On October 5, the Des Moines Art Center will open Monument Valley, a group exhibition that questions & deconstructs the imagery & mythology of the American West, confronting how “Wild West” concepts prevalent in our country’s past & popular culture continue to define American identity into the present day.
Taking its title from the geologic formation featured in many Hollywood westerns, Monument Valley presents the work of 12 artists from various cultural backgrounds whose work raises questions about how false histories and stereotypical tropes continue to inform the political debates and societal concerns of contemporary life. The exhibition runs through January 12, 2020 in the Art Center’s Anna K. Meredith Gallery and the Pamela Bass-Bookey and Harry Bookey Gallery. The exhibition is organized by Curator Laura Burkhalter.
“(Through my research) I started noticing a lot of contemporary artists who were playing around with Western imagery… most were women, artists of color and others who gave a new version,” Burkhalter said. “This exhibition challenges the image many of us grew up with.”
While Burkhalter acknowledges that some things in the show will potentially make people uncomfortable, “more importantly, the art is wonderful, and these artists have a lot to say. It’s about broadening the story, making sure the art was challenging, and not just glamorizing or demonizing what has gone before.”
The artists brought together for Monument Valley are Indigenous, Black, white, Latinx, and multiracial, from multiple regions of North America, and represent various cultural backgrounds and identities. This exhibition aspires to make room in the museum for narratives other than those of the dominant culture with new stories and new ways to see history.
A wide range of media will be represented, including painting, photography, fiber work, and video. Artists featured in the exhibition include Gina Adams, Doug Aitken, Jeremiah Ariaz, Angela Ellsworth, Kahlil Joseph, John Jota Leaños, Kent Monkman, Anja Niemi, Catherine Opie, Sarah Sense, Wendy Red Star, and Jordan Weber. Much of the exhibition’s programming centers around the art and experience of contemporary Indigenous artists.