From the moment Cartersville’s Booth Western Art Museum first opened its doors in 2003, an unusual set of works stood out from the traditional renderings of snow-covered peaks, swaggering cowboys and bucking broncos on display.
“There were these Andy Warhols,” says Executive Director Seth Hopkins. Hopkins was fascinated by the pieces, both for their seemingly incongruous placement in the museum’s permanent collection and for the unusual break they seemed to represent from Warhol’s more familiar portraits of Hollywood celebrities and Campbell’s soup cans. The 14 images in the series “Cowboys and Indians,” among the last Warhol created before his death in 1986, depict subjects ranging from General Custer, Annie Oakley and Teddy Roosevelt to Sitting Bull and Geronimo, all in Warhol’s signature silkscreen style. “It seemed like such an anomaly,” says Hopkins. “I wondered where did these images come from? It kind of became a bit of an obsession with me to find out.”
Hopkins ended up writing his 2005 master’s thesis on the often overlooked series, arguing that, far from being anomalous, the images represent the culmination of Warhol’s enduring, lifelong fascination with the American West. The “Cowboys and Indians” series now forms the center of “Warhol and the West,” a new exhibition curated by Hopkins for the museum, a gift to the city of Cartersville from a local businessman and Western art collector who remains anonymous. (It is named after the donor’s friend and mentor, Samuel Booth.)
Hopkins says the idea of the West is far more central to Andy Warhol and his work than it may first seem.
“It’s often been said that Andy Warhol’s art is a mirror to America,” he says. “The West is a huge part of the mythos of America, our history and our heritage. I think it’s no wonder he started doing something with the West. What he was saying is there’s the mystique of the West from the movies that gives us this glorified idea. But at the same time, he was trying to tweak us into thinking about what we have done to the country, particularly to the Native American population.”
During his research, Hopkins discovered just how connected Warhol was to the idea of the West throughout his life.
Growing up in Pittsburgh the son of working class immigrant parents, Warhol was fascinated with the movies, particularly Westerns, which were immensely popular at the time. A scrapbook of his favorite movie stars, included in the new exhibition, has pages devoted to Western stars Gene Autrey and Roy Rogers.
The artist wore Lucchese cowboy boots nearly every day of his adult life. The exhibition will display five of the 27 pair currently owned by the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Warhol also owned property in Colorado and loved visiting Texas, once suggesting an Andy Warhol museum should be placed in Houston. He was an infamous hoarder and in his collection were Native American art objects including beadwork, pottery, textiles, weapons and jewelry. Sotheby’s had to devote an entire day to the objects when 10,000 items from his estate were auctioned off after his death in 1988. A sampling of his collection will be included in the show.
Warhol also made two Western movies, the short “Horse,” about cowboys playing strip poker, and the full-length “Lonesome Cowboys,” filmed at a dude ranch outside Tucson, Arizona. A sort of precursor to “Brokeback Mountain,” “Lonesome Cowboys” was considered obscene at the time of its release, and a copy was infamously seized at an Atlanta screening in 1969. Clips of both films will be shown as part of the exhibition. Other works include Warhol’s portrait of cowboy puppet Howdy Doody, portraits of endangered species of the West and Native American activist Russell Means, and images from the artist’s 1972 sunset series.
In all, the exhibition aims to show all the ways the West influenced Warhol throughout his life, culminating with the final “Cowboys and Indians” project in 1986.
The new exhibition fits perfectly with the museum’s longtime mission of changing perceptions about Western art, says Hopkins. “Since the beginning we have been trying to push back against the perceptions of what Western art is by bringing in artists who are pushing those boundaries. That’s the track we’ve been on, and this is just one more chapter of that.”
‘Warhol and the West.’Aug. 25-Dec. 31. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday. $12-$9. Booth Museum of Western Art, 501 N. Museum Drive, Cartersville. 770-387-1300, www.boothmuseum.org.
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