Wild West: Plains to the Pacific

Peter Hurd, A Ranch on the Plains, ca. 1954

Peter Hurd, A Ranch on the Plains, ca. 1954. Tempera on hardboard, 29 ¾ 47 1/8 in. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of the California Brewing Company

June 18 – September 11, 2016 | Legion of Honor

SAN FRANCISCO (April 26, 2016)—The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are pleased to present Wild West: Plains to the Pacific, an exhibition that explores a variety of artistic responses to the natural and cultivated landscapes of the western United States. The exhibition explores environmental themes relating to mining, agriculture and other competing forms of land usage from the mid-19th century to the present day. Wild West brings together a wide selection of works of art drawn entirely from the Museums’ rich collections that reflect the evolving mythology of the American West and tackles themes including manifest destiny and national and cultural identity.

“The ‘Wild West’ is a loaded term,” said James Ganz, curator of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, who co-organized the exhibition with assistant curator Colleen Terry. “It perpetuates the myth of a lawless region on the edge of civilization, a narrative that permitted the marginalization of indigenous populations and their way of life. We hope to show how the social and geographical landscapes of the American West have been mined by visual artists over time by juxtaposing contemporary works with those dating back to the Gold Rush.”

Wild West features 175 paintings, prints, drawings and photographs, many of which were acquired in the past ten to fifteen years and are being displayed for the first time. A number of works will be drawn from the Achenbach’s special collections devoted to artists and presses active in California, including the Paulson Bott Press Archive and the Crown Point Press Archive. By showcasing the breadth of the Museums’ holdings in a broad historical survey, Wild West is intended to complement Ed Ruscha and the Great American West – on view at the de Young from July 16 through October 9.

During the era of western expansion, painters such as Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, and Maynard Dixon helped invent the romanticized backdrop for the American frontier myth. As seen in idealized representations of fertile and seemingly uncultivated landscapes such as Bierstadt’s California Spring and Moran’s Grand Canyon with Rainbow, the West came to exist in the American imagination as a land of sublime beauty and unlimited potential.

Historical artworks celebrating the development of the West will be seen alongside contemporary works that critique the exploitation of its natural resources. For instance, Joseph Harrington’s heroic painting The Discovery of the Comstock Lode, June 12, 1859 will be shown with an aerial photograph by Michael Light that reveals the destructive results of industrial mining. An array of mass-produced fruit crate labels from the 1920s and 1930s with idealized views of bountiful California crops will be displayed with Ester Hernandez’s Sun Mad poster, a satirical view of agribusiness. And the harsh conditions of farm workers captured in Matt Black’s recent photographs of the Central Valley contrast with Peter Hurd’s A Ranch on the Plains, a painting commissioned by a San Francisco beer company as part of a western-themed advertising campaign meant to evoke the sprawling, romantic solitude of the livestock farmer.

The final gallery of Wild West honors the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service. Artworks featured there will include Yosemite landscapes by Bay Area artist Chiura Obata and a selection of posters by Michael Schwab celebrating the diverse sites that make up the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. With the western terminus of the transcontinental Lincoln Highway at its doorstep, the Legion of Honor is a fitting venue for this exhibition, which concludes with views of nearby Lands End, the ruins of the Sutro Baths and Ocean Beach.

Media image gallery available here.

legionofhonor.famsf.org/exhibitions/wild-west | #WildWest | @legionofhonor

Visiting | Legion of Honor
Lincoln Park, 34th Avenue & Clement Street, San Francisco, CA 94121 Open 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m. Tuesdays–Sundays; open select holidays; closed most Mondays

Tickets start at $20
For adults, tickets start at $20 and include general admission; discounts are available for seniors, students, and youths. Members and children 5 and under are free. Prices subject to change.

Exhibition Organization
This exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Benefactor’s Circle: Mr. and Mrs. Charles Crocker.

About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, are the largest public arts institution in San Francisco.

The Legion of Honor was inspired by the French pavilion at San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 and, like that structure, was modeled afte¬r the neoclassical Palais de la Légion d’Honneur, in Paris. The museum, designed by George Applegarth, opened in 1924 on a bluff in Lincoln Park overlooking the Golden Gate. Its holdings span four thousand years and include European painting, sculpture, and decorative arts; ancient art from the Mediterranean basin; and the largest collection of works on paper in the American West.

The de Young originated from the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition in Golden Gate Park and was established as the Memorial Museum in 1895. It was later renamed in honor of Michael H. de Young, who spearheaded its creation. The present copper-clad landmark building, designed by Herzog and de Meuron, opened in October 2005. It holds the institution’s significant collections of American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries; art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; costume and textile arts; and international modern and contemporary art.

Media Contacts
Miriam Newcomer | mnewcomer@famsf.org | 415.750.3554
Francisco Rosas | frosas@famsf.org | 415.750.8906