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BYU exhibit explores fluid American West

PROVO, UTAH

The American West has long been romanticized for its vast landscapes, big skies and seemingly endless possibilities.

Church history is, of course, inextricably linked to the American West. It was here in the West where the Mormon Pioneers settled with prayerful hopes of religious freedom and prosperity. Church headquarters was established, and remains, in the shadow of the Rockies.

And to this day, Latter-day Saint congregations in all corners of the globe sing “We’ll find the place which God for us prepared, Far away in the West.

But the American West is also defined by complexity and change. Like a winding river, it’s never really the same place twice. It continues to evolve, provoke and fascinate.

A new exhibition at the Church-owned Brigham Young University Museum of Art reminds viewers of the many angles offered by the American West. Entitled “Branding the American West: Paintings and Films, 1900-1950,” the exhibition includes 90 pieces of art that, according to the museum, “reveal the multiple and changing brandings of the American West during a complicated time of war, racial unrest.”

Over the past century, the wide-open story of the American West — including the Mormon Pioneer experience — has been told largely through film. So the influence of motion pictures plays a prominent role in the exhibition, which runs from Feb. 19 through Aug. 13.

Organized by the BYU museum and the Stark Museum of Art in Orange, Texas, “Branding the American West” includes the works of many of the heavyweights of American Western art — including Frederic Remington, N.C. Wyeth and Maynard Dixon.

Clips of Western flicks roll alongside the artwork to augment their stories.

“This exhibition will allow viewers to examine complex and contradictory images of the West as constructed and promoted by artists and filmmakers in the first half of the 20th century,” said Janalee Emmer, the museum’s head museum educator, in a museum release. “These images of the land as well as the various peoples have deeply informed our current ideas about the American landscape and American identity.”

The American West exhibition continues BYU’s tradition of bringing collections of secular and religious art to the Church-owned campus and its extended community. In recent years, patrons have enjoyed exhibitions that range from the Christ-centered altar pieces of Carl Bloch to the iconic Americana illustrations of Norman Rockwell. In June, the museum will open the exhibition “To Magnify the Lord” featuring six centuries of religious art.

“Branding the American West” is free admission. Visit moa.byu.edu for additional information.

[email protected] @JNSwensen