supporters resisted the encroachment of modern approaches to these subjects, Western artists began using modern visual language to offer alternative interpre-tations of Western realists' objectively rendered images and themes. These artists come from groups which were not included in developing the standard historical narrative of the American West—women, Latinos, Asians and particularly Native Americans. These new voices are joined by artists influenced by the environmental and anti-nuclear movements, and urban Westerners making images of the West as they experience it, rather than depicting its rural past.

This new body of work challenges the notion of a single reality of life in the American West and demonstrates the diversity of styles and themes Western artists are continuing to develop. Though the edgier, more political work challenges traditional Western images and the static American progress narrative, both Western realism and Western modernism coexist in present-day Western cultural life.

The McMullen Museum Exhibition
Section one of Cowboys, Indians and the Big Picture features paintings and sculptures from the collection of John J. McMullen, including works by several members of the Cowboy Artists of America. They feature Western landscapes, scenes of cowboys, trappers, and gunfighters in action, and Indian portraits and scenes of Indian life rendered according to the artists’ purportedly objective views.

Section two presents a changed Western landscape—bearing layers of social and environmental history—on which numerous social meanings have been inscribed. These artists consider the influence on federal ownership and management of federal land, Mexican and Indians’ historical claims to Western land, and the tension between Western land as landscape versus environment.

Section three presents new images of cowboys, which investigate the mythology that has developed around this group of workers. Women and Hispanic artists put themselves in the cowboy narrative, while other artists reflect on the degree to which popular images like the "Marlboro man" have obscured important realities of Western life.

Section four features works by Native American artists that seek to include their version of the history of Indian wars and Western settlement, and to articulate the complexities of living within two postmodern cultures—and of claiming an American identity after having been geographically and socially isolated for decades.

Exhibition Catalogue
The accompanying catalogue, edited by Fryer, will include illustrations and entries on all of the works in the exhibition. Four essays also will be included, authored by Fryer; BC faculty co-curators: Sociology Department Assistant Professor Eva Garroutte and History Department Associate Professor Marilynn Johnson, and Kate Bonansinga, Director of Art Galleries at the University of Texas at El Paso. The catalogue will be available from the Boston College Bookstore and the University of Chicago Press.

McMullen Museum Tours and Programs
The McMullen Museum is renowned for organizing interdisciplinary exhibitions that ask new questions and break new ground in the exhibition and scholarship of the works on view. Guided tours will accompany the exhibition, in addition to three public events:

A lecture, titled "Weaving the Dance: Religious Imagery in Navajo Textiles," will be given by Boston College Professor of Romance Languages Rebecca Valette, on Thursday, November 7 at 4:30 p.m. Devlin Hall room 101.

A lecture, titled "The Far West and the German Imagination" will be given by Dr. Beeke Sell-Tower, Curator of the Goethe Institute on Wednesday, October 16, 4 p.m. in Devlin Hall room 101.

A screening of John Ford’s film, Stagecoach, and a presentation by Boston College Fine Arts Department Professors Richard Blake, SJ and John Michalczyk, on Ford and images of Native Americans in early Westerns, will be held on Thursday, November 7, at 7 p.m.

Also on Display
Also on exclusive display at the McMullen Museum this fall (October 6 – December 8, 2002) is Reclaiming a Lost Generation: German Self-Portraits from the Feldberg Collection 1923-1933. The exhibition—which presents self-portraits by prominent German artists in the 1920s and 1930s—includes 56 works from the Feldberg collection. Now in the Berlinische Galerie in Berlin, this rare collection of self-portraits preserves the memory of a generation of German artists who otherwise would have fallen into oblivion with the rise of the Nazis. The McMullen Museum is the collection’s exclusive United States venue.

"The two exhibitions have been mounted together this Fall to allow viewers the opportunity to ponder broader issues of ethnic and individual identity in two very different cultures and political contexts," Netzer said.

[For more information on Reclaiming a Lost Generation: German Self-Portraits from the Feldberg Collection 1923-1933, please call (617) 552-8587 or visit www.]

McMullen Museum Hours
Admission to the McMullen Museum is free; it is handicapped accessible and open to the public. The Museum is located in Devlin Hall on the Chestnut Hill campus of Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Avenue. During this exhibition, McMullen Museum hours are as follows: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The McMullen Museum is closed on holidays. For directions, parking and additional information, call the Arts Line at (617) 552-8100, or visit the web site at [Please note: parking is not available on the following Saturdays this fall: October 19, November 16 and November 30.]